I was asked recently to share my greatest coaching memory. Seems like a bit of a daunting task because I’ve been honored to be a part of several teams that went from losing seasons to final four finishes within the span of weeks. I’ve experienced underdog victories and comebacks that are movie making material. I’ve had seasons where we hit so many milestones that we just stopped keeping track. How could I pick from those incredible moments and choose my greatest memory?
The answer is really simple, I don’t. My greatest memory coaching is crystal clear, and it’s so vivid that I still feel that hair-raising, goose-bump feeling and I pull out often when I need a smile, or to remember why I coach. And it has nothing to do with winning, or even a game at all.
It was an experience with a team that I had just started coaching. Before me they had experienced repeated mental beat down by their leadership. They believed, because they were repeatedly told this as truth, that they weren’t good enough. They were told that they were too slow, that they didn’t have the skills they should have, that they couldn’t compete at the level they needed to pull off a win. The coach wanted them to get better, but he was so successful in beating in the message that they didn’t measure up it had become their truth. They couldn’t rise above what their mentor had created as their ceiling.
One night, early on in the season we were wrapping up practice and our desperate captain, one of the few players left with any passion at all, tried to rally the team with a cheer. She gave an enthusiastic “TEAM ON 3, TEAM ON 3! !,2,3….” And the team half whispered and looked away from the group while repeating a weak, bored, and disengaged, “team.”
Their shoulders were drooping, their faces emotionless. I called them over instead of letting them head out to their cars to leave. I knew what they didn’t know. I could see what they couldn’t see. They had incredible potential. I’d coached teams like this before and I had no doubt of where they would be at the end of the season. I tried to point out the positives that they had but they stood around me and didn’t even make eye contact. Their belief in failure was too strong and I knew it was going to take a powerful transfer of belief to show them the future that I could so clearly see.
So I took all of my energy and I started to describe the team as I saw them in my mind. I walked them through my vision of the season unfolding. Half of them were looking off into space. The other half looked at me the way your dog does when you do something weird. Head tilted a bit to the side and thinking…. “She’s crazy, how did we get this lady?”
But as I continued on, something awesome happened.
I heard behind me, at the perfect speaker volume in the stadium where we were practicing, a familiar beat. “Bum. bum bum bum. Bum bum bummmmmm.”
From up in the pressbox, the boy’s lacrosse team was getting ready for their game the next day and they were testing out their pregame music. It was the “Eye of the Tiger” and it was flowing smoothly behind my words. The song was building as I was getting into our future battle through playoffs. At this point I could hardly keep my voice steady, I was living the season before their eyes as I spoke. I was pointing out each player and how they would help us get to this vision with their strengths. Lasers were shooting out of my eyes.
Ok, no lasers, but that would have been kind of cool.
I saw a shift. Before I knew it, every single player was looking me dead in the eye. Some were getting misty, teary eyes. Some were putting arms around each other and wiping goose-bumps away. Some were just bouncing in place with excitement.
I felt the shift. It wasn’t subtle. It was powerful. The excitement that I had building inside me to show my vision, I could now feel outside of me. It was hanging in the air. It was being radiated back to me from my players. I had done it. I had successfully transferred my belief to these athletes and they were allowing themselves to consider a new truth. It was the first time they had ever had a coach that believed in them to this extent. Unconditionally and thoroughly and without any doubt that they didn’t have the heart or the will or the desire. It was the first time they felt hope to overcome mistakes and push through obstacles because no one was giving up on them until they reached that vision. It was the first time a coach showed them a future they could see and feel and hold onto that felt good, and hopeful, and real and fearless.
The soundtrack in the background was perfection. If you ever have a chance to give a pump up speech with inspiring music behind you I highly recommend it. If you have an awesome assistant coach with a great playlist and impeccable timing then you’re all set.
It wasn’t what I said that had the impact. I don’t have any magical words. Most times my inspiration comes out as babble, stutters, half completed sentences in the excitement of the moment. It was the truth and the belief behind it and the energy that I put it out there with. And the soundtrack. That amazing “Rocky” boost put me over the top.
Somehow, an incredible energy was built in that moment of belief and connection and we put it out there into the universe. I think it’s still there, because when I go back to that moment in my mind I can still feel it. It’s the moment I want to recreate with every team.
I remember wins but they never felt like that. The glow of the win is short and even if it lasts it gets smashed with the next loss which eventually will come. Sometimes players don’t celebrate wins equally, especially those who didn’t feel they contributed to it. But that connection and that transfer of belief, watching confidence literally be born in that moment and sharing that vision, that kind of memory never ever fades.