Recently, I received a call from a high school coach in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She had tracked me down on the internet and sounded desperate: “Can you come speak to my athletes and help them see something positive in what had been a long season full of losses.”
The coach had just taken over a girl’s high school basketball program that had been in a state of disrepair for years. The last winning team that came out of the program was some 5 decades back in the mid 1970’s. The players she described were beaten down, had struggled with some very tough life issues, and no longer knew how to win.
I too knew what it was like to slog your way through a long basketball season where wins were rare, and losses seem to come rapidly. My years at the University of Minnesota were definitely tough, dark days as far as wins on the court were concerned. We pushed through grueling practices, traveled around the country, and watched old VHS tapes of opposing teams’ games. No matter what we did in those three years we couldn’t seem to get over that hurdle. We had to face losing more than we did winning.
I knew I had to go speak to these young athletes because their coach was doing the long and exhaustive work of rebuilding the program. She was dedicated and had put in place camps for the youngest athletes in the community. She was creating a system for the athletes to come through so when they arrive to her in a few years they would be high-school ready. The coach was passionate and prepared, and she wanted the best for her athletes.
When I arrived at their second to last game of the season, I saw a team that was without a ton of talent and a team quick to give up on themselves. Not surprising for what they had been through all season.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, by what else I saw from this team.
- -A group of young ladies that had only one win on the season and they were still showing up to practice and games. They were not quitters.
- -They were using the game as a way to escape from the reality life was throwing at them. They were savvy athletes.
- -The girls didn’t know how to finish a game, but they weren’t afraid to put themselves out there and try. These were brave people.
- -They showed up to teach the young girls at basketball camp on Saturdays. These were role models.
- -They heard me when I encouraged them to use this season as fuel to remember how it felt. They were coachable athletes.
- -They had improved from the beginning of the season even though the box-score didn’t show it. They were working hard.
- -I saw a team that supported each other even at the very end. They hadn’t given up on each other.
After I returned home from speaking to the team, I received a text from the coach. It read:
“Thank you, the girls felt great, I got nothing but positive responses from them. They can’t wait to see you again. They accomplished your goal of finishing strong. They encouraged each other and you could see all of them, both JV and varsity trying to put into action what they got out of your presentation.”
It dawned on me after I read the text that these girls had found so many wins in a season full of losses. I look forward to watching this team from afar to see how they move through their next season but one thing they have already proven to me is they really are a group of winners.