Friday, September 28, 2012

For My Coaches

This Saturday is Canada Basketball’s Basketball Coaches Day in Canada. It “is a national celebration of our Canadian basketball coaches and all the time, dedication and passion that they contribute to our sport through the year”.  Teams and organizations across the country have been encouraged to find ways to recognize their coaches for all that they give.  Well, UNB has given me this soapbox so you’d better bet I’m going to stand on it.

In 1997 my family moved from Toronto to Vancouver.  Vancouver’s temperate coastal climate means that soccer is a year-round sport.  I’ll never forget my first day of grade four.  Jen Luther walks up to me in the cloakroom and announces that I will be on her soccer team. In Toronto I had been into dance (I’m sure right now my teammates are rolling around on the ground laughing picturing eight-year-old Allie tap dancing in sequins and feathered headdresses – yes, I did that) but if soccer was going to help me make friends in a new city then sign me up!

Her dad, Doug Luther, was my first coach in organized sports. I played soccer for the North Shore Flyers for nine years.

A few years later I started playing basketball and I fell in love.  From Cleveland Elementary and Junior Grizzlies to Handsworth Secondary I had so many amazing coaches.

Although they probably didn’t know it they each held my confidence in their hands.  Had they hurt me I probably wouldn’t have kept playing.  As a kid and a teenager basketball made me happy and kept me out of trouble. The game has given me so much.  You’ll always hear players say that a sport has taught them skills and it has revealed their character.  I agree, to an extent, but the majority of the lessons I have learned have come from my coaches. 

Over the course of my post-secondary career I’ve had four head coaches.  It’s unusual to have so many coaches in such a short time but I consider myself blessed to have taken something special away from each of my seasons with them.

Norm Hann, Todd Jordan, Mike Woollard, and Jeff Speedy, this one is for you guys.

Norm was my first coach. He took a chance on me at a time in my life when not a lot of coaches would have.  He gave me the opportunity to do something that I didn’t think I was capable of and it radically changed my life.  At the end of my rookie season when he decided not to come back I was rattled, to say the least, but then he taught me the lesson that I needed the most:  that my path and potential are of my own determination.  A coach is there to lead, to guide and to teach but no matter what I need to control my own happiness.

The next year we hired Todd Jordan.  Todd and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye but he taught me a lot of lessons that I needed to learn and that still contribute to making me the teammate that I am.  Todd introduced to me weight training and terrible, terrible, soccer field sprints.  Todd taught me the importance of sacrificing myself for the team and how to keep my mouth shut even when I wanted to say something.  He taught me that no one person is more important that what we are as a team.

Mike treated me like an adult.  He taught me that my opinions have value and to trust my gut.  He let what I said have an impact on how he ran the team, which was a lot of pressure but a challenge that I enjoyed.  Mike had an amazing faith in our team and program, a lesson that I still draw on today.

Now I'm heading into my second season with Coach Speedy. The thing that impresses me the most about Coach Speedy is how much he cares about all of us, and it’s not superficial.  He doesn’t just keep tabs on us because he wants to win games.  If someone is going through a tough time we all know that we can rely on him for whatever we need.  He’s empathetic and caring and I think sometimes we take that for granted.  Plus, Speedy puts so much work into the community and we are expected to do the same.  Yes, the players look good because we do it, but it’s Coach Speedy’s initiative that is behind all of it.  Speedy has taught me that no matter what I have going on there is always time in my day to take on helping someone else.  Be it with a teammate who is struggling with the offense or a grade 4 team that needs a guest coach for a practice.  Speedy teaches us every day to respect each other and to be leaders in our community.

Cory Russell and Dan Goggin are our current assistant coaches. I haven’t forgotten about them but I’m already tearing up and I’ve written too much so I need to wrap this up.  I’ll get to them another week.  

A blog post doesn’t even begin to say the thank yous that I owe those four men.  No matter what I do I know I won’t ever be able to pay them back.  I think that, as players, we do the only thing we can – we pay it forward.  We coach camps and clinics with the VReds program and when we’re older (and have a bit of time) we’ll coach our own teams.  When the day comes that I’m at the helm of my own team I’ll know that I’ve learned from the best. 

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