Call Me Coach – A March Madness Epiphany

IMG_4467_copyEver the misfit, I struggled to find my niche as an athletic girl on the cusp of Title IX. Even in adulthood, I continued to wonder what I was supposed to be doing with my life. During March Madness when I checked scores and brackets long distance, it dawned on me. I am a coach.

Last year, I had opportunity of a lifetime to speak at the DIII Final Four at UWSP. For the first time since moving abroad, I experienced March Madness firsthand. I marveled at the evolution of the woman’s game and realized the impact the pioneers had in paving the way.

Some children know what they want to be from the time they are five-years-old; I was in my fifth decade before I figured it out. In kindergarten, my dad announced that he wanted to coach like his dad, Coach Mac. But when I was growing up coaching never crossed my mind; girls weren’t allowed to play ball, so how could a woman make a career out of coaching.

I used to think that I was born to play basketball, but when that dream ended abruptly it took me decades to grow into my real calling.

I went on to coach middle school, junior varsity, and varsity girls’ and boys’ teams. I called La Chat boys teamplays in English, German, and French and learned to swear in a dozen different languages. When the opportunity arose, I humbly assisted coaching a wheelchair basketball team in Germany. I was equally inspired teaching kids with Down Syndrome how to shoot hoops.

As I helped athletes cope with divorce, depression, disappointment, academic pressure and the death of loved ones, we held it together with jump shots, high fives and team huddles. We created a bond that one cannot fathom unless having been a part of a team.

During hard times, sometimes the only difference between hope and despair was knowing that someone believes in you.

Coaching at an international school in an international league, every year the team composite is unique – with African, American, French, German, English, Indian, Japanese, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Uruguayan players– but the outcome remains the same. We put differences aside to become a tight knit group in pursuit of our goals. We shared our camaraderie, competitive drive and love of the game.

In a lifetime of seasons, coaches never really know how many lives they helped shape. La Chat teamRecently, one of my former players – who now runs marathons and the Wellness Program of entire city – honored me by calling me her mentor on the front page of the local newspaper.

Though I have won my share of championships, there is no greater testimony of success when working with kids, than seeing them as productive adults.

“It’s not about trophies,” Coach Mac said it best to the Chicago Tribune in 1985, “The important thing is how you develop your athletes, how you mold their hearts and minds. The real reward is being able to look at your athletes in later years and seeing how you’ve contributed to the development of their character, so that they can serve as leaders of their community.”

In college, I thought I would save the country, as a social worker instead I became an international coach guiding kids from ‘round the globe, to go out and save the world.

I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of the senior boys would stop me in the hall to say, “What’s up, Coach.”

I have arrived! Today even the guys address me with respect.

They call me coach.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament

Posted in education, humor, inspiration, relationships, social view, sport.

24 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Pat — to be able to make a difference in young lives is an admirable and lofty accomplishment! I think of you often, my faraway friend, as I watch March Madness games. Thanks to pioneers like you, young women today CAN play basketball, CAN become coaches or professional players, CAN achieve their dreams. What a victory that is! I hope you’re able to catch some of the games — the playing is awesome. These kids just keep getting better and better!!

    • Thanks, Debbie. You are going to have to cheer a little extra loud for me. I can’t get ANY games here and am so jealous my brother and his family because they have tickets to the Final Four. The level of play is incredible and I would prefer watching a college game any day over the pro ones. The college game is more about team play, especially the women’s game.

    • Thanks, Haralee. I am surprised that in the states, there aren’t more women coaching girls especially today. Over here it is still predominately male coaches.

  2. Congratulations Coach Pat! How great that you found something so incredibly important to you and one that helps so many others. You have such a powerful way to be a mentor to other girls and kids and that is a HUGE thing! Best of all it is something you can do for years to come. Keep up the good work! ~Kathy

    • Thanks, Kathy. My grandfather’s college coaching career spanned 7 decades and he was still helping coaching college football in his 90s. Don’t know that I will last that long. I often think that as a McKinzie I learned how coach by osmosis from tagging around my dad and grandpa.

  3. PLEASE collect blog posts like this, bundle them together, and publish a book. Two title choices: They Call Me Coach, or It’s Not About the Trophies. You are such a great writer, plus you are inspiring and motivational. Kinda like a coach. (Continue your mission on paper.)

    • Aw you are too sweet, Lynne. You may have just given me a goal for my retirement. I look to your vibrant life to lead the way in how to age gracefully and fully engaged.

  4. I saw your effect on the La Chat kids every day when we worked alongside each other; you on the court and me above you in the dance studio. We both held onto our dreams that we we were making a difference by investing our time, energy and passion into children who might well become leaders in their fields a few years later. I think we both knew back then that we were helping guide and shape those teenage girls in particular, in so many different ways… now I have teenage girls of my own and understand some of the reality of what they face each and every day. A mentor such as you is never going to be forgotten, and sweet little Janneke says it all 🙂 …keep it going ‘Life Coach Pat’ 😉 xxx

    • Thanks for your lovely words. As you know, being a mom is the greatest coaching job ever. I felt so lucky to have had the opportunity to coach my daughter (and son) and thought there would be such a void when they graduated and moved 4,000 miles away. But though I miss them, I realized what a gift it is to have the opportunity to continue to helping guide other people’s daughters through my love of basketball. I only regret that I never had the chance to coach your beautiful girls. I would have loved to see them dancing to the hoop!

  5. Congratulations! The life you have lead and the lives you have changed is remarkable. What a wonderful tribute to a career that you have so obviously loved and has loved you right back. Terrific work with amazing results what more can you get out of life!

    • I have become wiser with age. I used to be about winning no matter what, but over the years I have seen how the game is just as valuable development of young girls regardless of the win/loss record. They probably learn even more during a losing season, because after all life is all about second efforts.

  6. You are not only a coach who has molded countless girls to become great women, but you are a woman with a heart of gold that pours through every word you write. I love “During hard times, sometimes the only difference between hope and despair was knowing that someone believes in you.” And you’ve believed in others that have helped in countless ways, and I think you believe in yourself. That, my friend, is a gift beyond measure.

    You continue to inspire me. I am proud to call you my friend.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Cathy. I know you know why I wrote that quote. So many times in the face of adversity, in our case illness, it is the belief that others have in us that keeps us fighting. Bon courage, dear friend! Keep on shining and sharing.

  7. You know what they say, Pat, “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” You come from a family of teachers and coaches. Coaching and sports are both in your blood. No wonder you have made it your calling!

    • Funny thing is that when I was kid, I never wanted to study and analyze the game, I only wanted to play the game. You are probably right though, coaching is in my blood that is why I am so proud that my son has become the 4th generation of coaches in the family. He is dedicating his life to educating and guiding our youth.

  8. Beautiful – as always. You are an inspiration. I would love for you to coach Rachel one day!

  9. There are so many pearls of wisdom here I don’t know where to begin…what a privilege it is to shape minds, hearts and spirits. What a gift you are to every life you have had the privilege to touch, Pat. I absolutely love that in so many words you articulated to me the essence of what a coach is; someone who fully understands that the student athlete’s character is as important to mentor as their talent. Beautiful on every level.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Elin. I feel like the gift is reciprocated daily because I have learned so much about the world from the students I have worked with in the international community.

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