Farewell to Coaching Basketball

misc team pics-3Coaching basketball took me to Athens, Prague, London, Frankfurt, Venice, Munich, Brussels and all across Europe, you think I would remember those sites or the games, those nail biting, last second victories and losses in the Swiss, French, and European championships. But the games and places blur, what remain imprinted in my mind is the players.

My coaching gig began 33 years ago when I followed my physical therapist’s suggestion and called the father of French basketball, Henry Fields, at the American School of Paris.

“Need a job,” he said, “Great we need a coach.”

For a decade ASP was my home. I still remember my first team – Kareen, Tami, Felicia – and the rest. I started my career as a Paris Rebel, trés à propos. I have always been a renegade at heart.

Then in Switzerland, I built a program from the ground floor, starting with my daughter and her friends in 6th grade coaching them until they left for university. They were so athletic, I hardly coached; they never lost a school league game. How many coaches have the privilege of shaping a team from grade school to graduation? What greater honor for a coach than to hear from former athletes who are using their talents to make this world better?

How many people have had the opportunity to coach their daughter and their son?

Coaching boys added a new dimension to my repertoire. I found out coaching guys was just as fun with a lot less drama.

When my health gave out, I bowed out of coaching, but returned five years later when students that I taught begged me to help rebuild the program.

How many bus rides, how many train trips, how many flights, how many games, how many pep talks, how many sleepless nights, how many lives?

Former assistant coach, Tina, claimed “I’ve seen you resurrect a team from the dead.”

Well, she was wrong. The team resurrected me. When an accident abroad ended my athletic career at age 25, I felt like I had one foot in the grave. Gradually, as I rebuilt my body cell by cell, I found a new calling. I overcame health setbacks and kept going in order to prepare my team for their next opponent.

My goal was to get them ready mentally and physically and in doing so I restored my own fighting spirit to endure decades of pain.

Thanks to a new generation of players, Geneva basketball is back on top. How many coaches bow out winning every tournament in their final season of their career?

The final scores, funky gymnasiums, and famous places fade in time; what remains engraved in my heart forever is each player’s face. Thanks to all the athletes who kept my love alive.

When I could no longer play basketball, my heart shattered; my players put it together again piece by piece season after season.

Coaching the best out of them brought the best out of me.

And gave my life purpose.

Speaking for Gender Equity at International School

DSC00215_copyIf the dynamic group of senior girls who pulled off an enlightening International Women’s Day at Zurich International School is any indication, the future for women is in good hands. This talented group of young ladies organized a memorable event reflecting on gender bias within art, sport and the work place.

The multicultural members of the committee were completing their final year of the international baccalaureate and on target to enter fields in law, medicine, and international relations at universities around the world.

I led off their program recounting the history of the pioneers in women’s sport and the impact of the groundbreaking Title IX amendment to the Civil Rights Act. As I explained legislation helps but attitudes take longer to change than laws. Gender biases are deeply ingrained.DSC00225

Real change has to start in the home with men sharing more equitably childcare and housekeeping chores. Brothers must contribute as equally to domestic chores as their sisters.

After speaking I answered a barrage of questions not only about my experiences, but also about what can steps can be taken towards gender equality.

A German boy in a Duke basketball jersey, an avid hoopster asked how young males growing up today can make things more equitable.

“Well, you can start by going home tonight and cooking dinner for your mama.”

Parents serve as our first role models, yet their roles as breadwinner and homemaker are so institutionalized that we don’t even think about it. Even if they work outside the home, women in all cultures continue to do the greatest percentage of work in home. Half of all women do some kind of housework compared to only one-fifth of men. If they are mothers, they spend twice as long as fathers doing unpaid domestic work each week. Within many societies the disparity is far greater.

Due to centuries of inequity, gender bias remains a pervasive part of our psyche.

Following my speech, Regina Lanford discussed how artistic images have perpetuated cultural prejudices about women. Then Eleanor (Tabi) Haller-Jorden, talked about the gender gap in leadership in corporations across Europe urging us to avoid gender stereotypes that are inherent in every culture.

After the speeches, a school band played hits of the seventies during lunch hour while the girls sold tulips in a pledge for parity. A lively panel discussion between teachers, parents, students, and speakers topped off the day.

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International Women’s Day with Amy Greene, former DI player, coach, mom and assistant principal ZIS

Will the efforts of these young women in Zurich revolutionize the world? No, probably not. But their actions will raise eyebrows, increase awareness, and open dialogue. And if the turn out at ZIS International Women’s Day Celebration was any indication, with males in attendance in almost equal numbers, we are headed in the right direction.

But our work is cut out for us. “The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Only a year later 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.”

A study by McKinsey Global Institute shows that by advancing women’s equality $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025. We must pledge for parity in the public, private and social sectors. Raising awareness is a first step.

Our travail has just begun.

 

Pockets Full of Friends Make Every Day Special

Quicks at SLI was so bowled over by well wishes for my birthday that I decided to add an extra day to the calendar in February just to celebrate longer. Having been around for nearly six decades and having moved often I accumulated a lot of acquaintances. Though I hate the impersonal nature of the Internet, it miraculously allows me to reconnect with friends from past lives.

I never carry a purse (too hard on the back) instead I wear pockets. Though I may forget to carry cash or identity papers (Americans struggle to develop the habit of toting passports), I never leave behind valuables. Instead of money, I stash friendships in my pouches and pull out memories of each to help me through tough times.

My pocketbook may be empty, but my pockets are overflowing. And birthdays, as reluctant as we are to have them in midlife, give us a time to reconnect and reflect on the wonderful people in our lives. Those reminders are especially valuable when facing isolation due to pain, loss or health setbacks like I did recently.

We all belong to circles. And we don’t need Google+ to remind us.

neighbourhood's gangGrowing up as one of 4 siblings only 5 years apart, we shared cars, clothes and playmates. When I need a lift, I think of my old neighborhood gang back in the day when it was safe to play outside even after the streetlights came on.

How could I ever forget my college roomies, the family, who happy bdayshared that magical time transitioning from childhood and adulthood when all dreams seemed possible. One of whom sketched cards to pick me up in tough times and made me laugh everyday with her creative zest for life. Or the teammates, who picked off pesky defenders, set up perfect plays and had my back literally every time I drove to the hoop.

Or my international friends from the Land Down Under, to the City of Lights, to Berlin to my peeps here in Geneva. And all those basketball buddies – coaches, teammates, players throughout the decades – whose lives intersected mine in gymnasiums around the globe.

How could I forget my writer friends who reach out through their words? Those women on the Midlife Boulevard whose wisdom helps me navigate the perils of middle age. And to my reader friends that make this blog buzz.

Long ago I pitched my purses, but I keep my homies close by tucked in my hoody. They understand my past growing up on main street in the Heartland.

In my front jacket pocket, I tote new friends; in my back jeans pocket I carry old pals. And in my breast pocket, close to my heart, I hold loved ones who have been with me every step of the way, those sisters and brothers who held me up through tragedy. And triumph.

Thanks for filling my pockets with memories, for touching my life. Your birthday wishes reminded me how blessed I am to be around for another year.

My mom taught me early on that even though every day can’t be my own birthday, each day is a gift. The secret to a happy life is learning to share in other people’s joy. Join in someone else’s celebration. Share the laughter. Spread the love.

Cheers! Here’s to all of you!

Sharing My Story at the International Women’s Day Celebration

2014-03-20 05.50.16As someone who grew up in a time period when women, like children, should be seen, not heard, I grew up without a voice. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, a Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball to tell the story of the pioneers. Since its publication, I have been invited to speak at dozens of functions including ironically those hosted by organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis and NCAA, who for years denied access to women. I never passed up a chance to share our story and felt especially privileged to be invited to speak to the next generation at the International School of Zurich (ZIS) for their International Women’s Day March 8th celebration.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Coincidentally, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) as part of the International Women’s Year 1975, which was the same year the groundbreaking Title IX (June 23, 1972) was to be in regulation. This year, the IWD theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up For Gender Equality” focuses on women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

As a misfit in an era when female athletes (especially in team sport) were ostracized from society, I grew up on the fringes of girl groups, hanging out as one of the boys. In adulthood, as a basketball coach in a field dominated by male coaches, officials, and athletic directors, I often felt like the odd “man” out. It has been a pleasure to see more women joining the ranks in sports and to offer a tribute to the women and men who contributed to women’s rights advancement in my homeland.

Gradually, Title IX revolutionized women’s lives in America by opening doors to education and athletics. Though we may be growing closer to gender parity in the West, women lag far behind in many parts of the world. Women are subject to sex abuse and domestic violence and continue to be denied access to health care, education and equal opportunity in the work place.

The need to celebrate women’s day remains crucial.

Step It Up Highlight“Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly and each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to help include and advance women.”

Change begins with one voice, one dream, one step.

On March 8th, I will be speaking in a room filled with girls from around the globe, movers and shakers of the next era, who will go on to become doctors, lawyers, diplomats, and leaders in their own countries. It dawned on me, maybe, my role all along was not to play ball, but to share my experience to inspire, to light the fire, and pass the torch to a younger generation who can use their talents to make this a better world.

I finally know who I am… an international woman.

Please join us in the party. Take time to celebrate the women in your life and make a pledge for parity.

Timeline: Women's Footprint in History

fascinating timeline – be patient, takes long to upload, but it is worth waiting

Basketball Blues and Brotherhood: Remembering Mike Maloy

Mike MaloyEvery February, I celebrate Black History month in the lessons I teach. I know what a travesty it is to be left out the history books by the powers that be. I owe a lot to my African American teammates who overlooked my skin color during our time together. Shared passions, common goals and interdependence out weigh prejudice. But nowhere was the bond greater than when I moved to Paris and joined the expats ball club.

It doesn’t matter if you are blue, green, orange, purple or female when you are flying solo in the Euro basketball league. Only a fellow American can appreciate our love for the game and understand the isolation of living in a foreign land 4,000 miles away from home.

When I first started coaching high school ball at international schools, women coaches were rare, but my male contemporaries – players recruited to play in Europe and who stayed on – accepted me with open arms. At the American School of Paris, Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French Basketball, took me under his wing in the international coaching “brotherhood.” Another mentor, Mike Maloy, like Henry broke down racial barriers, and left his mark in Austria.

Mike, a tall lean guy with an endearing personality, winning grin and a raspy, heartbreaking bluesy voice, never belied the bitterness that a lifetime of discrimination could create.

He was so non judgmental and unassuming. You would never know by talking to him that he put Davidson College on the map of the NCAA basketball, dominated in the Austrian pro league and sang lead with Boring Blues Band in the Viennese music scene.

Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Lefty Driesell, Mike became the first African American to play at the small southern, predominately white Davidson College where the New Yorker worked as hard to fit in as he did to rebound. In 1967 Mike also became the first African American to pledge SIGMA CHI fraternity, an action that created scandal within a system that had a long-standing tradition of discrimination.

In 1970 Mike was drafted by the Boston Celtics. In 1976 he became the first African American in the Austrian league. He again overcame intolerance and went on to win four national titles with UBSC Wien Basketball team before becoming a successful coach in the league.

In Austria, Mike admitted the he started to enjoy the game again. “It wasn’t about money. It was about chillin out and getting my head straight. I kept staying another year.”

That line echoes the sentiments of dozens of former American players that have befriended me during my decades of living abroad.

After his untimely passing, American International School of Vienna (AIS) named the high school basketball gym in his honor. And it was on his court that I remembered him best.

My fondest memories of Mike were seeing him at international tournaments, sitting at the bar sipping beer after a game, ever ready with a pep talk.

Once while lamenting getting beat out of the final, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?

“Wrong? With your tiny, lil’, raggedy team you got no business being in the same gym with goliath – I saw you coach your skinny butt off to get into the semis.”

When many seasons later, my lil’ raggedy team from Geneva snatched the Sport Council International School (SCIS) championship from the 7-time champion AIS on their home court, I thought I heard my old buddy laughing from the rafters.

“I told you so, girl.”

Thanks for believing in me, bro.

This one is for you.

Ten Tips for Survival When Sidelined by Back Pain

DSC00183I am back. I missed my friends out in the global blogosphere. When I logged out before the holidays, I did not intend to be away so long, but s*** happens.

Especially when you have a bad back. I am only a sneeze away from a catastrophe. Some people who have never suffered from back pain, poo poo the idea that back pain can be so incapacitating, but once it happens to you, you know.

Was it one too many cross Atlantic flights, too many basketball road trips, too many holiday cookies, who knows? But due to a major flare up, I was out of commission. I struggled to endure my school day. Every free minute I wasn’t preparing lesson plans or school reports, I spent lying flat or in therapy – deep tissue massage, spinal adjustments, thermal baths.

Stretch, walk, teach, rest, repeat.

Take one crooked old spine and an arthritic neck, add two herniated lumbar disks, three compressed dorsal vertebrae, and what do you get? One heck of a backache! My body has undergone a lifetime of trauma. Bad back is an understatement. Yet if you look at me, except for the basketball player slouch, from ducking through too many low French doorways, you’d never know, how I struggle to remain upright and shuffling forward. For any of you who suffer from chronic back pain or an occasional flare up, I put together a few tried and true tips.

  1. Never jump out of bed – flop on the floor first and roll like a ball
  1. Stretch – at regular intervals. Legs against wall, arms stretched overhead in L shape for a full body stretch.
  1. Exercise – walk, swim, bike but avoid high impact sports.
  1. Avoid sitting
  1. Limit computer time – strains your neck, shoulders, and wristsDSC00182_copy
  1. Take rest breaks flat out – stash a yoga matt under the couch, in the kitchen, at the office
  1. When it hurts too much to stand upright, crawl (preferably on carpet,) to loosen the SI joint and hips
  1. Use heating pads, thermal baths, body pillows, heat lamps, cold packs
  1. Do whatever you can to keep mobile
  1. Then ice baby ice!

A lifetime of hard hits, accidents, and high intensity competitive sports has left me fragile, but I am not broken. As long as this ol’ heart keeps ticking, I will fight to put one foot in front of other. I have tried every alternate therapy out there to avoid undergoing the knife.

Why not opt for surgery? I have too many weak links. Do you know anyone moving around with a total spinal fusion?

Nooo, give me my chiropractors, masseurs, physical therapists. From all my research and experience this is one area where integrative medicine and non-surgical intervention have the best long-term results.DSC00178_copy

That said I am always looking for the newest, non-invasive cure all. Next summer, if I can save enough money, I may head back to Wisconsin to my all time favorite chiropractor to try deep tissue, heat laser therapy. He and his brother use this to treat elite athletes including those giant cheese heads in the green and yellow jerseys. Hey, if it is good enough for the Greenbay Packers, it may work for this crazy, headstrong gal who got sacked one too many times in the game of life.

What is your best trick for coping with a bad back?