I coached my last basketball tournament of the season, the state tournament.
My coaching commitment lasted from late October until the beginning of March, a total of five months. Three practices a week and tournaments every other weekend added up to numerous hours spent with a group of nine eighth grade girls.
The experience was a roller coaster ride, with the highs being extremely high and the lows being extremely low. Nonetheless, throughout this journey, I learned not only valuable life lessons, but also things about myself that I would not have discovered any other way.
When I accepted this coaching position, I was told my responsibility would be to further develop the skills of the most talented age group. The eighth grade girls were the bread and butter of the Stillwater Traveling Basketball Program, and I did not want that group to lose its reputation as a result of poor coaching. The pressure was on. When the tryout process was complete and my team had been determined, we began the season.
I went to the first practice with high expectations, ready to be blown away by the girls’ skill set. However, I was unprepared for what was coming. Upon the completion of the first practice, I did not know where to begin. It had taken the team 30 minutes to complete a basic shooting drill, we could not throw a pass without turning the ball over and defensive stance was a concept that appeared to be completely foreign to us. I did the only thing I knew how to do: I coached based on the same way I had learned when I was a player.
It did not take me long to realize that this method was ineffective. At our first tournament in November, we lost every game, including the friendship game (which never turns out to be very friendly considering no team wants to come in last). I knew after this performance that I would have to adopt a different coaching method if the team was to have any success this season.
Before this point in my life, I had always been under the impression that I was a relatively patient person. It did not take me long to realize I was not quite so virtuous. I would come home from practice, frustrated that my girls did not seem to understand what I was trying to teach them. After too many of these occasions, I realized I needed to ask my father for help. He has 32 years of coaching experience, and I was hoping a little bit of his expertise would rub off on me.
My dad provided me with a variety of drills that would teach the team the skills in a different way than previously attempted. With his assistance, the girls began to improve slowly, but surely. The team began scoring 35-40 points a game, and they learned to keep the ball in front of them on defense. I would coach the games and run the practices, and my dad would always be there watching, pointing out areas for improvement.
By the time the state tournament rolled around, I had a feeling that our team was ready to go. We were scoring upwards of 40 points a game and managing to hold the other team to around 30. Our passing had become more precise, and we had learned to handle the basketball.
I checked the bracket and, to my dismay, realized our first opponent had crushed us just a few weekends before by roughly 20 points. I was not feeling overly confident, but I put my best five girls on the floor and hoped for the best. Little did I know, our team had come to compete. We won a tight one, coming from behind as usual.
I will be the first to admit, I was shocked. The girls had shown me a fire that I had never seen before, and it energized me.
That same day, we crushed our second opponent by nearly 40 points. The coach of the opposing team even said we had “a good shooting team.” I shook his hand and said a “thank you,” politely accepting the compliment. If anyone had told me at after the first practice that another coach would compliment my team on its shooting ability, I would have laughed out loud.
It was not until this moment that it hit me: we could actually do this. We could win the state tournament; an amazing feat. All we had to do was win two games the following day, and we would be the champions.
However, these events did not line up. We lost our first game by a fair margin, and we lost the second by only two points. Our team ended up tying for fifth place out of 16 total teams.
When our team sat down after the games for our final meeting of the year, I was expecting to feel a certain level of disappointment. The strangest thing was that I did not feel disappointment at all, but rather, the exact opposite. I was proud of my team, and I was experiencing a joy I could not quite comprehend. Not the joy that comes from achievement, but the kind of joy very few people have the opportunity to experience; the kind of joy that comes only from hard work and immense growth.
I have coached other teams before, but this season was different. I learned, among other lessons, to remain patient under frustrating circumstances, to ask others for help when you need it, and to be willing to admit you do not know everything. This year was the first time I was challenged beyond my limits and forced to grow and change, and I am thankful I had this wonderful opportunity. Being pushed to my limits allowed me to experience a different kind of joy that was far more satisfying than simply winning games and tournament titles.
I encourage students to take advantage of opportunities either on or off campus that will push their boundaries and limits. These unique experiences facilitate personal growth and development that has the potential to be life changing.
Morgan Stippel is a political science major and a professional writing minor. When she graduates from UW-River Falls, she wants to become a state prosecutor and specialize in domestic violence cases.