This is my 27th year in education.
Hush. I’ve been full time 26 of those years in middle school and high school classroom. I spend a year substituting in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders. That was the year that taught me I didn’t not want to be a primary school teacher. Middle school is my thing and I love it.
I’ve been a coach for almost as long. Of the 22 years teaching in my current district, I’ve coached middle school basketball 19 of them. I coached a couple of years at my previous position in Missouri, and at my first teaching job in Alaska, both my wife and I coached the varsity basketball team. By my math, that’s 22 years of coaching. It’s no wonder I’m almost completely gray and losing hair, the stress of both of those positions has done a number on me! But I digress.
I stumbled over a blog titled, “Some Games are Different,” where the author talked about the games that were as if they were yesterday day in their mind. And it got me thinking about my coaching career. There are games that just pop out and my heart races as if they were happening right in front of me.
The first two are from 27 years ago in Alaska. We were young and ignorant and didn’t know any better as we tranplanted our white selves into the middle of a native village along the coast of the Bering Sea. We took the coaching jobs thinking we could do some good, and I think we did. However, we experienced some racism against us because of coaching (you aren’t playing her enough because she’s a native) and really had no guide on how to deal with happening to us.
However, there were two games that popped up in my head from that one season. Backstory, our team’s best player (20+ points per game) moved out of the district. So our team started with a “we can’t win” attitude and this “who are you” look on their faces. We lost our first 7 games, but after Christmas Break, something shifted. We started being competitive, then started winning. We played in a tournament at the end of January and we beat a team the girls said they’d never beaten, ever. It was like a curtain had been pulled to reveal this team that just wanted to do well. And we did. Suddenly, we won 5 in row and looked good doing it! We played the same team with a trip to the state tournament on the line, got down 10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and I called timeout. I simply told the girls that no one expected them to be here, so just go out and play. And they did. With 10 seconds left, the game was tied and we had a freshman missed two free throws. They heaved the ball of from half court, and with one second left, one of their girls under the basket grabbed the miss, and made a layup as the horn sounded. Shock, disbelieve, the other coach literally rolling on the floor, and tears, so many tears. This is one of the two games I’ve cried about afterwards.
The other, our final game as a school team against our rival with whom we’d be whole grade sharing with and eventually consolidating to form one team. We came out and just played lights out. We could not miss and it was the most amazing half of basketball I’d seen from this team ever. However, we were 7 girls deep, and we started to run out of gas. The game went to overtime, and we eventually lost. Again, tears, shock, disbelief, and a great dislike of one of the referees. Anyone will tell you, I don’t blame refs for wins/loses. We simply play and if we cannot get the job done, that’s on us. I’ve never had a game where the official had such a hand in changing the momentum of a game. Phantom fouls, terrible calls, and a general attitude of “you shouldn’t even be winning this game”.
And finally, I’ll end with on an upbeat note. There’s a team in our conference that just has always been a thorn in my side. They always have great teams, they are well coached, and in my career here, I’ve managed to beat this team a grand total of twice. My wife has has a win against this team (she took over for me while I was out of town one game) and she’s always thought that was kind of funny. Ha ha ha!
Anyway, four years ago, I was coaching our club team and this other team was our first game in the tournament. Girls were super nervous because in the previous season’s game, our team got beat by 40+ points. For me, I couldn’t see it because we had a pretty good team. Height, speed, and that tenasity on defense that you cannot teach. So, we play this game and end of losing by 6. Girls are just on cloud nine that it was so close. Me, I was pleased, but wanted more. This was a game we practiced for and for good reason. This other team was pretty dang good, beating the others in the tournament by 20+ points and destroying the school teams. The day of the game, the girls were nervous, but focused and it showed on the floor. Each time our opponent tried to pull away, we came right back. It came down to the last two minutes, and we got head by 3 points, and the other team unraveled. Technical foul on one of the girls for spiking the ball. Technical foul on the coach for being 10 feet out on the floor. As we were shooting the free throws, I called the girls over and told them this: “When we win, we celebrate like we been here before. When we go to the locker room, that’s when we lose our sh*t.” They giggled, which is what I wanted, and we won the game.
And in the locker room, I lost a little bit of my ear drum because of the yelling and screaming.
Some games are just different. You prepare for them differently. You practice for them differently. Your emotions are different when you are done. I love that I can share these with people because we all need that chance to feel the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”, to comfort someone who’s team lost in the last second AND to laugh and cry with a huge win.
In the end, it’s not the X’s and O’s that I enjoy, it’s the faces of my players, their emotions, and how we come together as a team. Plus, as a middle school coach, we don’t feel that pressure quite as bad. We get learn about how to deal with the butterflies so when they are in a big game in high school, they can use those middle experiences as a guide! 🙂
Tomorrow will be a huge one at Kinnick Stadium with #3 Iowa and #4 Penn State. I’m sure both coaches have been doing things just a little bit differently in terms of keeping their players emotions in check. Kinnick will be rocking and the tailgating will be insane! Good luck to the Hawks as this is certainly not just another game!
Have you had these moments? I’d love to hear about them in the comments! 🙂