By working with these girls, I want them to know that their love of the game cannot depend on what the coach thinks of them or their performance. The relationships with your teammates is what makes the difference.
I fear we forget why we fall in love with our sport in the first place. I became a coach to share my love of girls and the game. I prayed that my leadership skills would be honed so that I could share with people that their value as a person does not come from what happens on a softball field. It comes from the relationships they build.
I vividly remember my first year with the Badgers. I wanted to please everyone. I wanted everyone to be proud of me. It can be suffocating. A lot of people are stuck there. You need good people around you to help you out. Fortunately, I have a caring culture at UW and AIA and great teammates who have helped me through this. It is so important to invest in the athlete holistically and not just in their athletic performance. You need to know that your coach still loves you and can celebrate the things about you that you bring to the table even when we lose. You need to know that they are going to help you find a way to be better.
I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life, but I think the coaching world needs more people who care about softball players as people, not commodities.
I give the coaches a lot of credit for all the hours and I think they invest in their athletes. But I think too many of them see victory as the overriding theme. It’s not. It’s about relationships. It’s about building, not tearing down. When you have a relationship with those you train, they will walk through a wall for you. Because they understand that the coach doesn’t just care about me when I hit a home run, but they also care about school, my family and my other interests.
Sometimes it’s something as simple as checking in to see how an athlete is doing. How they are REALLY doing. It makes someone feel cared for. How can I make sure my athletes feel supported as a person and how will I make them feel empowered as a person with access to the resources they might need?
I’ve had trouble concentrating for the past few weeks. Shortly after another UW student-athlete took her own life, so did a James Madison softball player. I didn’t know Sarah or Lauren personally, but their life was so much more than their sport. They were girls. They were best friends. They were teammates. They were role models. They have given so much to this world.
But they were also suffering, and I really understand that. Being a student-athlete is tough. It’s so sad that some think it’s their only choice, they just can’t handle it anymore. And some people never get to see how much they are loved or how much they are worth when sports dictate so much of their lives.
I think we should use this moment to think long and hard about priorities and transparency. To reflect on the importance of self-care and mental health for student-athletes.
We don’t need miracles. Just act.