8 a.m. practices, weekends away in Valparaiso, Indiana and late nights traveling back from away games all might seem like reasons being a volunteer coach wouldn't be worth it. Coaching at any level in any sport can be frustrating at times, but there are several reasons why it can be so fulfilling. Winning is fun, of course. But if you look harder, there are moments far more meaningful throughout each season.
Sports can play such an integral part in the growth of a young adult. Our coaching staff often times tells our players the season is made up of moments. We even refer to each member of our team as "moment makers" because each practice and game is an opportunity to create a special moment with your teammates and coaches. Something that will be remembered far longer than the trophy that sits in the trophy case. It's the journey that the team goes on to win those trophies that makes a difference. Three special moments come to mind for me during my five years of coaching experience.
The first was during a Saturday morning practice. One of those 8 a.m. practices in the middle of winter. Our team had just come off of one of our worst performances. Thus far, we had followed that up with an even worse practice. That is until our "12th man" created a moment that I might not ever forget. She was a player that didn't play very much, but was the ultimate team player. She cheered her teammates on and never complained. We were running suicides, and this player was so tired that she couldn't run anymore. The suicides were over and the team was off to get a drink. The coaching staff and I were convening at half court to discuss how practice was going. As we are talking we hear a player behind us running. It was the girl who stopped because she couldn't go anymore but in her own words,"she HAD to finish for her team." She ran after the entire team had gone off to get a drink because she was determined to finish the drill for her team. I'll never forget that moment.
The second moment came at the end of a season during the Lutheran State Tournament. One of our point guards struggled all season long with free throw shooting. She worked and worked before and after practice to get better. One of the great things about coaching Lutheran Middle School basketball, aside from helping young adults become better Christians, is that there is an opportunity each year to qualify for the National Lutheran Tournament. For those familiar with the NCAA tournament selection process, this is not much different. If you finish first or second at the state tournament you automatically qualify. We were in the Final Four in the closing seconds with a slim 2-point lead and our point guard, the one who had been struggling with her free throw shooting, gets fouled. Two makes and the game is sealed with our ticket punched to the National Tournament. The coaching staff yells over to her "two in a row, two in a row." Swish....Swish. Nationals, here we come.
Finally, the third moment came this past season. We talked all season long about making the minutes that you are in the game count. Again, we are playing in the State Tournament, looking for a birth to Nationals. We are behind 4 late in overtime with one of our best free throw shooters at the line. Because we were behind we subbed in a seventh grader who didn't play very much throughout the season but was counted on as our energy player. She made her one minute count. We missed the front end of a one and one and she fought through her block out, rebounded the miss, and put it back in to cut the lead to 2. Shortly after we forced a turnover to get another easy basket and tie the game . We ultimately ended up winning at the end and punching a ticket back to Nationals. People often think it's the plays at the very end that win games but it's the small plays like she made that make the big difference.
Winning a State Championship, going to Nationals, or beating a rival are all fun but it's moments that bring smiles to your face and joy to your heart that make for the best kind of moments and for the ones you will never forget.