“Are you blind?” “You’re missing a good game out there, ref.” “Come on, that was a foul!” “Are you kidding me?” “3 seconds!!!!” “That’s a travel”
These are just a few of the things you’ll hear if you come to any high school basketball game. For the men and women that commit their time to officiate these sports for a measly $65 a game or less this is their norm. No matter the outcome of the game 50% or more of the crowd leaves upset and angry at them. Blaming the refs for their team’s inability to secure victory. It's no wonder leagues are struggling to find people to do the job.
One thing I’ve always found fascinating though is no one thanks the refs when they win. If we are going to say they are the deciding factor in a game, then they deserve as much praise when you win. You can’t just blame them for the bad and not give them credit for the good.
Reading that statement probably made you feel a certain way. You might be saying, “Coach that’s stupid, of course the refs weren’t the reason we won.” And I would agree, they absolutely aren’t, just like they aren’t the reason you lost. It’s time we stop wasting energy on berating officials and put that energy into supporting the athletes. Officials will absolutely miss calls or make a bad call, just like players miss shots and turn the ball over or coaches substitute the wrong person, call the wrong play, and wait too long to call time out. That’s part of being human. But the team that focuses on the controllable is usually the one that sees the best results in the long run.
In our program we constantly remind our athletes of the fact we are in sole control of our destiny. We determine what outcomes we get, no one else. This is an important life mindset. When you take ownership of your success and failures you have control over your life.
I believe this mindset paid off for our team and will continue to pay dividends for the players long into the future.
So how do you adopt this approach? Try these simple things.
It’s the Monday after February break and all but 10 coaches in Maine are feeling the same way I am, what now? For those of us not in the state games, there is no more basketball to coach. No more video to watch, no more games to scout, no more team building, no more practice planning, no more coaching, it’s just over. While you might think there would be a joy for our newfound free time, I find myself with this completely empty feeling.
My season ended over a week ago this year, but this empty feeling has been the same every year I’ve coached regardless of when the season ends. From mid-November until mid-February basketball and my team consume my life. During those three months, basketball takes priority over relationships, friendships, and family.
I’ve missed vacations, weddings, birthdays among many other things because during those three months I’m committed to giving 100% to the 12 to 15 athletes I get the privilege to guide. I spend countless hours watching film, attending games, planning for upcoming games and practices, checking grades, lamenting challenges with my fellow coaches, organizing dinners, planning team-building activities and securing guest speakers. I do all this under the constant criticism and vitriol from disgruntled parents who love to let me know how they would be doing it, that I’m not being fair, that they don’t like my tone, or I don’t care about their kid.
To be honest, the season is mentally draining. The game itself is enough to exhaust anyone between preparation and mentally replaying every game sleep is a luxury that is challenging to find during the season. As coaches though there is so much more to it than the game. You are working with teenagers who are dealing with life’s challenges. You serve as a mentor, tutor, guidance counselor, reference, and life coach all at once. You carry their burden for them at times and try to be a rock as they navigate their life challenges while oftentimes hiding the challenges you yourself are facing.
As draining as it is, there truly is nothing else I’d rather be doing. Coaching is a calling. I do it because I believe in my athletes' unending potential for success both on and off the court. I want them to know they have someone in their life that believes in what they can accomplish. I live for those “ah-ha” moments when you see the light bulb click in an athlete's head and they “get it”. That moment they accomplish something they didn’t think they could accomplish or mature into the leader you knew existed inside. Those are the moments I live for as a coach.
That is why I sit here in a sort of depression here today. When I’m not coaching who am I? What is my purpose if not to be impacting young people? I don’t get to teach any more life lessons to this group and that’s a sad revelation. For my seniors, who have grown so much in our time together, I never get to coach them again. I know they are all going to be amazing and successful people, but I’d give anything for one more practice.
This is the life of a coach. If history holds true the depression will last until about May, when I can start getting excited about summer basketball and the new season. I’m hoping that being open about it will help this year. Maybe some of my fellow coaches feel the same way today. If so, know you are not alone. I get what you are going through and even though you may be reflecting on the season feeling like you failed because you aren’t one of the ten teams left, let me be the first to tell you, you didn’t fail. You committed to do a thankless job and you did it your best day in and day out. While the detractors may be the loudest voices there are those that appreciate your efforts. And if you need to hear it, let me be the first to say I appreciate all you did this season. Whether our paths crossed or not, I know you impacted more young lives this season than some people will in their lifetime and that’s something to be proud of.
In life we get mixed messages about dreams. As a kid we are told we can be whatever we want to be when we grow up -- and then as we start growing -- we get told a lot of reasons why we can’t be what we wanted to be when we grow up. Those who impart these words of advice to chase more practical plans are usually very well intentioned. Perhaps they themselves had someone steer them off their very own dream so they feel it is best to “Save you” from the heartache of failing. But dreams are such delicate things.
I had one of these childhood dreams. I wanted to coach basketball. I had fallen in love with the game as a third grader and never looked back. There really was nothing in the world greater than the game of basketball.
Signing up for classes for my first semester in college I saw an Introduction to Coaching course, that I was promptly denied entry into because it was only for students in that program and you couldn’t take it until junior year. As a 19 year old college student, I was accepted into the Coaching/Administration undergrad program and I was finally going to be able to take that coaching course.
In the Spring semester of my sophomore year I had a meeting with the head of the program to discuss what I wanted to get out of the program. This individual was a Hall of Fame soccer coach who had won over 400 games in his tenure, one of only four coaches to amass that total. I left that meeting having received one message from him,: Having not played college basketball, I’d never coach at that level. Immediately I gave up on the dream.
I ended up changing schools, and going into Sports Management. I stayed involved in coaching at the youth level all the way through school. Then upon getting a job back in my hometown I was able to start coaching at the high school level. It was then that I realized my dream never died; it still burned deep inside. But I could still hear that voice in my head that it would never happen.
With that in mind, I stayed on course with what I was doing. Continued to work full time in my position at the local community college and coached the high school team.
One day as I was teaching one of my classes, we were discussing dreams and the importance of writing them down and making a plan. I started the lesson with a motivational video that had a mix of speakers including Eric Thomas, Les Brown and Tony Robbins. During the video there was a line that stood out, “if someone else in similar or worse circumstances has accomplished it, then so can you.”
It was in that class that I announced to the group I would become a college basketball coach.
You see several Division 1 College coaches have never played college basketball; Tom Crean, Marvin Menzies, Steve Hawkins, Scott Drew, Frank Martin, Bruce Weber, Bob Marlin, Cliff Ellis, Mick Cronin, Rick Majerus, Mark Few, Buzz Williams, Will Wade, Frank Haith, Greg Gard, Chris Beard, and Matt McCall to name a few. Why not me?
So here I am now, one year after reconnecting to my dream to coach as a career, and I’ve officially left my job. I am taking a leap of faith that I can -- and will -- make this happen no matter what.
As I take this leap, I think back to that meeting with the advisor and realize that what I took from that meeting wasn’t exactly what he was saying. I can hear him now, telling me it wouldn’t be easy, that I would have to get involved in as many ways as possible, be it officiating, as a manager, a GA, or with the high school team. He wasn’t actually telling me it couldn’t happen, but that’s what I heard on that day.
The lesson I hope you take from this is don’t give up on your dreams. Know that there will be perceived detractors along the way but don’t let them deter you from chasing it. And if you listen closely you might realize they aren’t necessarily trying to change your path they are just giving you a difficult road map that it’s going to take to get there.
Lastly if you truly want something, know that it will not come easy and there will be sacrifices and tribulations along the way. Keep fighting.
State championship winning basketball coach, Chris Woodside, shares his journey of going from varsity boys coach, to becoming a men's college coach, to currently coaching girls varsity basketball as well as life lessons learned on + off the court.