Today one of my close college friends/teammates came down to visit, and we went to one of our favorite college spots. There’s this little diner that was turned into a Thai restaurant so we always refer to it as the Thai diner. We were talking about what it means to lose someone and how to cope with it. A couple years ago this friend’s father suddenly passed away, so when George died we quickly started talking about grief. She and I are both college coaches and often mingle with the same type people. I was asking her a slew of questions on how to deal with other coaches, and dealing with a team when unable to control your own emotions. During this conversation I had an epiphany:
I am a head lacrosse coach at a small university and I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on my players to hold strong for me and how I’m expecting them to come back from winter break in tip top shape so we can immediately get to work on building a strong foundation for our season. When all this horror began with George getting terminal so quickly, my team was always in the back of my mind. How will this affect them? How will they deal with this? How can I lead them when I don’t even know what I want? What will they think of me if and when I have a breakdown? But then I realized, it’s not all about them. Just like any relationship, it takes both sides to compromise if it’s going to be successful and stand the test of time. I need to get back in shape just as much as they do. I need to be emotionally stable by our first game. I need to by sharp and decisive by our first practice. There’s nothing in life that can ever prepare someone for this. Hell, I played Division 1 lacrosse, and as difficult as it was to have two-a-days in pre-season, nothing in my life has ever been this challenging. It’s a Sisyphean task, but just like the competitor I am, whenever I see a challenge I will encounter it head on. Even if that rock rolls back on me two dozen times. I need to come back ready for my team so they can rely on me just as much as I have with them.
George was always a great listener whenever it came to my team and the problems and stresses that come with coaching. Whether it’s a regret from something I said at practice, or if it was an issue with behavior of a player, he was always supportive and gave excellent advice. Although, he tended to side with the girls rather than me. But it kept me grounded. He was my id to my superego when it came to coaching.
He would come to all the weekend games to support me and my team. One time last season, it was our final conference game and we needed it to clinch a spot in playoffs and during warm ups, he called one of my junior starters over to him. I was speaking with the officials so I didn’t see it happening. All of a sudden, my player was running over to me yelling, “Coach, I need to give you something!” She held her hands out, and a softball sized toad was just staring up at me. “George wanted me to give this to you.” I looked at the toad again, then at her face. She was panting heavily because she didn’t care for reptiles of any sort, and then I glance across the field and George was standing there, grinning ear to ear waving at me. I told her to run back towards him and give him the toad. I was so angry because this was just before a game and I needed her to be focused. We ended up winning, and the player he handed the toad to scored the first goal of the game 8 seconds in. After the game I didn’t really care that he handed her the toad, or even distracted her. I just asked him not to do it again in the future. On the way home he was just laughing because he thought it was so funny how both me and my player reacted. He just knew how to lighten the mood regardless of the situation. And I need to remember that as I carry on. He was the best sideline coach I’ve ever had.