Seven years ago I sat in a locker room bawling for a good hour. They were fat, painful tears that left my eyes puffy and body drained. My college team was playing in the NAIA National tournament and I had missed a shot at the buzzer which would have won us the game to advance to the elite eight. I wasn't crying about the shot, though. I was crying, sobbing rather, because I envisioned myself as a fourth grader, with a killer side pony, practicing my form with my dad in the backyard. I was replaying the hours and hours and hours I had spent on basketball courts from the time I first learned the game to that last shot as a senior in college. And I was realizing that it was all over. Basketball had consumed my time, my thoughts, my energy, my world for so long, and now it was over.
Never again would I play in a game that mattered. Never again would I feel the nerves and adrenaline rushing through my veins before a big game. Never again would I be part of a team of sisters creating hilarious memories and sharing hundreds of inside jokes. Never again. There were so many "never agains" and as they rolled through my mind, the tears flowed freely.
I wonder if Jesus was laughing at my little "Cry-fest 2004" as he peeked ahead in my future. I wonder because He knew that I would be a part of a team again and that I would love coaching as much as I loved playing. I hadn't always planned on coaching and by the end of my "basketball career", I was actually pretty sick of the game and ready to walk away from it forever. But God knew it wasn't going to be forever for me; He knew that those "never again's" I was mourning the loss of actually would be experienced again, just not as a player. I would be a part of games that mattered. I would get so nervous I would poop 7 times in one hour. And I would be a part of unified team of laughing sisters with inside jokes; I just would be their coach.
As I sat there, body wracked with sobs, I'm guessing God didn't actually laugh at me or the irony or me mourning something I wasn't actually losing. He understands my heart intimately and knew the depth of the loss I was feeling in that moment. He sympathizes with my hurts even when they are silly or illogical or unnecessary. But He also knew the joy that was just around the corner. He saw me as a fourth grader, college senior, and Valley coach all in one glimpse. And in that same glimpse, He also saw me in my forties, and fifties, and sixties (assuming I don't die).
My sister and I were talking about how comforting yet bizarre it is that He knows what will happen in our futures; our futures that we spend so much time worrying about. He already knows. He knows the pain I feel right now, in the present moment, but He also sees the restoration and healing that will come. It makes the uncertainty of the future feel suddenly, not so uncertain after all.
He saw me crying in that locker room at the end of my college career and He knew that in seven years time, I would be in my third year coaching at Valley and absolutely loving it. And He sees me now, as I fret about where I'll be in the next few years, and He already knows; He knows exactly where I'll be and who will be with me in 2018. It is strange, mind-boggling really, but also so very comforting. He knows my future and He goes before me. He is with me today and will still be there in 2018. I will change but He will not. It makes all my fretting seem just plain silly.
I've found there are lots of things about coaching that are even more fun than playing. I don't get to actually steal the ball or swish a shot but I get to show my girls how to and then scream, "get that ball!" or "hit it!" and rejoice when they do. As a coach, I still get to experience the thrill of a win without feeling the searing loss I used to feel as a player after my team would lose. I've learned to find my identity in Christ so losing is not nearly as painful as it used to be. In fact, we got smoked by 25 a few weeks ago and it didn't hurt at all. Granted, the other team was more talented than we- I mean, Duke was there recruiting a sophomore on their team. But as a player, I know that loss would have upset me. But not as a coach. I probably won't even remember that game.
No actually, I might. I might remember the moment before the game when a sketchy elderly man came up to my best player with a picture of her and asked for her autograph. Her teammate fell out of the bleachers laughing.
And I might remember how I waited around the corner to scare the girls before the game but ended up just making my assistant coach scream and nearly fall to the floor.
And I might remember how after the game we couldn't find the bus so we wandered the shady streets of downtown Long Beach yelling, "Move. That. Bus!"
But I know I won't remember all our turnovers and missed lay-ups and mistakes. Because I tend to block those memories out and remember only the funny or awkward or embarrassing. Here are some other recent memories that I'll probably remember from this season:
Coaching Confessions Part 3
* I'm not sympathetic when girls get hurt. I usually ask Kelsi to carry them off and comfort them while I continue on with the drill. I guess I'm not much of a nurturer. Early in the season on of my starters complained that her knee hurt and she didn't want to practice. I told her that was "bs" and she needed to play. We learned the next week she had a torn ACL. I was hoping the girls would have forgotten about my "bs" comment but they didn't and like to quote me when I'm being unsympathetic. When a girl got a black eye in practice, I told her I hoped it swelled so it would be impressive the next day. She was not amused.
I blame this lack of sympathy on my father. I get it from him. He ran over my foot with the Jeep in high school and when I said, "Da-ad, you ran over my foot!" he replied, "You're walking fine." Then in college, I was riding my mom's bike and got hit by a car. I rolled onto the guy's hood and hit my head on the windshield. I was fine, just super embarrassed. I'm not a huge fan of Dane Cook, but this clip about people getting hit by cars, is oddly accurate although I didn't have blood coming out of my ears. When I finally convinced the terrified driver that I did not have a concussion and was just really embarrassed and wanted to leave, I quickly pedaled myself home. And when I told my parents about this traumatic experience, my dad's response was, "So you ruined your mom's bike?" This is why I have no sympathy when girls tell me they're sick. Speaking of, my first year at Valley my best player had mono. She told me she felt like a turtle with its legs cut off but I still made her play. In my defense, no one knew she had mono at the time.
* I've been a bit ridiculous when angry. My new students had no idea that I morf into a bit of a beast when I coach. One boy even came up to me moments before our game to show me a picture on his phone of his dog. The next day in class he said, "Ummm, Miss Hardeman, you were kinda scary last night when you were yelling at the refs." For the record, I have not gotten a technical for any of my rants. One player told me, "I think if you were an old man, the refs would T you up." I think she might be right- I know I must seem sweet and soft-spoken before the game and refs are always a little shocked when I tell them, or scream at them, that they're terrible. One ref even said to me before a game, "You're a woman...." to which I thought, "Oh no, where is this going?" But he finished, "so if you need to grab me to get my attention, go ahead." I gave him a courtesy laugh but thought, "Oh buddy, you have no idea what you're in for if you make a bad call. I will have your attention and will not need to grab you. In a few minutes you might be fearful that I actually will grab you."
When I was angry at our best player, I called time-out and pointed at her very aggressively. It doesn't sound scary but combined with my "white witch of Narnia" face, I'm sure it was slightly terrifying. She wasn't laughing then but now she loves to imitate that moment. She knows that if she gets in foul trouble, I will be furious and I've made many threats of future punishments if she ever fouls out including: me telling the boy she has a crush on about it or her having to warm up before a game with her hair down, or wear a giant bow in her hair for an entire game. We'll lose if she ever fouls out but I really want to see her with the bow.
When I was angry at the 5 players on the floor, I snapped at the poor girl who had torn her ACL. She was cheering wildly from the bench while I was trying to instruct and I turned and said, "Excuse me, I'm talking." When I tell the story, my tone of voice is quiet and kind. When she tells the story, which she does quite often, I sound like I'm about to kill her. When I saw her after the game, I just said her name and she said, "I know, coach. You're sorry. It's cool." These girls know me too well and thankfully are very forgiving.
* I asked a Whittier Christian cheerleader to take this picture:
They are our rivals and we had just beat them at their place. It wasn't a pretty game. We played horribly and only won because our shooter made a three at the buzzer. But a win's a win so while the poor Whittier girls cried in the locker room, we celebrated by taking a picture by this rock they had painted by the gym.
* I made the girls look at birds doing it. I'm still embarrassed about this one. We were in the backyard of one of the players eating lunch when I saw some birds that looked to be fighting. They were poking each other with their beaks and it looked bizarre. Right as I told the whole team to look, the birds began to "do it."
"Sick! Why did you make us see that?"
"No!" I yelled. "They were NOT just doing that a second ago."
Apparently beak-poking is bird for "foreplay."
* I don't always have words of wisdom during time-outs. I always have something to say but not always 60 seconds worth and it creates awkwardness. I'll say my piece about what we need to do better and then the girls will continue to sit and stare at me. I know the crowd is watching us and I don't want the girls to just sit and chat so sometimes I say, "Okay, I'm done. But pretend I'm saying something really inspirational right now." Luckily, they play along.
* I tried to embarrass the seniors on senior night. The announcer typically reads about each player's high school career and what they'll remember. I added a paragraph for him to read about what I'll miss about each girl including random facts like how one of the girls can do a really creepy walk like a dinosaur. The non-seniors made posters for them and I provided the pictures. They are so used to me saying, "be ugly" that they were actually proud of these pictures rather than embarrassed.
Speaking of "being ugly", these girls make me so proud:
Last weekend I saw my old college coach when I went to watch my dad's team play against Westmont. We reminisced about the 2000-2004 seasons and laughed a lot. I really did love being a player and had the sort of ideal experience few will ever get to experience. I felt like I was back in college while talking to him until I saw one of my former Valley students across the gym. I had written him a recommendation and was so proud to see him flourishing at this school I love. His presence reminded me that no, I am not a college student any more. I am not a player. But I am a teacher and a coach and I love it.