Behind the Whistle: An Open Letter to Coaching


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Janine Tucker is the head coach at Johns Hopkins.

I have been blessed to have coached collegiate lacrosse for over 30 years. When I look back on that amount of time, it feels like it has gone by in an instant. And when I think about that, it makes me smile, as coaching has been more of a passion project than a job.

I feel lucky, and I feel grateful.

As I reflect on why I got into coaching and why I do what I do as a coach, I always come back to something I read from Jeff Janssen of the Janssen Sports Leadership Center. It describes my WHY perfectly. Thank you, Mr. Janssen, for putting into words what I have spent the last 30-plus years of my life doing to the best of my ability. It wasn’t always pretty, but I gave it my best...

THIS IS WHY, by Jeff Janssen

I COACH YOU - because I care about you. I CHALLENGE YOU - because I believe in you. I EXPECT YOUR COMMITMENT - because I know your family and job will. I HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE - because life will hold you accountable. I PUSH YOU OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE - because it’s the only place where real growth occurs. I WANT YOU TO DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME - because life doesn’t always give second chances. I ASK YOU TO SACRIFICE FOR THE TEAM - because true success means being a part of something far greater than yourself. I IMPLORE YOU TO GIVE YOUR BEST - because I don’t want you to look back on this season, your career, or life with regrets. I DEVELOP YOU TO LEAD - because your company, community, and country will eventually need you to. I DISCIPLINE YOU - because I want you to learn there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things and treat people. I CHALLENGE YOU TO COMPETE - because you’ll fight some battles in your life where losing is just not an option. 

I INSIST YOU PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL - because you’ll soon realize that the little things are the BIG things. I PUT YOU THROUGH ADVERSITY - because you’ll need the persistence to overcome far greater adversities in your life. I MAKE YOU EARN A SPOT - because you'll take more pride in and ownership of the things you work hard for and earn. I INSIST YOU DO THE RIGHT THING - because I want you to look in the mirror and be proud of who you are and what you stand for. I REQUIRE YOU TO REPRESENT YOURSELF WITH CLASS - because you’ll carry your reputation with you for the rest of your life. I FORCE YOU TO FACE YOUR FEARS - because breaking through your fears gives you the confidence to take on any challenge life throws at you. I DO EVERYTHING I DO - because I want you to become the absolute best version of yourself and develop into the responsible and respected adult your family, friends, coworkers, community, and the world all need you to be.

As coaches, we can get caught up in the wins and losses, especially the losses, and the pressure and angst we feel can cloud our why. Reading this always brings me back to the higher purpose of coaching, of leading, of teaching, of mentoring. There is so much more to coaching than your record. Maintain that perspective and you will “win” by positively and powerfully impacting the lives of young men and women whose parents have entrusted you with their children.

Nope, it’s not easy. It’s challenging, to put it lightly … and there are so many struggles, but through struggle comes life lessons and growth. It is making it through the hard stuff that is so powerful, meaningful and rewarding and such a source of pride and joy when the people in your care grow into the best version of themselves over time. I try to coach my players as I would want someone to coach my sons. With intensity, high expectations, joy, purpose and love. This is why.

And to my coaching colleagues …

Thank you!

Thank you for inspiring me, challenging me, motivating me and supporting me through 30-plus years of coaching collegiate lacrosse. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of such an amazing profession whose members have the ability to positively impact people’s lives through the sport we love. You have all positively impacted my life — more than you know.

I have the utmost respect for those who take on the role of “coach.” Coaching nowadays is the most demanding it has ever been. Hang in there for the love of your players. Know you are not alone. On game day, we compete. But every other day, we must support each other and lift each other up so we can be at our best to lead our players.

A final thought: You can absolutely coach with intensity, high expectations, love and joy.

All my best,  
Coach Tucker


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