Behind the Whistle: Just Some Love and Support

PHOTO COURTESY OF PACIFIC UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Brittany Hartmann is the head coach at Pacific University.

Fall 2018. It is the end of Week 1 at my new position, and the nerves are finally wearing off. I don’t have to pinch myself to prove that it is real.

I am back at my alma mater, working two full-time positions (teaching high school and coaching lacrosse). I am flat out exhausted as we wrap up practice, yet excited to even have this opportunity. I ask my players if they need anything from me, one of them jokingly yells, “Just some love and support, Coach!” Little did I know how much of an impact that simple phrase would have on my team, my values and my life as a coach. It quickly became a mantra for our team as we went through the road untraveled. Just some love and support.

ANXIETY IS REAL

Spring 2019. It is the middle of a conference game. We have 15 athletes on the roster; three have season-ending injuries. One of my athletes — who should be an attacker but is playing midfield, because … no subs — comes off the field and cannot breathe. After a brief analysis, I realize that she is having a panic attack. We are the away team, so we do not have an athletic trainer present.

I look at my assistant coach (none other than the bada$$, Thuy Williams) and tell her, “Coach the team and give us a second.” I usher my player behind the bench during the middle of the game to help her focus on reality, breathing and calming her heart rate down. Sometimes, working through anxiety and being there for your athlete is more important than a lacrosse game, even if we must play a person down (Division III life ... IYKYK). Just some love and support.

JOLLY RANCHERS

Spring 2020. It is three days before spring break, and our athletic director pops up on my incoming calls. I know what is coming because cancellations are sweeping across the country. I answer and my worst fears come true: the season is over. Together, our coaching staff and administration tell the team with tears welling in our eyes. Thirty minutes later, I see a group of my athletes (mostly seniors) sitting in the grass outside my office. Their body language is defeated and distraught.

I grab a bag of jolly ranchers from my desk and go out to sit with them. We all cry and eat them in silence. My heart is broken. For once in my life, I have no answers and no solutions. But we sit there together anyway trying to feel and process our emotions. Just some love and support.

LATE NIGHT EMAILS

Fall 2021. It is 1:30 a.m. I am wide awake, not sleeping due to the many heavy stressors weighing on my mind and heart. My phone buzzes. Unable to turn my mind off to ignore it and against my better judgment, I open my email. In my inbox, I find an email from a name that I had not heard in over a year. A former recruit that went on to play at a higher division. In it, she discusses how a memory from one of our recruiting events popped up on her Snapchat flashback. She reminisces on how much fun she used to have playing lacrosse and finishes the email with the following:

“Thank you for all the times you made me feel like you believed in me when I didn’t feel like doing the same for myself. I feel endlessly grateful to have built a relationship with a coach like you, and I hope you are doing well.”

Cue me, instantly sobbing in the middle of the night while trying to stay silent to allow my wife to sleep soundly next to me. Talk about a punch straight to the heart. This kid, who I met maybe 10 times total, barely even knows me, and yet the impact I had on her clearly carries on. The next morning, I text her to check in because she is clearly struggling and needs an unbiased person to listen. Just some love and support.







ANSWER YOUR PHONE

***Note: this particular story deals with the topic of suicide. The athlete has given permission for this to be shared. Sharing is an effort to destigmatize discussions of suicidal ideation and provide support to those that also struggle.

Winter 2021. It is 10:00 p.m. I get a text from an athlete that I know has been struggling lately. “Hey coach, sorry for the late text, are you busy?”

The feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me that I need to call her. So, I do. Thank goodness for the IWLCA sponsored QPR suicide prevention training a few years back, because I feel equipped and empowered to ask the right questions to help this athlete in her moment of crisis. I connect her with necessary services to help her out of the immediate crisis.

Suicidal ideation does not just go away. Fast forward about a month from that night and I get a text at 11:00 a.m. “Hey coach, are you busy?”

The same feeling tells me to call her. So, I do, not knowing what I was getting myself into with that simple phone call. “Coach, I messed up. I don’t want to die.” Come to find out that in a moment of impulse, she took far more than her prescribed amount of antidepressants. I mobilize emergency services and get her to the hospital. After a very stressful next few days, she pulls through.

Although it will never truly be over for her, she is now connected with therapists, psychiatrists and peer support groups to help her develop coping skills and a realization that she is not alone. She is also openly discussing her experience with me and my coaching staff. When I asked her if I could share her story, she said, “I want it to be destigmatized. I want my experience to be known so that nobody else has to go through what I did.”

The desire to help others after all of that is incredibly inspiring and simultaneously gut wrenching. Who was the first person she contacted when she realized what she had done? Me. The pressure of this knowledge is sometimes too much to bear. Every day, I am so grateful that she reached out and that I listened to my gut to answer that text. You know what she needed at that moment? Just some love and support.

SHOW THE EFF UP

Winter 2022. It is a new year. By choice or not, I am certainly a new me. These experiences have taught me the power of vulnerability (shout out to Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly), love and support.

If you have yet to experience something like this, I highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with on-campus as well as off-campus resources for your athletes. Being prepared in a time of crisis is paramount to success when navigating through it. Every day I am grateful that I did not lose an athlete that day. I do not have all the answers; I am simply going to continue showing up for my athletes, my assistant coaches and my recruits. Reaching out can sometimes be the only lifeline left for those around us.

Never forget to just give them some love and support.

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