Behind the Whistle: What I Learned

PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVIDSON ATHLETICS


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Kim Wayne is the head coach at Davidson College.

Three years ago, I wrote a blog titled “Why I Coach.”  It was written as a reminder to myself and to others because I often remember the bad days that come with coaching before I even think about the good. It’s human nature, right? We tell our players nine positive things, and they always dwell on the one bad thing. No matter how hard we try to change that mentality, it’s still there. 

A few weeks ago, while driving to the airport from a long recruiting weekend in New Jersey, I received an email from an alum. She was a senior during my first year as a head coach, a year I try hard to forget because at the age of 26, I never believed I was ready, but who really is when they take that chance? The email included a link to a podcast she was a guest speaker on about young, successful lawyers choosing their path in law. During the podcast, the conversation shifted, as they began talking about how sports transformed her and made her the person and lawyer she is today. She reflected back on her experience at Davidson and how each lesson taught her something valuable. She acknowledged that she did not come to these realizations until she graduated, though she never took for granted the opportunity she was given to be a Division I scholar-athlete at Davidson and experience the challenges sports taught her to embrace. 

Opportunity. 

Hearing that word and truly thinking about its meaning is eye opening. Playing a sport in college is an opportunity. Coaching is an opportunity. As a coach, I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, and it’s something I did long before I even believed I was ready. 

I have been coaching for 18 years (yikes!), and I’ve been a head coach for 13. Every year has pushed me to invest more in my players than the game itself because the older I get, the more I realize the type of impact I can have on the next generation. Sure, winning matters. We all know coaches are fired year after year because they aren’t winning, but success doesn’t only come from winning.







I learned something valuable while listening to the podcast. Five games into my former player’s senior year, she tore her ACL. I was a first-time head coach with 18 total players on our roster, and we just lost our BEST player. In my mind, our season was over, but in her mind, she wasn’t finished. Despite the career-ending injury, she didn’t give up and instead became my helping hand. What my former player learned, and what she taught me, is that you need to fail if you want to find success. You need to learn from your losses, your turnovers, your missed shots and missed saves. That’s how you grow. Where you go from there is on you, but losses are what push you forward if you let them.

This past year was a year of losses, but it was also a year of opportunity, and so much can be gained from both experiences. For my team, we saw success. We embraced the challenge as a way to get closer. We accepted the loss of our 2020 season and did everything we could to embrace 2021. We learned about sacrifice, trust, commitment and accountability. There are no guarantees 2022 will bring the same results, but my players grew, and they did it together as a team.  

There have been a lot of coaching changes this year, with the addition of a lot of new, younger coaches who are eager to jump right in. Some might wish those two years never happened, but I wouldn’t accept that, and it’s not just because we got to have a season. So much can be learned from what occurred in 2020 and 2021, and if you don’t use those experiences as a way to grow, you will miss out and so will your players. What happened yesterday impacts what happens tomorrow. Even though I felt like a failure in my first few years, I continue to learn that what I did mattered. I was still changing lives through the opportunity I was given, even if I didn’t think I was ready.

To every coach and every player, it’s important to appreciate what you have and embrace the opportunity you are given. Remember to be proud of yourself and each other because none of this is easy, and it’s not supposed to be. We don’t coach because it’s easy, and we don’t play sports because they’re easy. We do what we do because failure offers opportunities that push us in ways that nothing else can. 

“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” – Ted Lasso

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