As of today, I am no longer a college coach. Having been “in the game” for nearly TWENTY YEARS (my first head coaching position was back in 1999 at Old Tappan, while I was finishing up my senior year/undergrad days at Montclair) I’ve had quite a journey. Starting with summer swim & dive coaching at the PRMP, to coaching the “non-competitive” swim team at the Ridgewood Y, to volunteer coaching the PRHS freshman volleyball team & volunteering with the Boilermakers whenever I could (or Meghan asked me to!) to my high-school career at OT & DBP, and most recently coaching D2 XC/Track at Felician, I have been very fortunate to be a part of some very successful programs and I have gotten to work with some great people – athletes and coaches alike.
My most recent stop at Felician College/University was one which I really wanted to work out. I left DBP in 2013 to do some coaching for an Olympic Development program here in NJ, then added some private coaching on the side but when the opportunity to pursue collegiate athletics came up, I was “all in” – especially during the time between leaving teaching at the Prep and picking up my new position at MSDA. I spent countless hours traveling/recruiting, planning training and workouts, and meeting athletes whenever their schedules required it – in spite of what my days looked like (545 AM practices before a full day of teaching Shakespeare, followed by office hours and PM workouts for example). There were times when – on a team of only 12 athletes, I’d be at 5 different workout sessions – even though I was only paid part-time. I believed in my system and wanted to show them what dedication looked like so they would repay it in kind. I found an assistant coach in James Pipkins who shared my passion and gave to this program what I tried to – and gave 10X the time and energy I did, which I didn’t think possible. He made it work, so I thought I could as well – and we had a plan.
After two years of recruiting – and believe me, we put in the time to find the “right kids” and we worked very hard to make sure that the student-athletes we were providing opportunities and assistance to were of the same mindset and philosophy as us – and after struggling to field a team in 2015-2016, then adding a few pieces but still holding on for dear life in 2016-2017, our 2017 signing class – for MXC, WXC & WTR – gave us great hope. These were young men and women who signed because they believed in us, and who we believed would start/continue the upward trend. In all honesty, and with as much humility as I can muster given the feeling of failure and disappointment in myself, I’ll simply say it just didn’t work. I have a system I believe in; a system I’ve developed through trial and error, through revision and adjustment, through research and restructuring and my vision and my system didn’t “connect” with the student-athletes we brought in. I won’t blame them; I won’t blame myself, either. I’ll just say that it didn’t work, and things weren’t connecting – nor did I see that changing. Rather than take away their opportunities, it was time for me to move on and hopefully, a new coach with a different philosophy can help the young people at Felician and the coaches and staff there move forward. The past 6 months I feel like I took some giant steps backward – as a coach and as a person – by being there. Personally and professionally, it was time for a change. I simply couldn’t make it work, so it’s time to move on.
I often find inspiration in music – you’d be hard-pressed to find me without music playing at home, in my classroom or the car – and I’m rarely not singing, humming or whistling a tune. Music calms me; music motivates me; music teaches me & music makes me who I am. I found a song a few weeks ago that for some reason keeps coming up on shuffle, or on the radio and these particular lyrics hit home:
“Hypocritical, egotistical; don’t wanna be the parenthetical, hypothetical – working onto something that I’m proud of, out of the box, an epoxy to the world and the vision we’ve lost. I’m an apostrophe; I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see. I’m just a product of the system, a catastrophe and yet a masterpiece, and yet I’m half-diseased…and when I am deceased, at least I’ll go down to the grave and die happily! Leave the body of my soul to be a part of me – I do what it takes!”
(“Whatever it Takes” – Imagine Dragons)
What did this song show me? I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to practice what I preach and I want to be who I say I am. I haven’t been able to do either lately and I don’t want my ego to ruin the college experiences of these young people. I want to work with people who want to work with me; people whose goals match my vision & whose drive and determination are strong enough to handle what I throw at them. I am humble enough to admit that I failed at this most recent endeavor BUT I refuse to believe that my system doesn’t work. It has never failed anyone who has trusted me and “bought in” 100%. I am now 3 head coaching stops into my career and so far, I’m just a parenthesis; I’m just a part of the conversation. I made a name for myself at DBP but at some point that will fade – and that’s okay. I know – hypothetically speaking – the talent there would have led them to success, with or without me, and that’s okay, too – I’m still proud of what we were able to string together there.
I want to work on something that I’m truly proud of. I was a great “program coordinator” at DBP; I don’t consider myself a great coach. I had a pretty good middle-distance/distance system that developed some pretty good talent there but I’m still working on the “out-of-the-box” ideas and the solutions to the shortcomings of my system and myself. There’s more to see but I’ve always been a product of the systems I’ve been in. In HS I was good, but I was just good for a kid from Park Ridge – never anything “great” as a student or an athlete. I went to college and failed as a college athlete – it was systemic and personal – and I failed as a college student. My shortcomings as a college student led to me failing to advance early in my career; I then worked within a system that failed me as a teacher, even though I had great colleagues and friends, I didn’t have mentoring and professional development and I lost my way. I left that job and took another chance, and another, and another – each time trusting people to provide for me and when they didn’t I blamed them – and the system, instead of taking responsibility. I was trusting and naive when I should have been skeptical and pragmatic. From promises of employment to promises of advancement to promises of support, the system(s) failed me again. Ultimately, these stumbles and falls led me to where I am now – and I’m in a place of support and within a system that wants me to succeed. A system that sees who I am and what I can do and is helping me become the best version of myself; not leaving me to my own devices. A system that wants to find ways and situations for me to help; not a system that I can’t be successful in.
I’m finding my way – maybe for the first time – and I’m excited for what the future holds; that excitement and passion is what I need to follow and the fuel for my happiness and I can’t follow my heart (or my dreams) when things are standing in my way! It’s time – at 41 – to do “Whatever It Takes” to be who I am, and to live a happy life. Hopefully, this is where the searching ends and the discovering begins. For the first time in my life, my faith, my hopes, my goals, my dreams and my situation are all in alignment. Now, to continue the journey!