Life Learnings from March Madness

[Just an FYI, I'm still kinda reeling from Kevin Ware's horrific injury that occured in the Louisville/Duke game Sunday (as I'm sure many who saw it in person and on TV are).    My heart and prayers go out to Kevin as he begins the long road of recovery, and I sure hope we see him back in action in a couple years.  Hopefully, he will someday find a silver lining to this whole situation.]

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March is my favorite month for several reasons.  And I’m sad to see it go.

First, it’s the month I was born, so by default it’s the most awesomest month ever (yeah I said “most awesomest”  Don’t judge).

Second, it’s “in like a lion, out like a lamb”… well, it’s supposed to be that way.  There’s been WAY too much cold weather for March this year, but I digress.

Third, this month brings the height of the college basketball season – March Madness.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to TNT, TBS, truTV and CBS the past couple weeks watching games.  And not just your team’s games.

ALL the games.  I mean, that’s what March Madness is all about!

I remember when I was in middle school and high school, the teachers that had TVs in the classroom would turn on the games that were playing during the day and let us students watch.  That probably didn’t happen across the country, but growing up in the Hoosier state, well that was what you did.

Why?

Because basketball is to Indiana what football is to Texas and hockey to Minnesota.

Yes, it’s that important.

March Madness treat
My treat meal the night Belmont
played – Bdubs and Coors light. Yum!

Now though that I’ve gotten several years beyond my college career, I watch the tourney with a slightly different perspective.

Granted, I still act like every crazed fan – especially when Belmont plays.

I still eat wings, drink a couple of beers, and scream my head off at the TV - again, especially when Belmont plays.

BUT I do get sentimental at the end of many of the games, especially when I see the players crying.  I don’t blame them.

Out of the 68 teams that start, 67 of them will eventually lose.  Which means that 67 teams have seniors whose last game is a nationally televised loss.

Ending the season with a loss is hard enough, but to have the final game of your career be a loss?  Whew.  Nothing easy about that.

Actually, I don’t remember the last game I played in my college career.

No, I didn’t get a concussion or anything awful like that…

It’s because I didn’t know I was playing my last game at the time.

You see, my college career was, hmm how shall I say this…  unique.

I played my freshman year then redshirted my sophomore year due to a chronic knee injury/surgery.

I was already not considered fast, and after the surgery, my first few steps were even slower than they used to be.  Changing direction happened in slow motion, and even though I was still working my butt off, I was constantly getting beat to the ball.

Combine that with already fighting tooth and nail for playing time against the other girls on the team with mad skills?  And it meant that I hardly played more than 10 minutes a game.

Life Learnings in March Madness

My coaches approached me about a month or so after my junior year season ended and asked me to consider taking a “student coach” position for my senior year (read “glorified manager”).

It seemed like the best option for my physical health (my surgeon said that my knees would continue to crumble at an alarmingly fast rate as long as I was participating in high impact exercise)…

And also the best option mentally & emotionally (let’s be honest, it’s TOUGH to work your butt off day in and day out to at practice and then sit the bench for 90% or more of every game)….

After much consideration, tears, prayer, and several sleepless nights, I accepted.  And due to the timing of the offer, it meant that I had already played the last game of my career without knowing it.

Even though I was with the team for the entire next fall season as a “student coach”, I never really got closure to my playing days.  To be quite honest, this is something that is still hard for me to handle.

Every once in a while (especially during March Madness), emotions will come bubbling to the surface – anger, sadness, and jealousy (of all those players that DO remember their last game).  But when I start struggling with all of this, I try to remember that there are many things I can be thankful for that were a result of not playing my senior year.

For example, I got to coach a team that fall season which led to a summer coaching gig at the Shannon MacMillan soccer camp. Yeah, I actually met Shannon and got to work with her and a few other coaches for a week at the camp!!

For those who don’t know, Shannon was a member of the US Women’s Soccer team that won the gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics and the World Cup in 1999.  She was also the US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year in 2002.  She’s kind of a big deal.

Life Lessons and March MadnessThat is Shannon in the middle with a couple other
coaches.  We were showing her a good time
in downtown Nashville after the camp ended. :)

So, if I wouldn’t have been able to leave Belmont practices a little early to get to my girls’ team, I wouldn’t have made the connections with the coach that got me the spot coaching at that camp.

What I’m trying to tell you all today is that there is a difference between camping out in negative emotions that keep you a slave to your past and experiencing those emotions then using gratitude to release the past.

Gratitude helps me to find the silver lining of that experience so that I’m not stuck in the pain of the past.  The last thing I want is for my past to cripple me in the present.

I share this because I’m finding that my emotional health is just as important as my physical health, and as athletes, many of us only focused on the physical for years.  In fact, most of us were coached to focus only on the physical.

I’m not pointing fingers or blaming anyone, but now that we see this, it’s important that we don’t ignore it.

So my first tip on getting into better emotional shape is to give gratitude a try.  Find something to be thankful for, even if you’re right smack in the midst of madness.  Gratitude can radically shift your outlook on yourself and on your life.

Let me know – what are you thankful for today?

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