This morning, as I headed inside after finishing that first, glorious, most essential cup of warm motivation we call coffee, I opened the dryer and pulled out my daughter’s basketball jersey.

Today is her last home game. Probably ever.

When she decided to play basketball, I was a little wary. I never played sports, so I really wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into, because I knew it wouldn’t just be about her, it was going to involve me as well.

Fifth grade was fun. We had some good parents step up and help the team, show them the basics, and we won a few, lost a few, and overall had a great experience. Enough so that she wanted to play again last year.

Last year, well, it sucked. It all the way around SUCKED, and I already blogged about why when it happened so I’m not going to rehash it here. But it laid the groundwork for problems that have spilled over into this season, just as I suspected it would.

We had a real coach this year, a new-to-us coach that is the very embodiment of things that I generally don’t like about people. Not all the time. She’s perfectly nice to me, but I’m not one of her players. And I get what she’s been trying to do, but the thing is, her methods don’t work for everybody. And they haven’t worked at all for my daughter.

The yelling, the screaming, the fighting within the team – these things have been just about more than Reagan can take. Just about. But not quite.

Nearly every single evening, or afternoon following school, Reagan and I have talked about basketball. Not her playing, not her skills or what aspects of her game she needs to work on, but about all of this other stuff. Coach tears her down for two hours, and then I spend days trying to rebuild it. When I tell you that I am emotionally and mentally spent, I’m not exaggerating.

“Well,” you say, “Reagan must be a real wuss if she’s letting it get to her like that. That’s just how it is. That’s how all coaches are.”

Maybe so. But I think there’s something inherently wrong when you have a coach that has singlehandedly run off some extremely good players, and not just good players, but good kids in general. I think there’s something intrinsically amiss when my child gets so anxious about having to be in practice that she works herself up to a state of becoming physically ill. Every day.

And naturally, as a mother, I’m not going to look for fault within my kid first. But I have. I’ve tried to make sure that I’m seeing this as objectively as possible.

But who am I kidding, I have no possibility of being objective when it’s my only daughter that we’re talking about.

And so I’m not posting here about the coach, or the school, or anyone specific, but I just want to say a few things that are stirring in me.

First of all, I see this quote posted on Facebook at LEAST once a month, “A person that feels appreciated will always do more than expected.”

I know this to be true. I have several different contractors that work for me. Yes, I pay them. Yes, they are getting monetary gain. But I need them to do more than work for me. I need them to WANT to work for me. During some recent bad weather, the guy who holds my repos went out and moved all of our cars to a sheltered place where they wouldn’t possibly get damaged by any hail. Following the storm, another guy that works for me went and checked on every foreclosed farm on my books to ensure there was no damage. I didn’t ask either one of them to do that. They did it because they know I appreciate them. And they know that because I TELL THEM.

When was the last time you told someone you appreciated them? Not for something you normally thank them for either. Something specific to them that you appreciate. Words are powerful, my friends. So powerful that I remember some of the most hateful things I’ve ever been told. Those kinds of words cling to us like static electricity and the good things we’re told about ourselves tend to get forgotten. Which is why we all need to be reminded, early and often, what we mean to other people.

Reagan has made up her mind to not play basketball again after this season. Of course, she’s young and changing every day, so she could still change her mind. But I know my kid. When she’s done, she’s done. And the coach could turn into Pollyanna tomorrow and it wouldn’t be enough to change the will of a kid that has been berated and mocked and pushed too far, too hard, for too long.

And to be perfectly honest here, I’m not so sure that I’m not kind of proud of her for it.

In the beginning, when she was wanting to quit, I saw it as weakness. “She just isn’t trying hard enough,” I thought. “She just didn’t realize what she was getting into.”

Maybe not. I know there have been days when she’s given little to no effort in practice. “People who feel appreciated always do more than expected.” Perhaps she didn’t need to feel appreciated so much as she needed to feel encouraged. Perhaps that individual attention that our school so proudly promotes would have been better served with a tiny bit of honey rather than buckets of vinegar. Not coddling, not babying, but I just know, having been a young woman myself, that there’s enough assholes out there trying to tear you down every day. We need more people willing to empower our young women, and their methods matter.

OUR methods matter. In our interactions with our coworkers, our customers, our friends, our families, and most especially our children. Because I’m telling you from my own personal experience, the negatives from childhood shape you for adulthood so much. I cannot reiterate more the importance of there being more than one way to motivate another person. Most people are just too lazy to try and find it. But a good place to start is on the positive side rather than the negative.

Some people have had concerns that by letting her quit after the season was over, and not making her finish out the year, would instill in Reagan a culture of “quit” – giving up when things were hard or tough.

In the early part of the season, I would have agreed. Because I don’t ever want to raise a quitter. But looking at it now, I see that she hasn’t quit. She hasn’t quit because she has been asking, hinting, or begging to quit the team since August. She hasn’t given up on what she wanted for herself. Now, whether or not what she wanted for herself was right or not might be questionable, but SHE knew. And she hasn’t stopped pursuing it. She did want to play basketball initially. And then she didn’t. And I’m sure part of that is because it was harder than she expected. But there is courage and bravery in admitting when things are not the right things for you. And only YOU know that. Reagan is learning who she is, what she’s passionate about. It’s not basketball. I think it takes some inner strength to admit when you don’t want something anymore, mainly because there is always the pressure of other people’s opinions to deal with. And Reagan told me herself that the only thing that makes her feel bad about her decision is the fact that I love to watch her play and her grandfather loves to watch her play and she didn’t want to disappoint us. When I tell you I shut that thought down as soon as it came out of her mouth, I’m not exaggerating. I’m learning how to do what I know is right for me, despite the opinions of others, just now. At 34. I do NOT want that to be Reagan in 20 years. I want her to conquer that demon before she gets out on her own. As a healthy adult, and ESPECIALLY a healthy adult FEMALE, it’s essential to not have that part of your mental equation. I don’t want her to be selfish, mind you, but I do want her to have the guts to admit to herself when she’s had enough of something that she internally knows is not good for her emotional or mental well-being.

It’s sad to me because I think she has so much untapped athletic talent. I think given a different season last year, some different or at least ADDITIONAL coaching methods this year, she might be ready to sign up again for 8th grade. But her spirit, her drive, her zeal for it has been quenched. And that’s sad. Driving a kid to the point that they begin hating something that they initially loved, to me, is equivocal to breaking their spirit. And that’s unforgivable, at least in my book.

Her coach told me herself of the potential she saw in Reagan, named specific talents, said she wanted her to play. Guess what? She’s never told Reagan that. And kids, especially ones at the impressionable age of 13, they need to be told. I’m not saying give everybody a participation trophy and hug it out at every practice and don’t push them. But you can push without breaking.

Today, I tried to give her the pep talks of all pep talks. She said I should write a book of motivational speeches. Maybe I will. But I know that when I take my place in those bleachers today, and look out on that court, my eyes will be looking for the jersey that I pulled out of the dryer this morning, and the girl wearing it. My head will be held high, and so will hers. The haters tried to break her, and in turn tried to break me. But they didn’t win. We did. Because we were brave enough to say, “I know who I am. You don’t define who I am. And when I walk away, it will be your loss.” 

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