OK, so you may wonder how the title of this post has ANYTHING to do with my journey. Hang with me and you'll see!
I have a deep admiration for Shaka Smart, head coach of the VCU Men's Basketball team. Just in his third season, Coach Smart has changed VCU Men's Basketball from a sub-par mid-major team, to a mid-major team that can take on ANY other team with a very good chance of winning, no matter who the opponent. Coach Smart has taken the team to the Big Dance two years running and even made a Final Four appearance in 2011. This year he lead one of the youngest teams in the NCAA to the Big Dance where they beat a number 5 seed and then came just 3 points shy of moving on to the Sweet 16.
Now, my admiration for Coach Smart actually has very little to do with his success here in VCU Ramnation, but rather more to do with his style of coaching and his obvious love for his work. If you watch college basketball, chances are you've seen puffy, red faced, older gentlemen losing their temper, throwing their hands up in frustration and screaming at the refs. If you watch Shaka Smart during a game, that's not at all what you see. Coach Smart has a coolness about him. He carries himself with poise and with quiet resolve. He doesn't blow up when a needed shot fails to drop or when a unnecessary foul is called. He does not yell in the face of his athletes. He does not scream at the referees. However, he is passionate. In intense moments, you will see him bend at the knees, lean forward on the line and look like he may, himself, jump out on that floor for an assist! You will see him smile in a moment of frustration. You will see him hug a player who just missed his foul shots. You notice Coach Smart, because he is different. You notice his grace and his poise. You notice his positivity and his humility. You can see genuine love for his players and for his job. He has a heart. He cares for more than a pay check. He cares about people. He is authentic.
For a year now, I have been on my journey to become healthy and fit. I'm half way to my weight goal. I run 3 miles with relative ease. I can do full sit ups for a minute without stopping. I can jump up onto something with 2 feet (for me, this is a monumental task). I knocked over 3 minutes off of my 1/2 mile run. I did not do this without help. Just as the VCU Men's Basketball Team did not make it to the Big Dance without help. Like the Rams, I've been coached on my journey. I've had 3 coaches on my journey. Two of my coaches embrace the same style of coaching as Shaka Smart. Rather than brow beat me, put me down, belittle me, they build me up. They remind me of my strengths, they help me push through my weaknesses. They empower me. They do not instill fear in me, but rather build respect by respecting me and working with me and for me. There are moments when they may want to strangle me or when they have to get tough on me, but it comes from a place of genuine care. I know that they want to see me succeed. They aren't just trying to get me through that class, they are helping me build a healthy life. They are giving me tools to succeed in life, just as Coach Smart mentors his team.
With coaches like Smart, Rachel Pustilnik and Kelly Connors, I am inspired to work harder. I want to learn more. I want to take their style of coaching and apply it to my parenting. There is so much we can learn from this type of authenticity and integrity. Coach Smart turned down a reported $2.5 million job in bigger city and better conference, to stay here at VCU with his team. That, folks, is what it is all about. Money does not happiness make. And Coach Smart, once again, showed the world that sometimes having less is more in the grand scheme of things, and that people matter more than an indulgent paycheck. He showed his team what loyalty is and that he believes in them. My coaches believing in me has been a HUGE part of my success. What he has done for his players by staying at VCU will be monumental in their personal successes, not just in basketball, but in life. He has taught us all a valuable lesson. Thanks Coach Smart, for being such a great example to all of us.
Thanks Kelly & Rachel for believing in me, for putting up with my excuses, for reminding me I'm worth it and for never giving up on me. I could not have made it this far without you!