With March Madness in full swing, I thought that it would be fitting to write about my basketball girls and one of my mentors. Anyone who knows about my first year as a Lasallian Volunteer can probably tell you about how much I love to talk about my girls. Last year, I was the assistant coach for the girls freshmen basketball squad at DeLaSalle. This past season, I was promoted to assistant coach for the JV squad, and I was named academic support coordinator for the whole girls basketball program. Needless to say, I definitely had my hands full this season. Although there were times I wanted to throw in the towel and just go back to a normal schedule and having a social life, I was reminded by my fellow coach and mentor, Coach Jam, that the girls are not just learning valuable skills that they need on the court, but they are learning skills that they will need down the road.
Last season I worked with a coach who became one of the best mentors that I have had during my time here in Minneapolis. Coach Jam was the head coach of the freshmen squad last year, and she was the head coach of the JV squad this season. Coach Jam stands at about 5’4” and is as sassy as they come. She is a fabulous coach, knows how to balance seriousness and humor, loves the game, and has a genuine love and passion for watching her players not only grow as a basketball players, but as young women. Many of the girls refer to her as a second mom, and they talk about how much they appreciate everything she does for them.
She touched base with me earlier in the school year and asked if I would be interested in being her assistant for the JV team and also working as the academic support coordinator. I was ecstatic that she asked me to be her assistant, and I accepted both positions. We held tryouts, named our squads, and hit the floor running. We had a few girls from last season return to the team, so we had a somewhat solid foundation to start with. There were many times when Coach Jam and I would just give each other “the look” and we would know exactly what the other was thinking. Having that chemistry with her made coaching that much easier and entertaining.
Being the academic support coordinator was not easy to do. I did weekly grade checks and reports on all 42 players throughout the program. I would be in constant communication with the players, coaches and parents and made sure that the girls were being held accountable. There were days when the girls would be a tad bit more confrontational and a little bit more spirited in their discussions and/or explanations on why there grades were the way they were, and I would email Coach Jam for advice. Being a mother of a senior at DeLaSalle and working at a school herself, her advice was a lifesaver for me. There are times when I forget that I am not a kid anymore and I have to act and respond like an adult.
This season presented us with quite the array of problems. The academics were a little rough, especially with our younger girls, we lost the first eight games in a row, girls weren’t showing up to practice, we didn’t have a solid roster, and the list goes on. I cannot tell you how many times Coach Jam and I talked on the phone about what we could do to help the girls with their game and with their schoolwork. Her philosophy is that we are not just a team, we are a family. We are sisters and we need to look out for one another both on and off the court. That is the main reason why I loved coaching with her. She was not solely concerned about the score and the team’s stats, she wanted to make sure that the girls were learning lessons that they could take with them off the court and through life. As the season progressed, girls actually came to practices and we started putting some points up on the board; the team grew closer together. The girls were having fun during practices and were learning to love the game and the team. They learned that the game wasn’t about their personal success, but the success of their teammates and the team as a whole. Many times Coach Jam would start practice and she would impart some words of wisdom onto the girls and constantly reminded them that they were loved and that they were so much more than the numbers on their backs and on the scoreboard.
Working with Coach Jam these past two seasons has been such a blessing and an honor. Through our various adventures together, she always reminded that we cannot do things in life alone, we need the support of others. Coach also reinforced how much teachers and coaches care about the success of the kids entrusted to their care. Parents trust teachers and coaches with their children, and it is our job to help make them the best people that they can be. She is one of the best mentors that I have had, and I hope to continue working and coaching with her if I decide to stay in the Twin Cities area after my second year is up.
Molly B. Allen is a 2nd year volunteer serving at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is a 2013 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.