It was January 1982 when I hit the lowest of low points as our school’s head basketball coach. My third season was in progress, and I was running on fumes. We had just lost a home game I’d believed we could win.
Defeats had been coming often as we built the program. I was nearly fired that year; somehow, I survived with just four team victories.
Fortunately, what’s past is not always prologue. I went on to coach a total of seven seasons, and we had winning records in three of my final four years.
What made the difference between early defeat and eventual victory? The key was something both simple and powerful. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had resilience.
Resilience is a trait that seems increasingly popular in education circles. Consider Elle Allison’s “The Resilient Leader,” a great article in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Educational Leadership. Allison’s opening paragraph describes the current school environment as follows: “Budget cuts, program closures, pink slips, workforce reductions, school closures, changes in teacher and administrator evaluation processes, and accountability.”
A show of hands, please: How many of us have been impacted by budget cuts? Program closures? Pink slips? Reductions, closures, changes in evaluation processes, and accountability? In 2013, I was impacted by each one.
Allison describes what all educators need to consider as they cope with such daunting challenges. She cites six practices that help us build resilience from the inside out. For the moment, I will expand upon one: “Engage in personal renewal.”
Personal renewal occurs when we have an opportunity to reflect upon our circumstances before we move forward. We strike a balance, using exercise, diet, and recreation to offset the forces around us in school. We have a strong spiritual faith. We network with others, avoiding the numbing feelings of isolation and helplessness.
Trust me, as a basketball coach, I felt very isolated and helpless at times.
It turns out that personal renewal and the other practices can be nurtured by coaching. Allison states, “On the job, resilient leaders take advantage of good coaching, which gives them interludes for reflection during the throes of a demanding day. Less resilient leaders … forfeit coaching sessions because they’re ‘too busy.’ They suffer through the day with what amounts to grim determination—an unsustainable state of mind (Reeves & Allison, 2009, 2010).”
In our busy world, taking time for coaching experiences is a way to build resilience. That is precisely the value I see in the work being done by IEE coaches in schools today. Coaching builds resilience, and resilience helps sustain us in our craft.
Looking back, the wins and losses in my basketball career were not really meaningful. What was important was maintaining belief, staying the course, and providing the best experiences I could for the players, their parents, and my community.
Maybe that is the most important value of resilience: being able to look at the big picture when the daily challenges seem overwhelming.
I encourage you to read Allison’s thoughts and to think more deeply about how we all can best stay strong and pull together. What role can coaching play in our success as educators?