The greatest joy of coaching is not in the wins and losses, but in the great privilege you have to walk alongside outstanding people for a short period of time. Often these people teach and impact you in a far greater way than you do to them, and that was true in a profound way for me as I had the opportunity to coach the Liberty University Women's Soccer Class of 2016.
Kauzy, Brittany, Holly, Crystal, Bekah, Jaime, and Alex were undoubtedly talented - the winningest class in program history who brought home four conference titles and in the final game of their careers gave 22-time national champions UNC everything they could handle. But these seven young women showed me that talent is simply not enough. They showed me every day that much more important than talent is character, respect, intensity, leadership, integrity, discipline, courage, and a love for others. It is impossible for me in a short post to tell you every story about these outstanding women, so I will share with you exactly what I said to them in the locker room before our conference championship game in 2015:
Seniors. What on earth can I possibly say about this incredible group of women? What words can I use that would even come close to describing how much you have meant to me and everyone in this room?
Jaime, if I could be anyone else in the world I would be you. You live your life with such abundant enthusiasm. Everything in your life is one big adventure, everything in your life is worthy of taking a photo of and remembering, whether you are spreading the gospel in Africa, hiking a mountain, or simply going to class. You do everything with joy and enthusiasm, if I could live my life like anyone else it would be like you.
Alex, 5-foot-nothing but let me tell you this, you live your life like a giant. The love, the respect your teammates have for you, that your friends have for you is enormous. And though you don’t think you show it, everyone sees how huge your heart is for the girls in this room, everyone knows that you love and care about them.
Bekah, when I think about the phrase “poured out” I think of you. And it isn’t just in the way you cover every blade of grass on the soccer field, it’s the way you pour out as a friend, as a teammate and as a leader in this program. You are a rock for so many people, your smile and your presence is what gives so many people in this room a reason to say, “I can keep going”.
Kauzy, I have often wondered how this team would even work without you as a part of it, on and off the field. You sense of humor, your ability to laugh at yourself, your willingness to speak up at the difficult moments. You are the glue of this team, without you bringing all of you every day I don’t know if this team comes as far as it has done these 3 years. You are so loved, and we are all so thankful that you came to Liberty.
Crystal, you have the brightest spirit I think I have ever encountered. Your smile, your joy, your happiness is so contagious. I look forward to seeing you every day, not once have I not been encouraged when I have seen you. You live your life with this air of faith, this solid foundation which is such an encouragement to your friends and teammates. You are so loved and so relied upon by so many people.
*Holly, the most consistent person I have ever met. No matter the situation, you walk confidently in who you are. You provide such a safe place for your friends and teammates to thrive in by simply being you every day. You are so loved, you give everything of yourself every day for the people around you, and you mean so much to everyone in this room.
Britt, everyone’s most reliable friend. If you have a crisis, you go to Britt. No words to describe what you have meant to so many people in here. Your drive, your passion for this game, for your teammates. Your relentlessness. Your faith. Your strength. He is here with you today, and he is so proud of you. We are all here with you today, and we are all so proud of you.
And I am so sorry, all of those feeble words could simply never do justice to you girls. They could never convey what great teammates you are, could never convey how proud I am of you, could never convey how much I love each of you. I am so humbled God allowed me to coach you, I am overwhelmed that he would love me so much as to put you 6 girls in my life. You are a blessing to me and my family. You have changed this program and the lives within it forever.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to look them each in the eye and say that, and I cannot accurately explain how much of an impact they had on my life and career. Forever, they will be the benchmark of what I expect a student-athlete to embody and I doubt I will ever be as fortunate as to coach a class as exceptional as this again. Thank you, ladies, for everything you gave to that program, but more so for everything that you taught me.
To all the young aspiring soccer players - male or female - reading this post, I hope you can see that character is far more important than talent. Talent sets the foundation, but character sets the ceiling and I can guarantee you this class would not have been nearly as successful as it was without being first outstanding people. I would love to help you develop your character so that you can become the person you have always dreamed of becoming. Our Winning With Character program can teach you that. Click here for full details on that course and to register.
*I didn't actually get to say this to Holly. Although she was in this class, she was a red-shirt Junior this season and so had another year of eligibility left. However, if I had the opportunity to have said something to her that day it would have sounded something like this.