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Letter to the sports editor

Letter to the sports editor

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‘What’s your why?’

I was inspired by the recent five-part series by Richmond-Times Dispatch writer Wayne Epps Jr., who interviewed VCU’s five seniors and asked “What’s your why?” The articles, based on their answers, looked back at their journey to this point in their careers.

When I think of the main reason why I coach, it comes down to the personal experiences I had with coaches growing up. I had some excellent coaches who loved the sport and loved our team. More importantly, these coaches also sowed seeds of what growing into an adult looks like as they freely shared life lessons along the way.

These life lessons have long since taken root in my daily life and have guided me well at both home and in the workplace. These life lessons are my “why” as I seek to pass down to others what has been given to me.

In the basketball world as in life, I had some difficult coaches ... coaches that managed to squeeze the joy and fun out of every practice and game. Sometimes shame and humiliation was a tactic used to motivate — which never works, by the way! If I didn’t make the team, I was cut with little compassion. Although I don’t like to admit it, sometimes I’m a better student in times of disappointment than I am when things are going well. After my experiences with the difficult coaches, I made a promise to myself to NEVER be like them!

Yet the GREAT coaches, those that truly inspired me and deposited wisdom in my soul that still resonates today ... they are the true catalysts for the “why.”

Although I accepted the privilege of coaching, I’ve in turn been coached in extraordinarily beautiful ways by our coaching staff, teammates and parents.

Here are a few of the life lessons:

Anything that’s meaningful comes at a cost. A mental cost, an emotional cost, a physical cost and an investment in time. The season is short (3½ months long) but incredibly intense. We have practices or games 6 days a week. Our players always have to turn down fun invitations, or just the ability to sleep past 6 a.m. because of their standing commitment to the team.

Anything that’s noteworthy comes with strong relationships. Aiming for success starts with people and healthy (but not perfect) relationships. Ensuring strong relationships between the coaches, teammates, parents, and school administration is paramount to success. Our head coach, Luchel, sets an incredibly positive tone and reminds me of the excellent coaches I had growing up. The guys are fortunate to have him and boy do they love playing for him.

Anything that’s transformational comes with focus and intent. Just before practice starts, we have a window for the coaching staff to share what’s on their mind and heart. Yes, basketball tactics and techniques are part of the chatter, but often our talks lead to our “getting better every day mindset.” This time spent together listening to each other and improving our fellow teammate is my favorite time of practice.

Anything that’s successful requires attention to core fundamentals. With a strong foundation, you can quickly build and improve. It is critical that each player knows core fundamentals and with repetition, each skill becomes part of one’s muscle memory. Without core fundamentals you can’t improve. There aren’t any shortcuts. After a tough loss or a mediocre practice, we always return to the core fundamentals.

It is the same for life, each of us should reflect on our respective core fundamentals when things are going awry or when things are going well. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I’m reminded to return to life’s core fundamentals: handling adversity, love for others, compassion, being grateful and serving one another.

What’s your why?

Tom Barila, Richmond

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