BY JANE ALBRIGHT, COLLEGE BASKETBALL COACH (RETIRED)
This article appears in the Fall 2021 edition of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.
As a retired college basketball coach, I enjoy hearing my phone ding with text messages from my former players. Recently I heard from a player who had been a hall of fame player in college, and she is now a college coach.
Did she want to compare notes on a new offensive strategy? Did she seek to relive memories of great plays and wins? Did she ask who I was pulling for in the NBA finals?
No. She had a different message for me.
A GREAT COACH
“Coach, you valued my ability, but you also LOVED me as a person. Thank you, Coach, for all of that and more!”
Her words humbled me, and they reminded me of what coaching is really all about.
When I was young, I had the opportunity to know the greatest coach ever: the legendary John Wooden. I took a long list of questions, and I wrote down each of his answers, word for word. During one of our first meetings, I asked, “How will I know if I am a great coach?” His answer surprised me.
‘’You won’t know for 20 or so years after you coach them, Jane.”
At UCLA, Coach Wooden won 10 national titles in 12 years. No coach in any sport has come close to his record. With all his success, he believed that how a player lives his or her life was more important than winning games.
Through the years, I reflected on Coach Wooden’s advice. He helped me mold what I taught and how I taught it. My players were not just names on a roster or statistics in a scorebook; each one was a mentee, a disciple.
Developing their basketball skills was vital, but so was building the character traits Paul describes in 1 Timothy 6:11 (NIV): “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”
FLEE AND PURSUE
How I went about the task was crucial, teaching my players to both flee and pursue with intensity.
When I coached a talented team, we would flee haphazardness
and pursue championships. “To pursue” describes perseverance and intensity, not a do-it- whenever-you-feel-like-it sort of thing. In addition to being a great coach, I was also focused on a specific pursuit. I wanted the characteristics from 1 Timothy 6:11 to describe me when my players looked back on their time with me. I pursued my players with the same intensity as when I taught a new offense. I wanted to impact their hearts.
Today, I continue to pay attention to Paul’s words and arrange my life to put the truth into action. I believe Christ is much more concerned with our character and virtue than He is with our successes.
Don’t get me wrong—when I coached, we fervently pursued wins and championships. But there was always something more important: pursuing righteousness.
“Flee the bad, chase the good!”
This is advice for anyone who wants to make a true impact on mentees. Do this, and one day you may receive a text message like the one I got from a player 20 years after I coached her. Assessing our impact takes time, and it’s not simply about winning or losing games but impacting others’ lives.
Prayer: Jesus, help me impact lives by discipling others to flee from the bad and chase the good. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jane Albright won over 500 games in her 40-year coaching career, 33 as a Division 1 head coach in women’s basketball. Albright’s coaching career started as a graduate assistant for the legendary Pat Summitt, and was part of the University of Tennessee’s first NCAA Final Four team in 1982. Albright is the winningest coach at two programs (Wisconsin and Northern Illinois). She coached USA Basketball’s gold medal winning team at the Jones Cup in 1996 and was twice named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association District IV Coach of the Year (1990 and 1995). In 2009, Albright received FCA’s annual Kay Yow “Heart of a Coach Award,” which honors a women’s basketball coach who has coached according to Biblical principles. She was mentored by and maintained friendships with Pat Summitt, Kay Yow, John Wooden and Dallas Willard.
Photo courtesy of Jane Albright