Behind the Whistle: You Have 10 seconds, I’m at 8


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Katherine Sweeney is the assistant women's lacrosse coach at Colgate.

After a few months of working with head coach Kathy Taylor, I have become familiar with an abundance of one-liners. I find myself either laughing about them or scratching my head in confusion. Whether it is confusion or laughter, Coach Taylor and her catchy one-liners have taught me a great deal about lacrosse, leadership and life. For this blog, I have chosen a few of my favorites to share with you that have really resonated with me as a person and as an assistant coach.

You hear the statement, “You have 10 seconds, I’m starting at 8 ...” and you immediately start rushing. You don’t know where you’re going, or even why you’re going there, but you just start running. This is exactly how I felt this fall stepping on the field with Coach Taylor and hearing that statement for the first time. I found myself scurrying around the field picking up balls or trying to set up cones in a panic, only to look up and see the entire team of 33 players doing the same thing. Thinking back to this moment now, I have to laugh because there is no hiding how ridiculous I must have looked, but it also taught me a very valuable lesson in leadership I will never forget.

I have found that this statement creates a certain level of urgency that, in time and with practice, allows you to successfully accomplish what it is you needed to get done. But in order to accomplish your goals or execute your vision, you must have a plan to get you there. Now after working with Kathy for a few months, I don’t panic and scurry around the field setting up cones every time she tells the team, “You have 10 seconds, I’m at 8.”

Instead, I have a clear vision as to what our team’s goals are for any situation, whether it be our season goals, or the goals for a specific drill in our practice plan. Having a clear vision of how you want your season or even your practice to go and knowing the plan that you will use to accomplish these goals creates a level of confidence and composure that can and will rub off on your team.

“Time is money and we are short on both.”

The game of lacrosse has changed tremendously in the last 20 years, but the true art of leadership has ultimately stayed the same. Even though the game is changing with each season, I believe there is great importance to tap into all the great minds that are still in the game and to not rush “climbing the ladder.”

I think it is safe to say none of us got into this career for financial wealth, but where we can become extremely wealthy in this profession is with experiences. There have been so many lessons that we have all learned from playing competitive sports that we can teach our current teams, but there are still so many lessons to learn in our coaching careers. I strongly believe that we need to learn, see and experience how our mentors handle certain adversities, situations and conflict before we try to comfortably and successfully tackle them from a head coach’s position.

As younger assistant coaches, our strengths are being able to relate to the players easier, maybe play on the scout team a little easier, understand and operate different forms of technology, manage the different social media platforms and their nuances and stay up to speed on all the hip new music and lingo, but what we lack is the experience and wisdom of leading and motivating a team of 30 or more young women, both on the lacrosse field and for life after lacrosse. I have had great mentors throughout my playing and coaching journey, and there has been one common theme to those teams/programs — they all had a great leader. Those teams were able to find success because of the strong sense of leadership that was instilled in their culture, and that type of leadership cannot be learned overnight.

So … although time is money, and we are short on both, let the urgency to learn the lessons of coaching and leadership be greater than that of climbing the coaching ladder. Where the wealth and success truly lie in this profession is not through X’s and O’s, but rather how much your team respects you, and how well you can lead them both on and off the field.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

I know what you’re thinking … what the heck does that even mean?! Before I explain to you what this means, let me preface it with the context in which I first heard it.

During one of our offensive possessions, one of our captains, Noelle, was passing the ball at the top-center of the 12-meter arc with a wide-open lane to the cage. Instead of seeing that lane and taking it, she continued to move the ball to one of her teammates. After seeing Noelle’s opportunity to go to goal unrealized, Kathy yelled to her from the sidelines, “Noelle, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!”

After hearing her say this, I kept saying it to myself and replaying what just happened on the field in hope of something clicking and making sense. It wasn’t until after the game when we were discussing and highlighting our favorite moments that I admitted I had no idea what she meant by that. We laughed about it for a while, and then Coach Taylor told me to Google i. This is what I came up with: “To find fault with something that has been received as a gift or favor.”

Now everything makes sense. Noelle’s gift was a wide-open lane to cage that she decided not to take. The more I thought about the meaning of this saying, the more it held true, especially now for the difficult and frustrating time we are all experiencing with COVID-19. None of us could have predicted that our seasons would be taken away from us, but I think it has taught us, like Kathy said, “not to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Our season, going to practice every day, spending time with our team and coaching the game of lacrosse are all gifts that we have now been reminded not to take for granted because you really have no idea when it all could be taken from you. Now, more than ever, gives us the opportunity to do what we do best, and what we preach every day to our teams — to adjust to this current situation and the abnormalities it has brought us and continue to perform as coaches and lead our teams under the pressure that our entire nation is feeling. Every day we wake up with our health and the ability to communicate to our team and work towards our goals is a gift we should never find a fault with.

After working with Kathy for what feels like the shortest seven months of my life, I have definitely laughed, scratched my head a number of times and sounded like a broken record asking Jess (Antelmi, who also serves as an assistant coach at Colgate), “What did she say?”

But whether it was comical or confusing, I found myself thinking deeper about those darn one-liners, and exactly how much they relate to life, leadership and coaching … which ultimately was the point, right? Definitely. Because if there is one thing I know about Coach Taylor, it is that she doesn’t do, or in this case say, anything without meaning or purpose behind it.

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