A Lesson In Gratitude

I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons through the coaching lifestyle. But gratitude was the one lesson that I thought I got a handle on early in my tenure. I knew just how lucky we were that my husband could live out his passion, and I got to walk alongside him as he did. I thought I knew it. Not just in my head but in my heart too, what this coaching life was truly about. Turns out I did not.

We had inclinations that our time at the school was coming to an end for 2 out of the 3 times we’ve moved due to the circumstances surrounding the season. I thought that in deciding to see those warnings as a blessing and soak up every second on the clock that we had left, I was displaying gratitude. And then the game stopped. More specifically, Coach’s first season at the helm was canceled just as the team was on a roll. And without the chaos of the season, I was left with the time to reflect on where I was truly focused my appreciation.

Spring of 2020 opened my eyes to the fact that I was grateful for the job, not grateful for the calling. I had been focusing on the wins and losses and not on the bettering of the lives of the young men we come across. I also witnessed my husband figuring out and internalizing the difference.

In his last year as an assistant, the program he coached was finally earning recognition for all their hard work year after year, consistently doing well and getting better. The team went from beating the number one team in the country to being the number one team in the country. Then, their performance started to suffer. It was in coaching our then 7-year-old son’s youth team that Coach realized they had lost what had made them great, the love of the game.

After that realization, they were able to get back to enjoying their time on the field and back to the level of success they had been used to. At that same time, I, on the other hand, was grateful that they had done well enough to earn a home first-round playoff game so that I didn’t have to deal with the headache of traveling with three little kids. I was focused on the fact that Coach was finally getting the recognition and respect of a higher seed. And I had one more chance to walk out on that field before we moved. That’s the difference between being grateful for the calling and being grateful for the game. 

That’s the difference between being grateful for the calling and being grateful for the game. 

Jess Gilardi

Another example I recall is that before the coronavirus shut down the sports world and caused my husband’s first year as head coach to be cut short, the program was doing well. They had won multiple games at the last second or in overtime. Fans and parents kept coming to me, talking about how they’d never seen such chemistry in the team. They praised the fact that the boys never gave up, never stopped fighting, and credited it to the coaching staff. They were able to recognize that it was more than just the wins versus loss column. The boys were happy and energized. They felt seen and appreciated. In a world where athletes are constantly identified by numbers- stats, records, and GPAs- our team had a place where they felt like a family. That is gratitude for the calling.

Meanwhile, I was caught up in the fact that they couldn’t continue to play so we could see how successful they could be. They had a legitimate chance to win their conference and make the NCAA tournament. I had been focused on that as the validation for our family’s sacrifices and coach’s hard work. That is gratitude for the job.

When we were forced to slow down, I realized that over the years, I had let our culture’s definition of success overpower the truth. I had become comfortable blaming others or the nature of the industry for making it about wins and loses when it turns out that I, too, was focusing on that rather than how to best love for the athletes in our care. I’m not saying that moving forward I won’t get caught up in the wins and losses. At the end of the day, that is still what determines if we stay or we go. I’m saying that now that I understand the difference in myself and when I start obsessing about the job, I’ll change my focus to the calling of the coaching life. 

Connect with Jess

Jess Gilardi

Jess Gilardi is a head lacrosse coach’s wife living on the East Coast. They have three young kids and have been living this life since 2004. She was a mental health therapist in the school system before becoming the full-time chaos coordinator for the family (a.k.a. stay-at-home mom). Read more from Jess on Instagram and Facebook.

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