A university player has been skipping training for university reasons. Can LSU basketball's Nikki Fargas help her commit?
Ask the Coach is an advice column to help you keep your mind in the game.
I just started playing first-year football at university. As much as I love the game, lately my motivation just hasn't been there. I was vice captain of my team in high school, but since I started university, other things have been getting in the way. I've bailed on morning training twice recently—once for a good reason (I was up all night studying), and the other time … well, because I stayed out all night with friends. I also skipped a lifting session. I told my coach I was sick, when really I'd had an argument with my boyfriend. I still love football, and once I'm on the pitch, there's nowhere else I'd rather be. But it's getting to the point where I feel so guilty, I don't want to show up. Can I get my sh*t together? Or should I just quit?
Alibi Was Obviously Lame
You know what, AWOL? I struggled in first year too.
I come from this big, tight-knit family, and I was on track to be the first one to get a university degree. My grandmother didn't have the opportunity to stay in school after age 14 because of segregation laws. My mother worked multiple jobs to support herself through university—then she got pregnant and had to drop out. So everyone in my family was watching me. The pressure. Was. On.
But my family also gave me love, support and a strong set of values. Though they may have been pushing me, I also knew that I could lean on them.
You have something to lean on too, AWOL. You were vice captain in high school, so you know what hard work is, what courage is. You also know that when you join a team, you sign on to that team's code, and it's on you to take that seriously. That's why it's time to ask yourself some tough questions like, "Who am I as a person?" and "What, for me, is non-negotiable?"
Finding the answers to questions like these can help illuminate what's going on for you on a deeper-than-football level. If you used to be an honest person and a committed athlete and now you're breaking your promises, it's time to check in on yourself and get to the root of it.
… it's time to ask yourself some tough questions like, "Who am I as a person?" and "What, for me, is non-negotiable?"
Look, I get it. There were times I was tempted to stay out all night. But I learnt pretty quickly that that's a slippery slope. And it wasn't one I wanted to start down, because I understood what an amazing opportunity I had to be playing basketball at university level.
I found motivation to show up and give my all every day for reasons bigger than me: my family, who supported and believed in me, and all the people who fought and died for my right to go to university and compete. I was able to achieve what I've achieved because of them, and I still strive to live my life in a way that honours them. They're why I don't take anything for granted.
You may feel like the lie itself wasn't that big, but it's part of a bigger issue. So here's another question to ask yourself: "What are the values that are going to guide me?"
Your lie tells me that you might be taking your own situation for granted. You may feel like the lie itself wasn't that big, but it's part of a bigger issue. So here's another question to ask yourself: "What are the values that are going to guide me?" In other words, establish some lines you don't cross. Like, you don't lie, you don't skip training and you don't quit, either, because that won't solve your problem. You'll just end up more isolated.
I learnt values like these at home, and Pat Summitt, my coach at Tennessee, reinforced them. She didn't tolerate lying, and there was no getting anything past her. She made sure we all knew better. That kind of accountability is essential.
It's what kept me from staying out all night—but I still had my struggles. I was so homesick. I missed my family. I missed the Sunday gatherings we had at my grandmother's house, where we ate a big soul-food meal, played cards and laughed a lot. All that loneliness brought some unfinished business about my father to the surface.
… we all have impulses pulling us in different directions, some positive and some negative. And, with practice, we can choose which ones we follow.
My father wasn't ever in my life. And when I was on my own at university, all the feelings of rejection and abandonment I'd felt as a child took over again. I started overtraining to hide from those feelings and, pretty soon, I got a stress fracture in my foot and couldn't even train. Then I got a chipped bone. Then I developed a heart problem.
I was in a really dark place.
Luckily, my coach had resources. With her help, I saw a sports psychologist who taught me how to navigate what was going on. I learnt that we all have impulses pulling us in different directions, some positive and some negative. And, with practice, we can choose which ones we follow. We can choose to have a great attitude and work hard.
I think a sports psychologist might really help you, too, since I'm wondering if being without your support system is bringing up some issues that you might be hiding from.
Something's keeping you from playing the game you love. And you owe it to yourself to figure out what that is. Once you do that, you can start learning to love yourself and strive for excellence in everything you do.
I have a feeling that deep down you're grateful to be at university, grateful to be on the team. So listen to that impulse, and let it lead you forwards.
Nikki Fargas is the head women's basketball coach at Louisiana State University. Previously a transformative head coach at UCLA, she was also a standout assistant coach at Tennessee and at the University of Virginia. An exceptional player at Tennessee, the former Nikki Caldwell led the Lady Vols to an NCAA title and two SEC regular-season championships. Known for her deep commitment to charity and community involvement, Fargas co-founded the breast-cancer-awareness non-profit Champions for a Cause.
Illustration: Harrison Freeman