The picture was everywhere — all over the Internet — and it made me feel incredibly guilty. There I was as a coach, holding the 2021 NCAA Championship trophy my tennis players had thrust into my hands.
For weeks I grappled with guilt. I’ve always been one of those coaches who steps aside, making sure my team gets all the credit. I’ve followed the dictum that, since a coach doesn’t play the game, the coach should never hold the trophy. This time was different. In that moment of victory, I succumbed to my players’ insistence that I join them in their celebration by holding the trophy.
It took me a while to not only stop apologizing for that photo, but to realize my players were right. Now I encourage every coach to hold their team’s trophy. Here’s why:
Martyrdom is dangerous.
Coaches who always step back from celebrating are at risk for early burnout. After all, good coaches accept accountability for everything. We are tasked with countless responsibilities. Whatever happens, we carry the load on our shoulders. But celebrating with the team lightens that load. Taking a minute to soak in a success can extend a coach’s longevity, because it provides a rare moment to breathe.
Participation is generous.
Touching the trophy is not about “I.” It is about “we.” Coaches go through so much with their teams. While we may not be on the court or field, we still leadplayers to that moment. When we hold the trophy, we are honoring a life-changing accomplishment for our players. That’s why players want to share that moment with their coaches. Generous coaches allow them to do so.
Joy is contagious.
Whether their teams are winning or losing, good coaches model positive attributes. One positive attribute is the appropriate expression of joy. A good coach models how to celebrate the hard work and sacrifices made by everyone on the team. Such joy should be unapologetic, because it is earned — and it includes everyone.
The bottom line is that every coaching success is ephemeral. Within minutes of winning a game/championship a good coach is planning toward the next game/season. We’re talking with recruits. We’re answering questions about what will happen next. That’s what we do. But taking that brief moment to celebrate is good for everyone – good for the coach and good for the team. Everybody contributed to reaching that milestone. That’s why everybody gets to touch the trophy.