The World’s Greatest

February 2001

Drops of Jupiter comes on the radio while I’m driving. I turn it up loud and sing along with a smile on my face. Love this song. It brings me back to high school. I got the Train album for Christmas one year and would play it on my discman on repeat – mostly on bus trips to and from basketball games.

High school basketball was, in a word, hard. I think I was in 8th grade when Coach Filipek was hired as the varsity coach. My eagerness to get in her good graces started before freshman year, in summer league. There was something about her that made me want to be better. She had an intensity about her – a passion for the sport that I hadn’t seen before, and she wanted to turn us into a great team – something West Deptford hadn’t been in a while. If there was anything extra I could do, I did. She had plyometrics three days a week in the summer at 8am. I was there – with very few others (LMonny was always there with me, and in later years, Chels). She held an “un”mandatory basketball camp in the summer every year. Mom said I could only go to one camp, because she couldn’t afford to send me to two. I should have been at field hockey camp, but Ms. Decker never organized anything for us, so to basketball I went. Finally, the summer before senior year, I really wanted to go to field hockey camp. I knew at this point that I wanted to play in college. Mom still had the same rule. Coach Filipek ended up paying for me (I think?). For four years, she convinced me that basketball was so incredibly important and nothing else mattered. She also gave the impression that my attendance to all the extra stuff, and all my energy I put into the off-season would actually pay off.

Practices were hell. There’s no other way to put it. I sometimes dreaded it so much I’d be miserable the entire school day. She worked us and pushed us until there was nothing left. I wanted to be exactly what she wanted me to be, so I tried to be as coachable as possible. She yelled at me – I nodded and tried harder. I kept my mouth shut, I did whatever she asked – or at least tried to.

Basketball camp with LMonny and LStever

Eventually, I started to hate her. She didn’t treat us all the same and it got so bad that I finally approached her about it. This was incredibly scary but I knew I had to do it. I called her out on treating people differently and she immediately agreed with me. I feel like you yell at me all the time but not other people. She used Sonie as an example. If she yelled at her, Sonie would shut down. If she yelled at me I would try harder. I somehow walked away from the conversation agreeing with her. But I resented her. And then I started to resent my teammate – Schultz.

On the court, Schultz was a madwoman. She was hot-headed, emotional, and a complete bully. She was the player the other team hated, and who could blame them? It was weird, because off the court she was the complete opposite – sweet, quiet, polite, generous, and always there to listen. A good friend. People, myself included, always told her she was too nice. Too good. It was as if she was sick of being this embodiment of good, that she took all her anger and frustration out on the court. Which I get. I understand it now. But at the time, as a teammate, I hated it. She didn’t listen to any of us on the court. There’d be a call against her and she’d lose it. All we wanted to do was calm her down. It’s OK, you got it, don’t worry about it, we got this. Just little words of encouragement. But she didn’t hear us. Schultz was so predictable. The next time she got her hands on the ball, she was driving down the lane – not to score or be aggressive – but to hit some bodies.

Defense with Schultz

Schultz was the point guard and I was the 2-guard. My only goal was to prove to Coach Filipek that I was a good player, that I was better than Schultz. There were a few times she even gave me that chance – in practice or in a game. I felt like I could hear her thoughts. “You think you’re better? OK, prove it.” And I couldn’t. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I couldn’t handle knowing she didn’t believe in me.

Filipek was always preaching about good sportsmanship and keeping your head in the game. Schultz lost her head all the time, and it was like she was rewarded for it. I messed up a pass, and she took me out. At least, that’s what it felt like. Somehow, her constant praise and approval for Schultz, or in some cases her ignoring of Schultz, was a personal offense against me. Like she was throwing it in my face that Schultz can do no wrong. You can do nothing right. I know now that it wasn’t fair to blame Schultz. It wasn’t her fault that Coach Filipek treated me differently. It had nothing to do with her, but I made it about that.

Schultz and I were in constant silent competition with each other until I convinced myself I didn’t even want the point guard position. I still think I didn’t want it. I had such low confidence on the court I didn’t want to bring the ball down and make a bad decision. I didn’t want to make any decisions. The only time I was confident was on defense. That was my thing and the whole team knew it. Filipek made sure of that. “You all have your role on this team. Lindsay, your role is defense.” As if I could contribute nothing on offense. I grew to love my role. Whenever we played a team with a really good point guard, she was mine to mark. She was my responsibility and I couldn’t wait to shut her down.

Hanging out in the bleachers 2002

I continued to struggle with my love/hate relationship with Coach Filipek because I respected her so much. I always kept a strong face at practice and games. Unfortunately, the tears would eventually fall, and it usually happened as soon as I got in the car when Mom picked me up. This was not good. Mom didn’t like to see me this way, as most mom’s wouldn’t, and it was happening all the time. She was finally fed up with it one night when I came home crying, and announced that she was calling Coach Filipek. I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified in my life. I begged her not to call. Got mad at her. Pleaded with her. Dad was present for all of this, but quiet. I’m not sure if he agreed with Mom or not. I can’t remember.

I also don’t remember what happened in the days following the call. I think I blocked it out because I was so mortified. All I know is Mom yelled at Coach for making her daughter cry. God. As a coach now, I do not envy Coach Filipek on the receiving end of that phone call that particular night. I’m sure she was blindsided, because I always tried to act like everything was fine. Looking back, I wish I talked to her more. I wish I told her how I felt about the situation. How just because I could handle a coach yelling in my face didn’t mean it wasn’t killing me.

Game day

There was only one time my emotions got the best of me. As per usual, when Filipek was fed up with us in practice, she sent us to the baseline. Most of the time, this meant sprints. Sometimes, it meant a firm talking to. This was one of those times. I can’t remember exactly what we were doing wrong, but I remember thinking to myself and agreeing with what she was saying. I was so frustrated that we weren’t doing what we needed to do. Now, I have this problem where I wear my emotions on my face. I can’t hide it. In this case, she saw my face and thought I was disagreeing with her – I guess. She called me out and asked me if I had a problem or something. I was so mad. So mad because she thought I didn’t agree with her, when in fact I agreed with her completely, so mad that she called me out, so frustrated that I could never get it right. Then I said the wrong thing. I can’t remember, but I meant to be angry that we weren’t doing it right, but she took it as me giving her attitude. She sent me to the side of the court to run suicides by myself. Coach B – the JV coach – timed me. When I finished and crossed the base line I just looked at Coach B and he looked back at me, and with just his look, I knew that he knew what really happened. I started crying right then. I started to defend myself. I didn’t mean it to come across that way. I agreed with her! He cut me off. “I know.” Coach B said something else. Again, can’t remember, but basically, I had to suck it up quick and get back out on the court.

Something happened after that. I thought I was about to break. I wanted to walk out. But I didn’t. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. I would work harder and be better. I’d like to say it was for myself, but part of it was because I just wanted to prove her wrong. One thing I learned I had -and would never trade for anything – was my mental toughness. If nothing else, Coach Filipek brought it out of me.

LMonny, LStever, Coach Filipek, and Schultz

A couple years ago, Christine saw Coach Filipek (she played for her, too). She was very nice and asked about me. She then said something like, “I know Lindsay hates me.” Let’s just say it didn’t feel good to hear that. I didn’t hate her and I don’t hate her. I mean, I thought I did, but I was a frustrated teenager. Coach Filipek was never easy to talk to. The fact that she said that to Chris, to me, means that she cared. She did care about my feelings and our relationship. She just wasn’t very good at showing it.

I think about Coach Filipek a lot now because of coaching. I’m very much like her in some ways, which is why I think I was so drawn to her in the first place. I’m hard on the girls, I have high expectations, field hockey is the only thing that matters when you’re on the field. But I also talk to the girls. I do find myself coming down harder on some girls more than others. And it’s true, I know they can handle it, but after practice, I try to talk to them one-on-one.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Coach Filipek – most of her former players would probably agree. I learned long ago that athletics transfers to life. Filipek motivated and pushed me further than any other coach, further than I thought I could be pushed. She taught me how to motivate myself, and I’m incredibly thankful for the experience.

*R. Kelly

2 thoughts on “The World’s Greatest

  1. Aww Linds I really liked reading this one. I miss those times, even if they were hell…I really just loved playing with all you girls:)

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