It has long been my opinion that young women, especially Brown women, are systematically disadvantaged in society. As a young man, I was encouraged to be great--to do for, and speak for myself. If I wanted to do anything or be anything, all I had to do was work hard and sacrifice to reach my goals. Women, especially Brown women, are not brought up the same.
From as early as birth, young girls are taught to defer, often times to men and at their expense of their goals and peace of mind. They are discouraged from asserting themselves, and encouraged to take a back seat as others navigate for them. They are taught to ask for help, and seek support, instead of doing for themselves and being their own solution. They are spoken for, often times, by voices that aim to control their bodies and limit their life’s experiences. I have always been aware of these imbalances, but it was the summer of 2015 when I began to advocate for young women outside of just "keeping them in my prayers". I became a Girls AAU basketball Coach that year, and nothing in my life has been the same since then.
During my first 3 seasons coaching, I would spend hours talking to Coach Emilee about how to motivate and inspire the young women on our roster. She was my close friend but as fate would have it, Emmy became a Mother and decided that coaching would take a back seat. I thought to myself: Am I equipped with the skillset and resources to coach a group of 16&17 year old girls? If my goal was to simply develop their skills as ball players, then the answer would have been: Yes. But after my first summer coaching in 2015, I knew that young women needed more than just another dude yelling at them with a whistle around his neck. New York City is full of fake, wannabe know it all, coaches. A number of whom who don't know much about basketball, and far more who just coach for the sake of their own personal gains. I coached for one reason and one reason only: I love helping athletes grow as people and players.
I’m certain that at times I got on their nerves. Im certain that at times they couldn’t stand me. After all, in some ways, I am a reflection of the very same oppressive male energy that has oppressed them for centuries. However, my willingness to understand and support them was always greater than my fears of getting things wrong. We would speak at length about gender roles and stereotypes during our road trips. I figured if i'm going to spending hours of my life in a van full of teenagers, I at least need us to get to know one another.
We would talk about sex and sexuality, and how people are discouraged from exploring themselves on their terms. We had tough conversations about priorities, sacrifices and discipline. Many of my players have goals of being a Division 1 ball player, but at times had the work ethic of a Snorlax. We went to the African American Museum of Culture & History in DC. We visited the Emitt Tills casket, and I asked them all to write about their experience. We went to Chicago for NIKE Nationals and had dinner at Giordano's. I listened to a group of teenager girls TELL ME which kind of woman I should DATE. To be totally transparent, they made some solid points (for 17yr olds). There was a moment in which I learned exactly what kind of young women I had on my team. While sitting at dinner i, I asked them all: What are you most looking forward to doing while in Chicago for NIKE Nationals? Their answers were pretty detailed and expressed with the zeal of a young cub. But none of them mentioned anything to do with basketball. That was disturbing, but at the sametime, I totally understood where they were coming from. After Chicago, we traveled to Washington D.C. We sat and proceeded to talk more about life with other influential women in the greater DC area; Lawyers, Chefs, Stylist, Authors, Government Officials, Influencers, Teachers and Doctors. We ran miles together in Van Cortlandt Park. We went to see The Avengers while in Buffalo, and we also argued about how playing time is earned, not given.
I yelled at them. They yelled back. They came to me and said they wanted to become better players, so I added additional practice days to our schedule. Only 2 players showed up on a regular basis. After one of our best wins all season in DC, I spoke to them about the power of the mind and how important one’s mental health is. I talked to them about my battles with depression, and how everyday you have to be your own biggest advocate, despite not feeling your best. I challenged them, not simply to be better ballplayers, but to grow as young women and ultimately be better and stronger people. Lord knows they’ll need it.
Coaching this summer, for me, was exhausting. Working with these young women was emotionally draining, physically demanding and spiritually depleting at times. I knew it would be a tough task, but I may have underestimated just how tall of a task this journey would be. At times I felt like I wasted one of the best years of my life for a group that didn't love the game as much as I did. At times I felt like I sacrificed more for my player goals and dreams than they did for themselves. I missed one of my closest friends weddings, just to go 0-5 in a tournament, and have players give up on their teammates. I neglected women I love to help other younger women grow in their love for the game of basketball; Plot twist: some of them don’t love basketball. I opted to missout on an all expense paid trip to cover Wimbledon for the sake of helping them reach their goals. I had other AAU coaches try to ruin my season by telling lies about my character and coaching style. There were coaches who cared about winning games far more than they cared about their player's development. It's unfortunate really. Men my father's age; behaving like the children they're supposed to lead. But when you're a loser in life, you'll develop habits that always lend themselves to, you know, losing.
I know that each of my athletes has gotten better as a person and as an athlete. I have seen first hand how they completely hated me in certain spaces and situations, then sing my praises in others. They have lied to me about some of the most primitive things, only to open up to me about things I'll never repeat. I've witnessed them break bad habits and also acknowledge that they have some growing up to do. Coaching, for me, has never been about winning and losing games. There are only but so many scholarships given out each year. College Coaches value good character and talent far more than they value the record of a team in a tournament. Winning games at the AAU should come second to your players development. Players, for the most part, are playing to earn scholarships. If my team won every tournament, but none of my players earned any grant money or an athletic scholarship; would that player and or parent feel satisfied with that? The answer that I have gotten 100% is no. As the Jordan Brand Trainer/Player Development Coach, I was able to learn the game and work with some of the best professional athletes in the world. I never expected any of my players to be to that level, but I did attempt to impart some knowledge on them. I did attempt to help elevate their understanding of the game and nuances of the game that lend themselves to breakthroughs.
I don't think any of this season would have been possible without the support and sacrifices of my Assistant Coach Franceska. Aside from the knowledge she acquired from her college playing days at USC, Fran genuinely cares about the development of young women. We weren't the best of friends prior to the start of our season, but we became friends as the season progressed. I am forever thankful for your presence during the season, and because of that, I will always consider you my friend (until it's time for you to pick something to eat off of a menu). I want to thank Devin and Aubreanna for coming around and helping out when they could. I think it was perfect timing how schedules aligned. You were both great players and provided great objective feedback to the girls. Thank you all for joining me on this journey, whether it be from sitting on the sidelines or just jumping in drills at practice. If I could do it all over again I would. I always opted to make decisions that benefitted their development. At times I did other peoples jobs and sacrificed my personal time with family and friends; not to mention my resources and professional relationships, in every way imaginable, to ensure that these children were given an opportunity to reach the goals that they set out to achieve for themselves. I can sleep good at night knowing that I pushed them to more refined, confident and knowledgeable young women. One day, God willing, I will be a Husband and later a Father. The patience and understanding I’ve developed during these past 4 summers will be the reason why I’ll approach fatherhood with some sort of confidence and understanding. I didn’t always like the young women I coached, but I always did the right thing by them. I loved them for who they were, and held them accountable to the person they said they wanted to be. I wasn’t paid a dime. I was never reimbursed for the monies I spent on these young women, but my bank balance in The Universal Bank of Karma is more than sufficient to cover any transaction that life brings.
I remember sitting in the team van riding to NYC when one of my players said: “Coach Dugg you be talking spicy on social media. Talkin bout you’re our dads and stuff.” I loved it. One if my players was asserting themselves and questioning, what she felt was, an adult overstepping their boundaries. I responded by saying: Well when we’re on the road, I am responsible for you. I am tasked with feeding you, waking you up in the morning, making sure you get your rest, making sure you’re ready to play, and making sure that you are safe. But furthermore when something happens, say an emergency; you get hurt or your monthly comes; am I the first person you’re going to call? Most of them nodded yes. I then said: I’m not your parent, and never want to be. My goal is to help each of you whenever life happens and you feel like alone. I want you to know that i believe in you and believe you are capable of doing whatever you want in life, as long as you’re willing to work for it. Im not your Dad, i’m just someone who believes in you and your dreams. Im the person who will hold you accountable to the goals that you said you wanted to achieve for yourselves. I asked them, like I always do: Does that make sense? They nodded. As I turned the music back up and continued riding, one of them said; BUT YOU AIN'T MY DADDY! I chuckled. She was right. I’m not their dad. I’m your Coach, and I hope and pray that I was able to prepare you for this game called life, Queens.