I have a confession: I love basketball; I also like women’s basketball. Swoopes, there it is- I said it. Growing up without a father figure in the home, I’ve grown to admire and to appreciate strong women from my mom to Michelle Obama to Shakira all the way to Sheryl Swoopes. “Who is that?” you ask. Well, Sheryl Swoopes is arguably the best women’s basketball player of all-time with 3 Olympic Gold medals, 4 WNBA Championships, 3 MVPs, 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards, and the list continues. She experienced years of triumph from 1997-2006 playing for the Houston Comets, then saw her career decline rapidly due to injuries and personal issues. When she decided to return to the WNBA this summer and go play where she was needed, I was skeptical given her physical health at the age of 40. “Why is she going to come back to play there?”
Fast-forward three months and her team, the Tulsa Shock, were in the midst of a 20-game losing streak. WTH!? In 1998, the Houston Comets went 27-3. In fact, Swoopes lost as many games in a row in 2011 than she lost in her first four seasons combined! I, along with the press, often wondered how she must feel playing on the worst team in WNBA history when she’s already in the record books as playing on the best teams of all-time in college, in the Olympics, and in the WNBA’s early years. She’s a big-time winner, what’s she doing on a team that went 6-28 last year?
What’s she doing there? She’s being an inspiration. She’s persevering in the face of unprecedented challenges and showing her young teammates that they have the potential to make it through these tough times in the trenches and develop their skills so they can one day play for a successful franchise- in Tulsa. Friday night, she did just that by converting a vintage Swoopes jumper with two seconds remaining to lead her team to victory, breaking the abysmal losing streak. She’s still got that cool J, please, “don’t call it a comeback.” Where others lost confidence or left town, Swoopes remained calm and remained confident; she knows she’s a winner and that’s the aura she projects. Truly successful people remain confident in the face of unfamiliar challenges; clearly, I need to get on her level.
All along, I’ve been inspired to see that she continued to mentor her young teammates regardless of what she was going through. She knows she’s good, and she’s been there; she represents a strength that very few people have. At the age of 40, she recognizes her role is to contribute as a leader both on and off the floor, not to put up MVP-type numbers (though she’s had to at times). For me, it took a month of reading, relaxation, and reflection in Maine to help me regain my self-confidence. It’s absurd that I ended my first year feeling defeated, incompetent, and worthless. I had to sit myself down and say: “look, Anthony, you are a competent, caring person, don’t let this get you down. You’re better than that, c’mon!”
And you know what? I was right. I didn’t drink some magical Kool-Aid to acquire new strategies, nor did TFA equip me with some revolutionary technology (I WANT AN iPAD!); I simply regained my confidence. Of course, there are times where I experience uncertainty, but now I embrace it and run with it. Last year, when I asked my principal what she felt was the greatest area I needed to work on, she said my “tone.” I’m not a mean person, and I thought that’s what she meant but I’ve come to realize she was saying I needed to project greater confidence, even in the face of extreme doubt, especially in the face of extreme doubt. Lord knows we experience a whole lot of that!
Further still, having confidence in myself is important not only for my own benefit, but also for the first-years at my school. I’ve been called out for not being as much of a mentor as I perhaps should be. This is primarily due to a feeling that I’m not qualified to advise anyone about teaching. Sure, things are getting better for me now, but I’m still waiting for the wheels to come off the proverbial bus, so I’m not completely convinced I should be helping anyone else, especially if I can’t help myself. However, I am learning quickly this logic is flawed because while I’m far from perfect, there are things I can share with new teachers that might actually help them make gains with their students. ;-P
In difficult circumstances, people need to see their leaders and fellow soldiers succeeding, or at least appearing to, so they have a sense of hope for what could be possible. Last year, I was often walked by an 8th Grade English teacher’s classroom during my planning period and felt inspired but what I saw: engagement, learning, and order. This was a sight for literally sore eyes and made me feel like student achievement was a possibility; I needed to see that. Likewise, Swoopes’ teammates needed to see her continue to work hard and believe in her team, despite all evidence to the contrary. If they saw the female Michael Jordan give up hope, then why would they think they had a chance? We need to persevere because sometimes a morale boost is all that’s required to get the ball rolling for our students.
Last year, I joked about the Demotivator® poster that said: “when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The smart left a long time ago.” Well, maybe that’s true in the Mississippi Delta, but I’ve never claimed not to be a little crazy. I guess I’m going to keep it going ‘cuz “Mama Said Knock You Out!”