Encouraging Words: “It’s Not Me; It’s We”

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It’s the sound of the game-opening buzzer. The referee’s call for opponents to call the coin toss. The crowd’s noisy enthusiasm to begin the game. The adrenaline races as certain signals move an athlete to go above and beyond for their team. But while these indicators spur competition, players derive the deepest inspiration and encouragement from their coaches.

Athletic performance is not only natural ability and training, but maintaining a positive mindset, harvested from encouraging words shared by many supporters, especially coaches. When an athlete holds a greater attitude, poise and spirit, they achieve more impressive results. This thought process is founded on the idea that players can improve rather than remain at the same skill level. Also, science shows that negativity from a coach does not bring better effort. Research proves there’s no stronger motivation than positivity nurtured by words of encouragement.

Tennessee-born Fran Braasch has marked 32 years coaching girls, most of that time spent in basketball, in the high school and college ranks. Santa Claus brought young Fran a basketball goal, and her dad nailed it to the garage. She practiced constantly, and years later decided to try out for the high school team that played half-court, three-on-three. Before being accepted, the coach asked the girls to keep a journal of their practice time at home. When Fran turned in her diary, the coach said he didn’t need to see it. “He had driven by my house and knew how much I was playing because there was no grass in the front yard,” she laughed.

After playing basketball at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and teaching in the city school system, in 1978 she was tapped at the age of 27 to become the first coach of the women’s scholarship basketball team at UAB. The program also offered scholarships to women to join the team. However, Fran had never coached basketball at the college level, but her abilities convinced UAB leaders she was the right woman for the job.

“I grew up in Middle Tennessee and now I’m the head coach at UAB and starting a scholarship program,” she recalled. “It was a great feeling to see a kid play and then walk into their house and offer them a scholarship.” She coached three years and the team took third in the Southeast Conference her last year. She instructed Wanda Hightower to All-American recognition. Eventually, professional and family needs moved her into the high school coaching ranks. But from 1978 to 2006, when she retired, her career wrapped with 579 wins and 208 losses, a 75 percent winning percentage. Most coaches can only dream of achieving numbers this impressive, but Fran delivered the necessary motivation and inspiration for her teams to make it a reality.

“It came naturally to me. Everybody borrows sayings and statements from others. Some athletes are self-motivated and have great leadership, and some need pushing and tugging. I loved those girls. It was like a family because you go through so much together,” she noted. “Some people are motivational and have the personality to inspire to get the best you can out of those athletes. We worked hard, took pride in what we did and we took it real seriously. It was our intention to win and be the best that God gave us the ability to be. It wasn’t meant for everybody. It took a special person to be dedicated, devoted, went by the rules and did what was required to win.”

Given her tremendous success on the court, Fran has shared her knowledge at various coaching clinics to inspire others to motivate their players with positivity. Some favorites are:

“Coaching is about relationships as it is in all of school and all of life.”

“Can you motivate people to be the best that God gave them the ability to be?”

“The greatest motivators are love and fear.”

“Remember, you can’t fool the kids.”

“Don’t misunderstand; I’m not in a popularity contest.”

“Success on a high school level: we want to always be competitive and play hard, but when you have talent, you can be great. Be prepared, be organized and make it important.”

While Fran has long ago hung up her coach’s whistle and stopwatch, she offers that inspiring athletes is no different than motivating your children or grandchildren to do their finest. “Of all the things, no matter what you do in life, sports, lawyer or judge, be the best that God gave you the ability to be. We can’t all be All-Americans, but you can try to be. The higher you reach, the higher you can achieve,” advised Fran. “Life is a gift and to take your life and make a difference for someone else is what it’s all about. It’s not me, it’s we.” ■