I have a lot of memorable coaches from my early sport years, but my first lacrosse coach made the biggest difference.
A friend of mine lived next door to this woman who was a collegiate lacrosse official and was interested in starting a lacrosse league. The township wouldn’t let Mrs. Butler start the program unless she reached a certain number of participants. My friend asked if I would join. I had no idea what lacrosse was, but of course, I wanted to play.
My parents signed me up and I remember waiting for dad to take me to practice. He is a manager for Terminix and worked in New Jersey at the time, so he was coming from an hour away. When he got home, I hopped in his truck and off we went to the first practice, listening to Shania Twain and the Back Street Boys on the radio as he drove. We got to the field and I climbed out of his white Ford truck with the Terminix logo down the side that used to embarrass me.
All the players gathered around the Coach Butler’s minivan so we could get our lacrosse sticks. The Patterson lacrosse stick I learned to play with is now vintage because wooden sticks don’t exist in the game anymore. My dad immediately took the stick and labeled it, “T.ZIMMER.”
So we were a few practices in, just learning the basics—how to catch, throw and cradle, and general rules. It was tough to start, but man was it fun? We got to run all over because the field had NO boundaries. How about that? The soft-boundaries kept modern lacrosse as close as possible to the Native American game. If players went too far based on the official’s judgment, they would blow the whistle and move players closer to the center of the field.
Girls were running all over the place and one tripped and let out a loud scream. Her forearm snapped in half when she extended her arm to brace her fall. The coach ran to her minivan, got a new lacrosse stick, snapped it over her knee, taped the girls forearm to the piece of wood, and sent her with her dad to the hospital. The girl didn’t come back, and a handful of others never returned after that accident.
Coach Butler was uncaring in the most caring way. She never felt sorry for anyone. Some girls needed that constant praise, and those were the ones who quit.
Always very matter of fact, she knew everything about the game. Having played Division 1, she was the first coach I played for who had real experiences to share.
The way the situation unfolded with the broken-arm-girl had me fired up. I thought, Wow, Coach Butler just ignored the fact that her arm was basically in two pieces! And she continued coaching like nothing happened. It was on to the next drill. I was amazed and excited and went back to each practice and couldn’t get enough.
Since I was on the hefty side, I started out as a goalie. I didn’t like it very much because there was a lot of standing unless the other team has the ball. Even then, I guess it would be silly for a goalie to want to get pummeled with shots. I asked to play midfield so I could run and I was actually pretty fast, so coach put me in at center. It was fun taking draws, but the ball was on the ground so much, that even that lost its novelty after a few practices.
As we progressed to learning game strategy, I remember Coach Butler saying that everyone needs to be effective, but one player can change the game. Skills could set you apart. Maybe you were an attacker and had great shooting accuracy. Or you played center and could draw to yourself or your teammate, so you were the start of success by having possession of the ball. But if you were a defender, it was your job to shut players down; you would be hated and attackers would avoid you.
I loved that. I wanted to be hated. I wanted to be avoided. I wanted to get the ball back from whoever had it on the opposing team. Until Coach Butler explained positions in this way, I wasn’t sure where I belonged. Then I knew I belonged on defense.
Coach Butler taught me many things. I remember she said the game will end, and the result really doesn’t matter, but ask what did you do while you were out there? Since then, I have always asked myself that.
She also said, if you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it. So many coaches will have you believe it is worth it, just because they love it. But really, if you don’t like it, it is just a waste of everyone’s time. So don’t do it. Simple as that.
I believed in the game and in my ability because of her outlook at sports in general. She was passionate about lacrosse, a great teacher, and the first coach I ever really admired.
Eleven years later, Coach Butler was one of the officials in my first collegiate game. I was nervous as a starting freshman. We (Temple) beat Penn State at home, which was a big upset and a great memory. I hadn’t talked to my former coach at all before or during the game. It never dawned on me that she may be one of the officials. As I walked off the field, she said, “Way to go Trac, I knew you’d end up somewhere.”