“Prepare for battle at the plate, be mentally and physically sound to succeed.” Even without a history of military service, my father loved to incorporate military doctrine into my athletic training. “The only easy day was yesterday,” he would tell me during softball practices. These phrases, alongside plenty of other military jargon, were ones I heard frequently as he molded me into a sound softball athlete.
Now, as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, I can attest to the mentality of service and accountability the Corps imparts to every Marine. It is a mentality that continues to drive my success as a member of the USA Bobsled Team and one I believe every coach can learn from.
As a child, I loved to compete. With a naturally bold and assertive nature, I always found myself in leadership roles. Being a leader came easily to me. After receiving a D1 softball scholarship to George Washington University, I was appointed to a leadership position my freshman year and felt indestructible. I wanted to see my team succeed, and honestly, I thought I had it nailed down. Little did I know that a few weeks into my first semester, I would meet a Marine recruiter and find myself at Officer Candidates School the following summer.
Despite having what I felt like was proper leadership training, the Marine Corps quickly humbled me. I was selected as “student platoon commander” by the staff for one of our field exercises. I was tasked with leading our 45-person platoon into the swamps of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, where we would spend the next few days being evaluated on our ability to lead and overcome problems as a team. We were given a very specific gear list, and I took it upon myself to brief the platoon on all the proper items to pack with them. I verified verbally that every candidate had all their gear and was confident in my platoon as we stepped off.
When we finally arrived at our bivouac site, we discovered that one platoon member had forgotten a crucial item. We had hiked over three miles from our home base, and I knew the sergeant instructors (drill instructors for enlisted training) wouldn’t hesitate to share their displeasure with the platoon member who hadn’t followed the packing list. To my surprise, I was the one being yelled at for the missing gear. Despite feeling like I did everything I could but micromanage the 45 other women, as a platoon commander, I was responsible for our success or our failure.
That day I learned a very valuable lesson that I have carried with me for the rest of my athletic career; as a leader, you must ALWAYS take ownership and responsibility, even if you weren’t the one who made the mistake.
I took this lesson, and many others, back to my softball team, and I believe it made a key difference in our program. We went from a losing program my first year to winning the conference championship for the first time in school history my senior year. Every year I was slated as a team captain, and I continued to apply a Marine Corps mindset to my position. The difference was I now understood what these lessons meant because I had lived them.
Tenets of the Marine Corps, such as “Train your Marines as a team” and our core values of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment,” meant something completely different to me now. The selfless spirit I saw the team develop and the ownership each player took for their actions was a direct result of the lessons I learned at Officer Candidates School. Getting yelled at isn’t fun, but what I took from that experience has altered my mindset forever in life, sport, and as a leader.
I would wager that the Marine Corps develops the BEST leaders in the world. While not everyone can go to Officer Candidates School and get the hands-on experience I received, that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize these same lessons to develop a similar mindset in your team.
Through our partnership with SHAPE America, the Marine Corps is dedicated to creating change in the lives of coaches and athletes. Whether you are interested in attending one of our Coaches’ Workshops or having a Marine lead physical training with your team, Marines are standing by to assist you as coaches and educators.