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The Power of Mudita

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Advocate-Messenger approached area high school spring sports coaches about writing a column for publication. This one from Boyle County softball coach Brian Deem is the second of 12 stories to appear in the paper each Tuesday through the end of May.

As a coach, we are always looking to find an edge; a motto to inspire our student-athletes to perform at their best through both success and adversity. We want them to show resilience in the classroom, on the field and in their personal lives.

So, as a coach, a teacher and a mentor, it is our responsibility to set the standard for our student-athletes, to give them the tools to be gracious and humble throughout all arenas of life.

At a coaching convention, I learned about the word “Mudita”. By definition, Mudita means joy for others, especially vicarious joy. Simply stated, it is when we can be happy of the joys other human beings feel.

When I heard about this word, I had my “Ah-ha” moment. As a head coach of two programs, girls soccer and softball, I have spent many years speaking of collective responsibility, collective successes and failures. All things kids are hopefully taught at a young age. However, how do you teach a student athlete to have mudita for their teammates’ successes? Sounds easy … but it’s not.

I’m a believer in the phrase, “Competition breeds success.” However, in this day and age, teaching kids to compete and learn that failure is part of growth is extremely difficult. Then, to want that same player to learn how to have joy for their teammates’ success when she is competing against that player for the starting position or a major role … some would say is next to impossible.

So I began instilling the mindset not just with my players but also with my parents. I discuss mudita during my first parent meeting of the year. I want my players and parents to see what the power of mudita can do for their daughters, as well as for the entire program. All student athletes will listen most often to their parents — as they should!

So I want my parents to understand the power of mudita, as well as my players.

I met with my staff and discussed some minor changes to begin changing the way our kids think. Kids these days want to be coached. Despite what many may think, kids want structure and discipline. So we decided to present practice, games and the workouts a bit differently.

We ask our players to fail in practice at full speed. Failure is the first step to success. Failure is not evil, it’s the foundation of becoming successful. Make a decision, right or wrong, but make a decision. Then stand behind that decision and learn from it. We tell them “having fun means doing the difficult things well.”

I hold meetings with our seniors and captains, assessing the locker room atmosphere and addressing concerns any players may have on and off the field. I keep a direct line of communication between the players and the coaches. I explain to the seniors that they are not allowed to ever say, “It’s my senior year.” To use that phrase is toxic and will become deadly to the team’s chemistry.

To embed the mudita philosophy with our seniors, I explain that their teammates’ successes are also their own. To want to see your teammates be successful over your own personal agenda is powerful and does not go unnoticed. The power of mudita at it’s finest.

So, I use the phrase “It’s your last chance or opportunity to be a Rebel.” This reminds them they have one last chance to create joy and be joyful of others’ success within our program. It is about all players, the past, present and the future. What they do today, will make past players proud, present players appreciative and future players inspired.

So I ask all who come and watch both programs to sit back and take a pause. Enjoy watching a group of ladies who made a commitment to something bigger than any one team member. They are learning about life and all it has to offer through a simple game. To give their heart to a belief, to a standard, to each other — and know they will experience more joy in return. It’s the power of kindness to others, the power of Mudita.

Brian Deem is the coach of the Boyle County softball and girls soccer programs. He’s in his sixth season coaching the softball team, accumulating 128 wins over the first five seasons. Combined with girls soccer, Deem’s teams have won nearly 400 games. They next host Southwestern on Thursday.