Recently, I received a call from a high school coach in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  She had tracked me down on the internet and sounded desperate: “Can you come speak to my athletes and help them see something positive in what had been a long season full of losses.”

The coach had just taken over a girl’s high school basketball program that had been in a state of disrepair for years. The last winning team that came out of the program was some 5 decades back in the mid 1970’s. The players she described were beaten down, had struggled with some very tough life issues, and no longer knew how to win.

I too knew what it was like to slog your way through a long basketball season where wins were rare, and losses seem to come rapidly. My years at the University of Minnesota were definitely tough, dark days as far as wins on the court were concerned. We pushed through grueling practices, traveled around the country, and watched old VHS tapes of opposing teams’ games. No matter what we did in those three years we couldn’t seem to get over that hurdle. We had to face losing more than we did winning.

I knew I had to go speak to these young athletes because their coach was doing the long and exhaustive work of rebuilding the program. She was dedicated and had put in place camps for the youngest athletes in the community. She was creating a system for the athletes to come through so when they arrive to her in a few years they would be high-school ready. The coach was passionate and prepared, and she wanted the best for her athletes.

When I arrived at their second to last game of the season, I saw a team that was without a ton of talent and a team quick to give up on themselves. Not surprising for what they had been through all season.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, by what else I saw from this team.

  • -A group of young ladies that had only one win on the season and they were still showing up to practice and games. They were not quitters.
  • -They were using the game as a way to escape from the reality life was throwing at them. They were savvy athletes.
  • -The girls didn’t know how to finish a game, but they weren’t afraid to put themselves out there and try. These were brave people.
  • -They showed up to teach the young girls at basketball camp on Saturdays. These were role models.
  • -They heard me when I encouraged them to use this season as fuel to remember how it felt. They were coachable athletes.
  • -They had improved from the beginning of the season even though the box-score didn’t show it. They were working hard.
  • -I saw a team that supported each other even at the very end. They hadn’t given up on each other.

After I returned home from speaking to the team, I received a text from the coach. It read:

“Thank you, the girls felt great, I got nothing but positive responses from them. They can’t wait to see you again. They accomplished your goal of finishing strong. They encouraged each other and you could see all of them, both JV and varsity trying to put into action what they got out of your presentation.”

It dawned on me after I read the text that these girls had found so many wins in a season full of losses. I look forward to watching this team from afar to see how they move through their next season but one thing they have already proven to me is they really are a group of winners.



The first speaking event benefiting Rethink the Win and Her Next Play was a huge success and the start of a speaking series where athletes can share their stories of accomplishments, perseverance and disappointment. Surya Bonaly former figure skating champion was our speaker and her amazing stories of what it was like to navigate the competitive figure skating world that had never seen an athletic black athlete was both inspiring and heartbreaking.

Surya was born in Nice, France whereas an amateur athlete, she became the 9-time French National Champion, 5-time European Champion, and 3-time World silver medalist. After her amateur skating career concluded Surya moved to the United State, turned professional, and eventually became a United States Citizen.

In 2019, Surya’s amazing story was detailed in the Netflix documentary, Losers, episode 3, Judgement a series that explores the lives of heroic individuals who persevered against long odds. The episode featuring Surya focuses on her longevity on the ice, and refusal to submit to conventions.

Currently, Surya coaches figure skating in Minnesota, works with figure skating camps and is a guest coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

Young athletes meet the legend
Surya with Bri a young figure skater
Surya and Lea B. Olsen


9 Tips to Protect, Prepare and Propel Your Young Athlete

  1. Protecting our youngest athletes is the single most important component that we can do as parents, coaches and others who support athletes.  It is imperative that you ensure that those working with your kids have taken background checks.  Make sure and ask your park houses and associations what their vetting process is and make sure they are consistent with the process.
  2. Youth Sports is a huge business somewhere between 9-15 billion dollar industry.  This means people are profiting off of your athletes.  Be aware that all things be offered to your athlete are not necessary or good for them.  
  3. Overuse injuries are a huge issue for our youngest athletes.  Have someone speak to your team or association about the risks of playing all year long.  If your athlete is playing year-round make sure you watch for signs of fatigue, stress, and anxiety in yourathlete.
  4. Check in with your athlete and make sure they are having fun in their sport. Athletes play sports for many different reasons.  Some want to become professional athletes, some participate for social connections.  Let them define what their sporting experience means to them
  5. Athletes drop out of sports at a high rate; 70% will drop out by the time they are 13 years old.  If we can make the time in sport more fun and less stressful we will keep them playing longer.
  6. A great question for your coaches or association is what is our sports culture and how do you enforce it?
  7. Competence creates Confidence spend time teaching the fundamentals.
  8. Your athlete does not need to be the star athlete or even the starting athlete to receive all of the benefits associated with sports.
  9. Creating an environment where winning at all cost is not the focus is critical. For many young athletes sport isn’t just what they do, it’s who they are.  Make sure that their short time spent is sport has positive effects later in life.