This article was written by guest contributor: Shannon O’Keefe

In the Fall of 2009 bowling had me so frustrated that I was ready to quit and find a new path. Shortly after I had these thoughts, I was asked to be a volunteer coach for a new program starting at USBC called USA Bowling. It was with a bunch of 8–10-year old’s who ended up being my co-worker’s kids. At the time I was immediately filled with regret for saying yes, because I truly believed at that time, I had nothing to give and or teach them… I was scared I was going to let everyone down.

That first meeting/practice changed the trajectory of my life forever and I didn’t even know it. Those beautiful bright eyed little girls saw something in me that I didn’t at the time, they showed up hanging on every word I said, they were willing to try anything I threw their way and they believed that I could help them become anything they wanted. Those little girls were placed in my life at the perfect time, and I know it wasn’t an accident. My little angels taught me to love this sport again, to believe I had something to give with the ability to help others, and they ignited a love and passion for coaching I was not aware existed.

My husband and I talked for years about finding an NCAA program where we could coach together, but we also knew it was going to take a special person that was crazy enough to hire a husband and wife. We found our crazy a few years later at the perfect time in our lives. We took over the bowling program at McKendree University (NCAA DII school in southern IL) in June of 2014.

Prior to taking this program over, I never coached anyone over the age of 12 or 13, so I believed the best way to find my coaching style or inspiration was from the coaches that influenced me the most during my fastpitch softball days. For those that are unaware, I was a very good softball player who was a 1st team all American as a freshman and tried out for the Olympic softball team when I was just 15. Growing up my coaches were very hard on me, they expected perfection and I worked my tail off to deliver it. My biggest fear was letting them down, and through their high standards and expectations, I exceled and achieved things that I at one time only dreamed about. So, going into collegiate coaching, I mirrored their coaching style into mine. I knew I was going to have talented players, but I believed at the time it was my job to hold them to higher expectations and standards, because if I didn’t… who would?

Even though I had success with this blueprint/style of coaching, even winning 2 NCAA National Championships, after 8 years my coaching style has come full circle. I’ve learned that success is not all about results, it’s not about winning or losing, but more about what kind of girls we are raising. Bowling is what brought us together, but bowling is not who we are. What’s most important to me is that my kids know we love them, that they know they’re worthy of anything life has to offer, and that through structure and hard work there are no limits to what they can do.

Too many people associate their self-worth on results, and I believe that is because us as coaches over the years put winning above everything else.  What we have learned is people just need to know you care, that you have their best interest at heart, and that you believe in them. When you put first things first such as love, patience, and guidance along with creating a safe place for them to really grow is when connections are made, and they’re free to play, and that’s when magical things happen.

The biggest lesson for me was learning that mistakes are going to happen and that’s ok because, as we explain to our girls, perfection is an unrealistic and impossible destination. We must make mistakes and fail in order to grow, the struggle is where we find what we are made of, and the frustration is where the good stuff happens. The best way to get through the down spouts is to embrace it and realize that it’s not permanent.

I’m grateful for the coaches that have influenced me throughout my life and I’m grateful for all my struggles. Just as I say to my girls, the failures and struggles is where you really find your path as long as you’re willing to admit your shortcomings and overcome them. I’m thankful for my girls that love me and have shown me grace as I’ve grown over the years into the coach I am today.