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3437402Sheila Lyons’ Daughter, Katheryn, has graduated from the Stealers’ Program.  Katheryn began playing with us in 1999, and has been through many ups and downs since that 10 year old season.  Sheila wanted to share with the current and future parents how Katheryn managed to reach a goal that every player wants when they start playing basketball – receiving a scholarship to a Major Division I College Basketball Program.   Sheila talks about the many life lessons she learned as a parent in her eight years as an AAU Parent, and hopes that you, the parent, can take some thing positive from this for your daughter:

“Katheryn was a soccer player at the age of 8.  She played YMCA Basketball at that same age, but nothing as competitive as AAU.  At age 10, we found about the Winston-Salem Stealers and tried to get on their team.  I called to inquire, however, tryouts had passed, and it looked as if Katheryn would have to wait a year.  Then, Brian (Coach Robinson) called back saying that two girls had quit to go play with another program, and Katheryn could come out and see if she liked it.  Coach Robinson liked her determination & felt she had some talent, so he gave her an opportunity to stay with the team. Fate was on our side”.

“Katheryn scored 18 points in her first game and was hooked.  The 1st year for us as parents was a learning curve.  Everytime she fell down or got hurt she cried.  Coach Robinson would say “get up, because if I have to come out on the floor to get you, you have to come out of the game”.  She’d look at him, get up, and give him the same look she still gives him today.  By the time we reached Orlando for the DII Nationals  (called NIC back then), she had stopped crying and was now fighting through the bumps and bruises.  Lesson #1 – Don’t interfere with the coaching. It was extremely difficult for me to sit there and watch my baby cry and get hurt.  Our first instinct was to run & protect.  Coach Robinson explained that if we gave her time she would either toughen up or quit.  We trusted his judgement and watched from afar. The team finished 3rd at the DII’s and that was all she needed to motivate her.   Katheryn began talking to Coach every chance she got. She wanted to know what she could do to get better.  She went to his high school basketball games and watched him coach.  Coach introduced Katheryn to one of his former players, Rachel Stockdale, who played at North Carolina State.  Katheryn started to watch Rachel play, and learned a lot from her.  Rachel was so kind to her and would shoot around with her and visit with her. Today, that is a big reason why Katheryn now gives of her time to the younger players. She wanted to extend the same kindness that was shown to her when she was younger”.

“When the 11-and-under Season started, the team acquired more talent and qualified for the DI Nationals in West Lafayette, Indiana.  The team finished 17th overall, and it was here where Katheryn began setting goals.  AAU Nationals used to require athletes to attend “The Complete Athlete” Seminar.  The speaker told the girls the odds of becoming a DI College Player, and what it would take to beat those odds.  Katheryn was 4’10” at the time, and decided that she had to work harder than everyone around her to be a DI College Player. She quit soccer that fall”.

“At the 12s age, her team from the past year split.  Most of the team stayed down to play on their own age, but Katheryn had to move up because of her birthdate. She was in the same grade, but AAU Rules wouldn’t allow her to play with those in her grade. One of the girls who moved down was the team’s point guard.  Katheryn was a shooting guard on the 10 and 11 Teams, and Coach told her that she was going to be the point guard.  Katheryn didn’t want to have that role as first, but Coach explained how it would only make her better in the long run.  Lesson #2 – Don’t dictate a position for your child at an early age because you never know what they are capable of.  We didn’t qualify for the DI Nationals that year, and Coach allowed Katheryn to play with another team who did.  That team went to Connecticut for the DI Nationals. That team talked about all the great things they could do for Katheryn.  Katheryn’s playing time was minimal. Parents were dictating to the coach who should play and who shouldn’t. Katheryn was angry and wanted to leave. She called Coach Robinson who told her that she made a committment and had to stay. As parents, we were spending a lot of money and we were confused. It wasn’t easy watching her sit, but we realized that nothing was going to change.  After talking to Coach Robinson a few more times, Katheryn settled down and became a supporter from the bench. She left that tournament more determined than ever that she would make herself so good that no one could afford to leave her on the bench again”.  Lesson #3 – Parents, please do your homework on other coaches / programs promising your kids the world, and heaping praise on your child.

“When we got home, Coach Robinson tried to get her going again, by inviting her to a college recruiting event. We were very apprehensive… a 5’0” twelve year old playing with, and against, some of the best 16 & 17 year old basketball players in the country?  We went to Atlanta trusting that he was doing the right thing for her.  Katheryn was playing with Chante’ Black, who currently plays at Duke. Every school in the country was recruiting Chante’ and at every game we played, the walls were lined up with a “Who’s Who” of coaching.  I was in awe, but it didn’t seem to phase Katheryn.  She had no idea what this “showcase” was, she was just playing basketball.  Lesson #4 – Don’t hold your daughter back for fear of failure; they will have to fail in order to succeed.  It was here where Joanna Bernabei, an assistant coach at West Virginia, first saw Katheryn play.  I didn’t know at the time, but Katheryn was playing against some of the top guards in the country. Coach Bernabei, who came to the game, as everyone else did, to watch Chante’ play was amazed that this 12 year old was holding her own in this type of atmosphere.  Coach Bernabei talked to Coach Robinson afterwards and said she was going to follow Katheryn through the next couple of years, seeing if she would continue to develop and improve.

Her 13-and-under Season almost didn’t happen. The team was beginning to lose focus and discipline.  Katheryn was now being recruited by other programs, because they could see some potential.  She had a taste of playing with the older girls, and didn’t want to play with her team anymore.  Coach made her stay with her team, and told her that it was the best thing for her at the time. She could’ve been a part of a strong team with the older girls, but Coach said developing is much more important than winning right now.  He wanted her to get better as a leader, and the best way to lead was to make the others around her better than they actually were. He also wanted her to get better mentally, so she could think as a coach would think, and make the proper decisions that a point guard (or on the court coach) would have to do to be successful.  The team made DII Nationals, and again, made the trip to Orlando. It was here where she scored 40 points in one game, and set the record for the most points in one game at both the DI & DII Nationals.  We came in 3rd at the DIIs, and the next day we flew to Washington, DC to play at another college recruiting event, held at the University of Maryland and the surrounding area.  Katheryn’s team played their last three games on the University of Maryland’s Campus. In the final game, she played against a senior point guard that signed with Kansas State with the new Maryland Head Coach, Brenda Frese, watching from the court next to ours. She held her own, and left with a good feeling about her season. That 40 point game in Orlando got the attention of Nike, who invited her to an elite camp that fall in South Carolina. She was the only 8th grader at the event.  Once again, because of her age, the coach of her showcase team didn’t play her a lot. Little did I realize that even though her AAU Team was not at the level of other teams in our program or across the AAU Landscape, Katheryn was starting to place herself at a level that was going to payoff in the future.  Lesson #5 – Don’t let your daughter quit when there’s adversity; tell your daughter to fight hard for her playing time when they are younger, on their own. Until you prove yourself, folks won’t respect you.  Place the need to develop your daughter in all aspects of her game, mentally and physically, in front of your desire as a parent to want to win, at an early age. Don’t pass up an opportunity to attend an event, as you will learn something every time.

“At 14, Katheryn’s team was content on going back to the DII Nationals, but Katheryn was not.  Some girls began to realize that a scholarship may not be in their future, and you begin to see some commitment levels drop, and other interests start taking over.  Coach Robinson was not into “settling” or being mediocre if you could be better, so he didn’t take the team to the DIIs. He, first, invited Katheryn to play with an older team in Oregon to play in front of college recruiters. He felt like this opportunity would help the entire program in the future, as he had some talented players on his younger teams, especially the group who had split at Katheryn’s 12-and-under year. Playing in Oregon with Chante’ again, and others, was what she needed.  The college coaches came in droves to our games, and from that point on, wherever one of the Stealers’ Teams played in the upcoming years, they came out.  He let Katheryn go again with another team to the DI Nationals in Clarksville, Tennessee.  The college scouts were everywhere, and Katheryn had a solid first four games. The coach of her pickup team didn’t start her, but played her almost the entire game. However, again, the parental influence on this team began to rear its’ ugly head, upset that she was playing so much, even though the team was winning.  The coach was frustrated, and was at a crossroads – play Katheryn or play the other girls. At the next game, he then yelled at Katheryn for another player’s mistake, where the entire gym could see it happening, and Katheryn became confused and wanted to leave, but went to the bench and stayed humbled.  She called Coach Robinson and, again, he told her to stay.  He told her to talk to the coach, and see why he went off on her like that.  Katheryn, not me, approached the coach and he told her the truth about being under pressure from “his” parents, and how he wanted her to stay.  She did, and when the point guard went down with a concussion the next game, she had to play.  Katheryn played like nothing had happened between her and the coach (from that point, the two have maintained a good, respectful relationship to this day), and the team won again to place in the Top Ten.  The strength of character and resolve impressed even the complaining parents and after that, no one said a word.  The college coaches were so impressed on the way she handled herself and Coach Robinson’s phone began ringing for Katheryn”.  Lesson #6 – Support your child, but let them fight their battles.

“The 15-and-under Season was a trying one as well. Katheryn was questioning her ability after she had a scoreless performance in a high school playoff loss to end the season.  A few games into the AAU Season, the team was better, but she was not playing well.  She had trouble with her ankles, and was battling mononucleosis.  She was healthy enough to play some at the State Tournament, and her team made the DI Nationals. In between, Katheryn was invited to play at the Adidas Top Ten Camp, an honor that Coach Robinson told her that she couldn’t pass up.  She played well, and received a lot of interest from college coaches at this event as well.  She made an all-star team at the end of the season, but again, she had to prove herself all over again.  She was not the fastest, tallest, or most athletic player on the team and didn’t play a lot. She began questioning herself…again, but now was starting to understand herself”.  Lessons # 7 & #8 – As a parent, let the child decide if she wants to play or not, it’s their life, and welcome to the real world of basketball… you have to keep proving yourself over and over.

“We joined the 292 Program to help get some idea on how to best manage her college recruitment. Yes, Katheryn probably would have received a scholarship to play at a good school without 292, but with this program, I was able to get so much more feedback and information that helped open doors that I would have never known was there for my child. Coach Robinson encouraged Katheryn to visit as many schools as possible, regardless of size. By September of her sophomore year, Katheryn had received half a dozen college scholarship offers.  Six months earlier, she was in the dumps, ready to quit, because she was hurt, sick, and not playing well. Now, she was back happy and on top of the world. In October, the assistant coach at Maryland asked Coach Robinson if Katheryn would like to attend their recruiting day.  That assistant coach? Joanna Bernabei, who had left West Virginia two years ago. Coach Bernabei kept an eye on Katheryn from that showcase she attended at the age of 12, and wanted to start recruiting her. Katheryn and I went, first visiting the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday and then Maryland on Saturday. Katheryn and Brenda Frese, Maryland’s Head Coach, hit it off, and Katheryn didn’t want to leave. On the way home, she said “This is where I want to go to school”.  I told her that Maryland might be a stretch, but if she really kept working, it could happen”.  Lesson #9 – Visit as many colleges as you can early on. You can develop relationships and begin to learn what they truly are about.

“Katheryn, as she had been for the past 3-4 years, was still being heavily criticized for her ability.  Her critics thought that she was wasting her time visiting schools, and there was no way she was going to play in the ACC or any other Major DI Conference. However, Coach Frese made the trip to Kernersville to watch her play during her 10th grade year, and asked Coach Robinson if Katheryn could make another trip to Maryland. She told Coach Robinson that not too many HEAD College Coaches take trips to watch 10th Graders Play in December.   When we returned to their campus later in December, Coach Frese officially offered her a scholarship.  This validated everything that Coach Robinson had been telling her from the time she was 10.  The countless hours of working in and out of practice, all of the drills. The countless times he corrected her “look” on her face, and adjusted her attitude. The countless times he told her that things happen for a reason, and something good always follows adversity”.

“We went over every pro and con with Coach Robinson about committing early, we looked at where Maryland was heading as a program, and Katheryn knew in her heart that this is where she wanted to be”.  Lesson #10 – as a parent, do your research, get help from the people in the know and let your child follow her heart.

“Katheryn committed to Maryland in January of 2005.  Coach Frese impressed upon Katheryn that this was an early offer and that there was no rush. She wanted Katheryn on her team, as a point guard and as a shooting guard, but understood that this was a big committment for her to make.  Katheryn was the youngest player ever to be offered by Coach Frese, at the time”.

“Katheryn’s 16 and under team was fun.  We traveled with the 292 Team to Chicago and Nebraska, and she was selected to play with another all-star team.  Some things, however, never change.  Even though she had committed to Maryland, her playing time on that all-star team was minimal.  She didn’t care this time around.  She fulfilled her committment to the team, and cheered from the bench, realizing that no matter how well she played, there would always be people who would never respect her game.  From then on the only person she had to answer to was herself, as long as she had done everything to make herself better”.  Lesson #11 – as a parent, help your child believe in herself and ignore the doubters.

“In November of this past year (2006), Katheryn signed her national letter of intent to play at Maryland.  Even then, there were those who said “Yeah, she’s going to Maryland, but she’ll never play”.  It doens’t matter if her playing time is limited. The fact is, she is going to a Top 10-20 Team in the Country to play women’s basketball. Whether she plays a lot or not as a freshman is irrelevant. The fact is that Katheryn has worked for 8 years and set her goals early in order to put herself in position to be able to play for the one of the best team’s in the country.  An opportunity few are privileged to ever experience.  She didn’t have to worry about where she was going to school, if anyone was going to start recruiting her, or if she had done enough today to catch someone’s attention later on.   She is, instead, worked on the things Maryland wanted her to work on so she can be in the best light possible when she gets there.  If anyone noticed, age isn’t a factor at Maryland, their starting line-up had no seniors in 2005″.  Lesson #12 – enjoy each and every moment for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

“Katheryn proves that you don’t have to be the most athletic, the tallest, or the fastest player to reach a goal.  You have to have a drive, and you have to attach yourself with someone who can take you there.  As a parent, you and your pride have to step aside, you have to let your daughter work through her troubles, and when you find someone that can help her reach her goal, don’t take your child away from them.  Hopefully, in 2007, Katheryn will realize her dream and step onto the court at the Comcast Center on the University of Maryland and play the game she dearly loves”.

Sheila Lyons – “Straight From The Parent’s Mouth” – May 12, 2006.