A 1994 Jackson Central-Merry graduate and basketball standout, Dion Thornton attended Union University on scholarship. She helped the Bulldogs reach the NAIA finals in 1996 and 1997 and was named to the TransSouth All-Conference team twice. She transferred to Kennesaw State in Georgia and was named the top woman’s basketball player in Georgia. After college, she played semi-professional women’s basketball and had two offers to play overseas in professional leagues.
In the past two decades, Coach D has trained individuals and teams, as well as recruited players for overseas professional leagues. She has more than twenty-two years of experience working with children, including at-risk adolescents. Her business, Above Average Sports, was started in 2006 because her true passion is working with children and teaching them discipline, life, and social skills through sports, and we asked her to share some of that wisdom concerning the value of “grit” with our readers.
In the world of sports, every day is a challenge, and as coaches, we aim to help athletes become the best.
So if I help you work on your shot, why do you get upset? If I correct your dribbling, why complain? If I work with you on your drop step, why are you rolling your eyes at me? When I yell at you, it’s not because I am mad or upset; it’s because I have asked or told you something 800 times.
Because that girl, the one on the other team—you know, the one guarding you; the one that blocked your shot; the one that crossed you over; the one that kept you from scoring—she cares what you can or cannot do more than you do. Why? Because she wants to win! She wants it more than you do.
I’m here to help you, to coach you, to train you, and to prepare you. I’m your biggest fan. Are you going to let her win? It’s up to you.
I wish more of my athletes would remember that most coaches have been where they are. We’ve had to experience the same conditioning, yelling, strength training, etc. We all had to learn and develop our skills in some way.
I have over twenty years’ experience as a player, instructor, trainer, and coach. However, I wasn’t always good at basketball. Before the age of twelve, I had never touched a basketball and was six feet tall. My first coach was a P.E. teacher. She made me play because she knew members of my family who were good at basketball. I was awkward, slightly uncoordinated, and did not have any basketball skills.
Halfway through the season, the high school coach came over to our middle school to speak with me about playing ball for her. She thought I was lazy. In a very respectful manner, I let her know that I was far from lazy. She looked shocked. I explained that my middle school coach hadn’t taught me anything and made me do office work while the other girls practiced. Thankfully, the high school coach trusted me, saw potential, and put me on the team.
I worked hard my first year of high school but felt inadequate. I decided the best thing to do was quit. I washed my uniform, folded it nicely, and laid it aside to return to my coach.
Season was starting up again, and I missed all the summer games with the intention to quit. When it came time to return my uniform, I looked at it, and something shifted in me. I told myself, “I’m going to give it all I have, and if it isn’t good enough, then I will quit.”
The first three games of the season, I scored twenty-three points and grabbed twenty-two rebounds.
I realized at a young age that learning basic skills builds confidence and makes you able to better perform. As I got older, I started coaching and training to help other athletes develop their skills early, which is the foundation of my business. I didn’t have that as a young athlete. People always said they would help, but in the end, they didn’t. It was very disappointing. I learned on my own, and I did not have it all down, making the learning process much longer. If I had a coach to teach and show me how to do things and explain different aspects of the game, I would have been a more confident, well-rounded player.
I overcame. As a high school sophomore, I signed to play in college under an athletic/academic scholarship. During my freshmen year, my coaches helped improve my game by changing my shot, making me more aggressive, and creating a strength training program. Although they would always say, “You have so much potential,” they would not provide insight into exactly what I needed to work on. It was frustrating. I thought I would always be a mediocre player. I spent hours working on my game, training, and conditioning. When I was away from the pressure and could relax, I reached my potential, but my season as a player was coming to an end. I felt great, and I was great.
Now, as a coach, I want to share what I have gained with my athletes. However, it is tough as a female coaching the female athlete. You are looked at as the “mean mom” because you have to push them, encourage them, be stern with them, motivate them, and provide constructive criticism. It is like playing the devil’s advocate, and the road gets rough. But I want each athlete I have had and will have the honor of coaching to know that at the end of the day, I’m here to help them reach their potential. I want them to enjoy the freedom of being great, the liberation of confidence, and all the rewards it brings. It all begins with you and your coach—your biggest fan.
Portrait by Katie Howerton.