Jeremy Côté

Bits, ink, particles, and words.

Take Care of the Conditions

It was halftime in a close tournament finals. My basketball players gulped water and breathed heavily. It was our fourth game in two days. But we were here, vying for a championship just a week after a disappointing early tournament exit. We were so close, yet there was still work to do.

I spoke before they returned to the court1. “Guys, we have one last half, and I know we can do this. We can’t control if we win. The other team has just as much of a right to this game. But what we can control is how much energy we bring on defense, how smart we play on offense. We can control how mentally engaged we stay throughout every possession, every minute, and every shift. Are you ready to do it?”

They were. We won the game and the tournament.

As a coach, I was super proud to see my players band together and win. But I’m also aware that we could have lost. Some unlucky bounces, a few clutch shots from the other team, or our opponents maintaining their energy for longer could have made the difference. If any of these had happened, what would I have thought of my team?

I’d be just as proud, because they reached a new level of performance. Becoming champions was sweet, but it wasn’t necessary. Losing would have hurt because I’m competitive at heart2, yet what thrilled me is that we did everything to put ourselves in the best position for success. Winning was just a marker of our growth, not the growth itself. In my view, this is what we should be seeking with most youth sports (and probably many other pursuits).

Take care of the conditions, and the conditions will take care of the outcomes.

  1. The gist, because I don’t quite remember the exact words I used. 

  2. I’m the type of person that has trouble not competing when playing sports socially. Giving anything but my best effort is foreign to me. 

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Identity's Radius

There are experiences, commitments, environments, people, and roles which will grow your identity. There are also those that will shrink it. You won’t know which you will get in advance, but here are a few points to consider:

First, the larger your identity’s radius, the more resilient you will be in the face of setbacks. For example, if I’m struggling in my work, I can turn to my sports coaching as a way to relieve stress. But if I’m only ever working, then a setback looms large in my life. A larger radius protects against this. That being said, you can have too large of a radius, where you stretch every minute of your life to a pursuit, which gives you little room for margin. The result isn’t resilience, but brittleness.

Second, growing your identity’s radius through volunteering has done wonders in my life. It embeds me within my local community and gives me a sense of satisfaction independent from my professional work. As a coach for teenagers, I can assure you none of my players care if I’m struggling in my work. I need to be there for them, and that’s it!

Third, your identity’s radius is dynamic. You can always change it, and it will sometimes change on its own depending on the seasons of your life. A stressor can warp a small radius and make you only focus on it. A new opportunity can expand the space of possibilities for your identity. The challenge is keeping your radius large enough to not collapse under stressors but small enough such that you still have margin. In my experience, neither parts of the inequality are easy to achieve.

It’s natural that my identity’s radius will need shrink if I need to focus in a particular period of my life. But I try to remind myself that this is intentional and it has an end. Without an end date, I’m setting myself up for a miserable time.

When I get the balance right though, it feels like living on easy mode and makes me grateful for the opportunities I get in life.

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The Glue

I was almost seventeen, not an arts and crafts kind of guy, and wasn’t looking to repair anything. So you can imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a bottle of glue as a gift.

This also wasn’t from some kind but clueless family member; it was from my two soccer coaches at the end of the season. In fact, they had gotten a gift for each of my teammates, and we were opening them one by one.

Though my expression likely betrayed my puzzlement, I do have manners. What I probably did was begin making a fool of myself by inspecting the glue like it was a rare and valuable treasure. Thankfully, my coaches took pity on me and presented me their actual gift:

“We got you glue because you hold the team together.”

A decade later, I still remember the feeling of my coaches really seeing me. I wasn’t great at soccer, I was just an athlete who could run a ton. But my coaches hadn’t missed me communicating on the field, nor the effort I gave each time I was on the field. They hadn’t missed how I cared about leading my team. They saw.

My coaches could have just congratulated us on the season and that would have been fine. It would have been expected. Instead, they went further. They may have bought us physical gifts, but what they really gave us was the gift of noticing.

You can’t buy what my coaches gave me. It requires time, care, and investment in your players to even gather the raw materials to create this gift. As a coach now, they are the archetype I choose to follow.

The half-life of the memories of what a coach does on the playing field may be short, but the half-life of such a gift can endure for years. It has for me.

Thank you Mohammad Khan, Dylan Kurt, and Josh Knox for feedback on this essay.

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The Constellation of Progress

What does progress mean to you?

In November 2023, I met with my cohort for The Roots of Progress Fellowship in sunny San Francisco to tackle this question. We filled a wall with sticky notes of ideas, examples, and concepts. Certain categories of progress showed up: material, cultural, scientific, and health. We debated and discussed all morning, but ultimately we didn’t come up with a definition of progress that we all agreed on. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s even possible. Instead, we created a constellation of concepts.

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