Becky Tyler’s Eight Years as the Women’s Basketball Coach at Bryn Mawr College: “There’s Still So Much to be Grateful For”

I knew Bryn Mawr was the place I wanted to be about four months into 2018. Five months prior if you had told me I’d be attending Bryn Mawr College, I would ask you how do you spell that? Where in the world is it even? And it’s a historically women’s college?

Bryn Mawr was that perfect fit that they always tell you about, I had what you could call -the feeling- and logistically it made perfect sense. Most surprisingly, my basketball ambitions seemed plausible and the coach even seemed really nice! As I sit here writing this, a week away from turning 20, I am amazed by my innocence but in awe of my confidence. I didn’t think the choice I was making would lead me to come into contact with one of, if not my biggest role models in life. I didn’t think I would form an intrinsically personal and liberating relationship with my teammates. We’re bonded by basketball and school-wide tradition that has provided me with a literal family (I have a mom, siblings, and aunts now). Everyone asked me before I came here what it would be like to play on a team who would likely lose 20+ games in our season, I responded with the idea that as long as I was having fun it didn’t matter. And I wanted to believe that was the truth, so when I was proven right, I realized I had really found a home here.

Everyone knows Coach Tyler on campus. A couple days after I got accepted into Bryn Mawr, I grabbed some coffee in my hometown, Princeton NJ. A nice looking twenty year old came up to me and smiled at my Bryn Mawr shirt. She told me she had just graduated and that I was going to absolutely love it. We started talking more and eventually I explained that I was going to be playing basketball there too. I remember how she immediately smiled and said, oh you’re the luckiest out of all the athletes, you get the best coach. She’s like this tall, pretty model that I always see working out in the fitness center and all the other athletes wish that she was their coach. A good omen I suppose.

We have this ongoing joke on the team that if you have a bad day you just go to Coach’s office to sit and cry for a little bit. You tell her about all your life’s struggles and then you come out feeling a lot better. There are countless times where Coach has had to comfort her distressed, and oftentimes extremely sweaty players, but she never bats an eye. Coaching a group of developing young adults is one thing, caring for them on a deep and personal thing is another. Somehow, in times where we didn’t even know where we’d be living in the upcoming week, COVID has really hit us all, somehow Coach always had a way to make everything seem okay.

When I think about my own personal relationship with Coach Tyler the biggest thing that stands out to me besides her unconditional kindness and care, is the confidence and trust I know she has for me. As young women we’re already taught not to think highly of our skills and identities, and having suffered from the derogatory and occasionally manipulative coach in high school, my confidence in my ability to play the game of basketball was at an all-time low. With Coach though, that was never apparent. Coach never questioned the validity of my skill, she never questioned my work ethic or my capability to try as hard as I possibly could. Instead Coach used those times where I struggled, those times where my tears required a sweaty pat on the back, she used those moments of my vulnerability to instill a level of confidence and safeness I had never felt before. I know for a fact that I’ve turned from an introverted, soft spoken girl to a confident and opinionated person who isn’t afraid to take charge anymore. I very rarely question my skill because Coach Tyler as a basketball coach has taught me that life is so much bigger than the 91 feet of hardwood floor. 

That’s the irony. I feel like so many of the lessons that Coach has taught all of us apply to our lives off the court. Coach cares so deeply about not only who we are as players, but who we are as moral and ethical human beings. She cares about our significant others and is there for us when a parent falls ill. She checks in with us in times of social-unrest and discrimination, she holds space for those hard conversations and requires deep and intellectual investigations and educational experiences as a team. We have read books about segregation in college basketball and we’ve talked about the importance of taking a knee during the national anthem. We’ve had those hard conversations and we’ve challenged each other at times, we’ve challenged our preconceived ideas and notions to grow together as a family.

When Coach told us she had to leave Bryn Mawr I knew it was going to be tough. What I didn’t expect was the vastness and intensity in emotions that everyone on campus would be experiencing. Even those that had never met her were grieving her departure, and were supporting their friends who shed a couple tears. I feel that this is one of those situations where we won’t even understand the true scale of the impact Coach has had on this campus until she is gone. 

In my intense fascination to document history before it escapes our memories I realized that before Coach left, I needed to sit down and do this interview with her. In perhaps my last trip to her office I headed down to the gym hoping that no tears would come. As we talked about her time here it was obvious how much of an impact Coach’s time here has had on her. I like to think that Coach knows how much of an impact she has had on all of us.

When I asked Coach what her favorite memory here was, her first response was immediately about an ameautur player who scored her first points in a hard-fought game a couple seasons ago. This girl, like so many of us, must have found a connection with Coach, and even though she was inexperienced in the game of basketball, she wanted to be a part of the team. Coach told this story like she was retelling her own 1,000th point memory. She explained that when the player scored everyone on the team celebrated together. That unity is something that Coach has instilled on our team, a value I hope we never lose.

It’s been a tough year, it’s been a really tough chunk of time in human history. Yet Coach’s unwavering optimism in her view of the future of course remains high. Coach reminded me towards the end of the interview that

“There’s still so much to be grateful for”

I hope that as my teammates and I confront our uncertain future we remember that and honor the legacy Coach has left us. If we strive to not only be players, but be humans like Coach Tyler then I know our future is hopeful.

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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