Listen to the full interview on The Omega Sports Women’s Only Podcast.
Coach P. racked up over 600 wins during a 32-year coaching career. She has earned her spot in the Hall of Fame for D-1 women’s basketball. She has worked with prestigious institutions like Duke and Michigan State.
She recently authored the book Secret Warrior, a memoir following her journey through mental health. This book is a must-read for folks who want to know more about Coach P. and her struggles with overcoming mental health stigma.
Coach P. and her basketball beginnings
Coach P. was a Navy brat who lived all over the country, though considers herself raised in Brunswick, Maine.
She was always an active person, playing three sports simultaneously at one point. However, basketball had her heart. She knew she was good at it from the start, but it was the praise that confirmed her belief. This pushed her to dedicate more time to basketball.
Coach P. had many opportunities to play ball in college. It was two universities that grabbed her attention: Duke and Northwestern. She ultimately chose Northwestern because of the influence of her mom. She had no regrets but did wonder what could have been at Duke.
Becoming Coach P.
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Happy accidents tend to find their way to us.
While living in Downtown Chicago post-graduation, Coach P. worked in sales at a telecommunication firm. It left her feeling empty, despite earning a top spot on the quota board.
Coach P. decided to move to Auburn, Alabama to take on the role of Graduate Assistant at the university. She wanted to experience a basketball program with a team bound for the Final Four.
Coach P. learned the differences between playing and coaching basketball in those years. She had to be honest with herself and recognize that playing ball does not mean you know the game.
“Just because you’re a player and you think you know the game, it doesn’t mean you can coach the game; coaching is a craft.”
Mental Illness Diagnosis
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At 30 years old, Coach P. was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and manic depression. She had just taken her first head coach position at Maine and birthed her first child.
Fortunately, she has a supportive and loving family. Her players were loyal beyond measure. They stood up to the administration and their parents, demanding support. The whole team threatened to turn in their jerseys.
Dealing with the stigma was one of the toughest parts of her diagnosis. Rumors were spread. People used it against her in recruiting. Despite those few bad apples, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Coach P. sought out a psychiatrist who dramatically helped her navigate this aspect of her life. Compartmentalizing played a massive role in her mental health.
One thing she never wanted to do was take attention away from her team. Coach P. kept her diagnosis mostly to herself to keep the focus on the team.
Coach P. became Maine’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach with a total of 167 victories in her eight years there.
From Maine, she went on to Michigan State University where she coached for seven years. She was able to experience the Big Ten Conference. Her team had 5 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
During this time, she also coached the USA U20 National Team to a gold medal in the FIBA Americas U20 Championship. The following year, she was selected to coach the U21 team at the FIBA World Championship.
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While Coach P. was racking up her accolades at Michigan State, Duke recruited her to coach for the women’s basketball team at Duke.
Having passed on the opportunity to attend Duke, she embraced the new experience.
During her 13-year service there, Coach P. did remarkable things to advance the women’s basketball program. She hired their first strength coach for women, advocated for gender equity, and brought on the best trainer to ever come to Duke.
Despite never having won a national championship, the relationships built between the student-athletes and other coaches were priceless.
- 628 Wins as a Coach (Auburn, Maine, Michigan State and Duke)
- 32 Years Coached
- 2005 Coach of the Year with a .721 Win Percentage
It’s Not Your Fault
These four words left a huge impression on Coach P.
Brain ailments can result from several things: genetics, triggers, and past traumas, to name a few. So hearing, “it’s not your fault,” felt like a weight lifted off of her shoulders.
Those words do not, however, release you from the responsibility of getting better. It is imperative to acknowledge mental illness and then fight to become a healthier version of ourselves.
How exactly can we get this done? Coach P. has some advice.
First and foremost, find a support group. Whether you turn to family, friends, or strangers who share a similar story to yours, a support group is critical.
Keep a consistent workout regime, eat healthily, and talk positively to yourself.
The one thing you do not want to do is self-isolate. Human connection is important.
Now that coaching is behind her, Coach P. has become a mental health advocate. She released her memoir, Secret Warrior, where she chronicles her life as a coach dealing with mental health through the realities and challenges of the sports world.
Secret Warrior is a compelling memoir following Joanne McCallie’s mental health journey through the realities and challenges within the sports world. Using the recurring theme of “faith over fear” to reduce the stigma associated with impaired mental health and encourage those suffering from mental health issues to reach out-to coaches, student-athletes, and to all people across the world-Joanne offers real direction, experiences, and personal stories to teach and reassure those adversely affected by the dynamics of the mind and body experience. Motivational and heartfelt, Secret Warrior drives home the need for more education, stories, action, and an overall change to the narrative about brain health.
Coach P.’s new mission is to leave a legacy of mental health awareness and brain health excitement, and she is just getting started! She shares her story to inspire and educate others on how to “win without losing yourself.”
Through her high-energy speeches and leadership seminars, she engages, educates, and inspires organizations. Her discussions focus on mental health, sports, faith, and leadership.
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