After 20 seasons of coaching, Joanne P. McCallie has built an impressive record. Her teams have won championships in four different conferences, and she has more than 400 career wins. Until recently, though, one accomplishment was missing from McCallie’s resume — having to do with the promise she had made to her daughter Maddie, when Maddie was only 4, and wishing her busy mom could spend more time with her.
McCallie says she made a promise that she would write a book before Maddie graduated from high school to explain the “ups and downs” of life in a coach’s family. This weekend, as Maddie finishes up her senior year, McCallie will be in Maine to promote her just-published book, “Choice not Chance. Rules for Building a Fierce Competitor.”
“That’s about as simple as it gets,” said McCallie in a phone interview from Duke, as she prepared for her trip to Maine. “I was fulfilling a promise … and I beat her graduation date!”
McCallie’s book, written with Rob Rains, is a personal, behind-the-scenes look at the former University of Maine coach’s life. She sheds light on the lessons she has learned from many of the decisions she has made over the years, from her choice of where to attend college (Northwestern over Duke) to her decision to leave the Michigan State coaching job for the Duke post five years ago.
She is honest about the difficulty of juggling a high-stress career as a college coach with the desire to be a good parent. She reveals how unprepared she was for the rigors of new parenthood, which landed her in the hospital suffering from exhaustion. From those days she says she learned how important it is to “be clear about what you can control and to remain consistent to it in times of difficulty.”
McCallie says she worked on the book during the past couple of off-seasons and did “the big crescendo” last summer, while holed up in a cottage across from her sister’s cottage in Maine. “Getting it into my own voice was the hardest part,” she says.
McCallie thinks there are lessons in her experience that can help lots of parents and children deal with change.
“A lot of people go through transitions and have to pull people with them,” said McCallie. “That’s what was inside of me, to be able to share with people some of those moments.”
But mostly, the book was for Maddie, to fulfill that promise and to help her understand their family dynamics from the point of view of a college coach in a stress-filled, high-powered position. The introduction is a heartfelt letter to her daughter that McCallie said took her a week to write. When Maddie read the introduction, McCallie says, “she came out of her room crying and smiling at the same time.”
Maddie will be heading to Miami University in Ohio next fall on a basketball scholarship. McCallie said her daughter gave some thought to playing at Duke, but decided she needed to establish her own identity apart from “the coach’s daughter.” McCallie hopes her stories help Maddie — and all readers — understand how important it is to embrace your decisions and learn from them.
“They are fortifying stories and you have to let them in,” said McCallie. “If you don’t let them in, you can’t grow as a leader. … People make mistakes all the time. But the question is, what have you done with it?”
McCallie also hopes readers will come away from the book knowing that being from Maine is not a handicap. “I know my success has come directly from the support I received in Maine,” she says. “Any time a Maine person steps outside and tries to do new and different things it helps all Mainers.”
McCallie, a former Brunswick High School star, was head women’s basketball coach at UMaine from 1992-2000 when she directed the Black Bears to a 167-73 record, four league championships and six NCAA tourney berths.
McCallie said she would love to write her next book about Duke winning the national championship. Her 2012 team, which ended up 27-5, was beset with injuries and lost to Stanford in a regional final.
“We were down to eight scholarship athletes,” she says.
While it wasn’t McCallie’s motive, she jokes that her book certainly can’t hurt her recruiting efforts. As she puts it, “There’s no way they couldn’t know me if they read the book.”
McCallie will be holding book signings at Books-A-Million stores in Portland at 6 p.m. Friday and in Bangor at 2 p.m. Saturday. The stores are at the former Borders store locations.
UMaine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron will introduce McCallie at the Bangor signing. She will be reading portions of the book and answering questions at each location.