The Cool Cat

15 years ago or so, I was given the affectionate nickname, “The Cool Cat” by a number of people I taught and coached with. They even had a little chant with clapping and hand motions that would mock my hair to go along with the name. To this day, when I get back with them they will refer to me by this name and bust out the introduction with the hand claps.

I can’t remember the exact origin of the nickname, but I believe it originated from the guy I was coaching JV basketball with at the time. He could be a bit of a hot-head and would get caught up in the emotions of the game, so I would always be the one to try and keep him under control. More importantly, I was always thinking one step ahead in breaking down the game. I would look for actions and matchps within our offense that we could utilize to win the game. While coaches and players might be letting their emotions get the better of them, I was always staying level headed and breaking things down. When we lost, my thoughts immediately shifted to the next practice plan on what we needed to do to get better, and if we won I didn’t get too high because that’s what I thought we were always expected to do. After all, isn’t that why you spend all of that time practicing in the first place?

So, one night after a week of games, we were out as a staff discussing different matchups and things that had happened throughout the week. Somewhere during those conversations and drinks, the Cool Cat was born. It has since become a source of laughter and jabbing among all of my Niles friends, but it’s a nickname that I really do keep near and dear to my heart. Today as a leader, father, and still as a coach, I pride myself on always keeping my cool and seeing the big picture.

However, the Cool Cat wasn’t born in Niles fifteen years ago. The Cool Cat origins can be traced back to the spring of 1998. I didn’t watch much NBA basketball, but during the playoffs in the Michael Jordan era, it was hard not to get caught up watching teams try to take down the giant. That year in the Eastern Conference it was the Indiana Pacers turn. In Game 6 of the Conference Finals, Reggie Miller hit a shot just before the buzzer to push the Bulls to a decisive Game 7, but I wasn’t fixated on the shot by Miller. For me, I fell in love again with Larry Bird because of his iconic reaction, or complete lackthereof.

While everybody was absolutely losing their minds inside Market Square Arena, including the Pacers players, Larry Bird sat their stoic. I don’t know what he was thinking in that moment, but I just loved the fact that he was still thinking and lot getting lost in the emotions of the moment. There was still time on the clock, so he was going to have to draw up the defense to defend against a last second shot. Also, the Pacers didn’t win the series with that shot, they simply forced a Game 7 to be played back in Chicago. Additionally, he drew up the out of bounds play because he expected it to work. He got the ball into the hands of his best player because he expected him to make an open shot, the same type of shot he had made countless times in his own career. I always want to believe he didn’t have a reaction or celebrate because everyone was simply doing their job, and the job wasn’t over.

Ever since that game in May of 1998, I told myself that I wanted to be like Larry Bird. As a white kid that used to play basketball growing up, it was sort of inherent that you were supposed to be a fan of Larry Bird. He sort of embodied the white race in the game of basketball: not the most athletic, needed to give full effort all the time, and he had to out think his opponents to set them up. His passing was his most underrated skill because he was always thinking one step ahead of everyone else. His reaction during that moment reminded me of how important it was to always try and be one step ahead of everyone else mentally. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, because while you’re lost in yourself someone else was working to get ahead of you or an advantage over you.

Growing up as a young kid, I was pretty soft. If I got frustrated at school, I would cry. In sports, I would always defer to someone else to be the alpha. Even during some of my greatest moments as a kid, I remember tears being a part of them. I hit a home run to win a baseball game when I was probably six or seven, and I couldn’t stop crying. Scoring a goal in soccer, I would always feel my eyes well with tears. I hated that feeling because I couldn’t control it. Instead of being able to enjoy and take in the moment, my emotions often became the focus, at least for me.

As I got older, the tears didn’t manifest, but the emotions still boiled right beneath the surface. Whether it was with friends, girlfriends, teachers, or family members, my emotions were always dictating my actions. I’m sure most people during their youth can say the same thing, but I always knew I wanted to be better than that. I hated the feeling of always being anxious about everything in my life.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I moved to the South Bend area where the only people I knew were those in my own house. Every day those first few months was an emotional wreck for me. I was always so emotional and anxious about everything going on in my life because I felt like I had no control over anything. Going away to college, I felt those same feelings inside me, nearly overwhelming me. I struggled to balance what was the normal amount of anxiety to feel in situations versus letting that anxiety control me. I knew I didn’t like feeling that way, but I wasn’t sure how to always control it. I was anything but The Cool Cat.

After many long walks across the campus of Purdue over my first couple of years there, I started to learn how to let things go that I couldn’t control in my life. A lot of people say that going away to college allows you to discover your true self. I will have to say that I am not sure if I discovered my true self during my time at Purdue, but I definitely discovered how to start to overcome the things that I didn’t like about myself. I was determined to always use my mind to feel strong, and that I was only going to focus on the things I could control in my life. I recognized that my emotions and fears had held me back from a lof of the things I had wanted to do in my life, so I was going to stop acting emotionally.

The Reggie Miller shot and Larry Bird reaction helped catapult me into becoming The Cool Cat for my senior year in college. I suddenly found myself focused more on the big picture in life, and it was liberating. I was taking more chances, but they were always calculated risks. I wasn’t living in fear or letting my anxiety control my decisions as much as they had in the past. I was suddenly experiencing a lot of new adventures, but I always made sure to keep my mind active in anticipation of what could happen next. Have fun, but don’t put yourself in danger. When others seemed to be losing control, I worked to try to maintain it. Enjoy the moment, but don’t let the moment control you.

After college I went through a variety of different jobs, spending time in different hotels and apartments, but those experiences helped to sharpen my analytical skills. I had carved my own way in life. I watched my family members who at one time were the only people I knew in this area eventually relocate outside of this area, so everything I had to do was on my own. I needed to keep my emotions under control, and always think about the next step. No matter how down I might feel, there was always the “next play” to focus on.

As I got into coaching, “next play” would become one of my go to sayings. It was really a reminder to not let your emotions get the best of you and to focus on the next play. It’s easy as an athlete to get swept up in the peaks and valleys of any game, but the next play can produce just as wild of a swing of emotions. So, I always believe the better you could control your emotions the better you would be prepared adversity when it hit.

As a leader in the workplace, I definitely work hard to maintain The Cool Cat mentality. When you’re the person in charge, anytime people complain, it is usually something that is a result of your actions or something that they are looking at you to fix. It can be difficult to not take those things personally. It can be a challenge not to respond with emotion versus logic at times, but as a leader you should always be focused on the big picture or “next play.”

Some of the originators of “The Cool Cat” Nickname this past New Year’s

I can’t walk around and pretent that I am always The Cool Cat 24/7. My wife can attest, that my emotions can still come out rather abruptly and not so kindly. In fact, she scoffed at the nickname when it was originally presented to her. She protested to my friends that I was anything but The Cool Cat when they weren’t around. My argument to her case was that my frustrations always came from the times when she or others reacted without thinking. I spend my entire day thinking ahead to the next play and never letting my emotions overcome my thoughts, so when I see an irrational thought or a mistake made because someone close to me wasn’t thinking ahead I do get emotional. Kind of like Larry Bird not celebrating winning Game 6 because he had probably already moved towards thinking about Game 7.

I am sure some people are thinking that my mentality doesn’t sound like much fun, but I won’t argue anyone’s interpretation of fun. However, I will say that my life has avoided the wild peaks and valleys because I am always anticipating what can or will happen next. That constant anticipation allows me to be The Cool Cat when others are getting news for the first time that causes them to become emotional. While others may be shocked and stunned by news that is upsetting, I am moving on to the “next play.” It helps me managed my emotions and anxiety. The other benefit to being The Cool Cat, is I don’t dwell on the negative in the moment because I am always looking forward. Even when the future of a situation doesn’t look good, I want to be the emotional rock for others that are caught up in the moment. My memory isn’t all that great, because I am usually moving onto the next thing. I don’t dwell on the past, so a lot of those details don’t remain with me when people ask me to recall them.

Life as The Cool Cat isn’t always easy. I get frustrated when people around me fail to see the big picture, because I have already thought about it and tried to figure it out. It is also challenging because in difficult situations where leadership is required, I am usually the first person people come to when they need help. During difficult emotional times, The Cool Cat is the one that others turn to for answers and lean on for support. Things aren’t always easy at home or at work. Truthfully, times have been difficult lately, but my family knows me as The Cool Cat, the one who always keeps it level and finds the best solution while others are caught up with sorting through their emotions and the ‘what ifs.’ It is a nickname and a job that I fully embrace. So, if you think that I should be more upbeat, or let loose with everyone else, I can promise you that I really am upbeat. I am not dwelling on the negative, rather I’m taking in the good stuff quietly so I can balance out the challenges I’ve been working through for everyone else. Being The Cool Cat requires a lot of patience, thought, and toughness, but I’m here for it, and I hope the ones around me appreciate it.

Published by mikegallo314

I have been in education for over 20 years, and it has been an amazing and rewarding career. I grew up on the east side of St. Louis, and I'm an avid sports fan. My three biggest addictions in life are the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, and University of Illinois athletics. I love listening to rock blues, and americana styled music. Throughout the years I have coached boys and girls basketball from the youth levels to the varsity level, and the last 10 years I have coached travel baseball. I have a passion for writing, and a long list of experiences and topics that I like to share my thoughts on. The best part about writing, are the conversations and thoughts that are shared as a result.

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