Full disclosure about the following post: I am severely biased. I am the son of a coach, which is to say that my dad is a coach. Like most young kids, I was going to be all kinds of things when I grew up, but when I was old enough to know better, I wanted to be a teacher and a coach. More specifically, I wanted to be my dad. My dad taught math, and while I knew I wasn’t a math guy, I also saw my dad teach football, basketball, baseball, and track. Because I did – and still do – idolize my dad, I was also going to teach football and basketball like him (and later in life learned that I really loved teaching baseball, too – thanks, CA).
Here’s where my bias comes in. Coaches – correction, Good coaches – are amazing people. My tournament staff is currently hosting one of the basketball state tournaments this weekend, so I had the opportunity to see several coaches in action today, up close and personal. I heard and saw a lot of what everyone hears and sees: basic basketball instruction. There were plenty of reminders to close out with your hand up, slide across the lane on help-side defense, stay on your feet, use two hands on rebounds, go here or there, run this play or that, and all of the related stuff that John Q. Public believes coaches get paid to do.
I also had the chance to see a lot of other stuff tonight. I saw coaches telling kids to look them in the eye; I saw coaches telling kids to fold their shooting shirts and place them on the chair as they’d been taught; I saw coaches sternly addressing athletes after throwing water cups or slapping chairs; I saw coaches reminding kids to tie their shoes, or pull up their shorts, or tuck in their shirts; I saw coaches reminding kids to take off their hats inside; I saw coaches walking in front of their kids thanking every tourney worker they came across; I saw coaches joking with kids who were upset to get a smile out of them; I saw coaches in coats and ties; I saw coaches going out of their way to say hello to people; and on and on and on. I also saw some coaches “working the officials” for every little call; I saw coaches stomping around when something didn’t go their way; I saw coaches walking around in sweats and caps; I saw coaches quietly walking through the handshake line without making eye contact with the opposing players and coaches; and on and on and on. Do you see where I’m going with this?
One of the wonderful things about coaching is that you’re working with a group of kids who have chosen to be with you. As an English teacher, I had PLENTY of students in the classroom who would have rather been anywhere else, but as a coach, they had all – for one reason or another – chosen to be on that team. Because of that, I try to remind my coaches to teach their kids the things that actually need to be taught.
Dad taught me basic game skills like how to shoot a basketball or throw a baseball, and as I grew older he also taught me more advanced skills like getting two feet in the paint on help side defense or combo blocking to a linebacker. But those aren’t life skills. Dad also taught me how to work hard for goals, to quit whining about little things, to shake hands when meeting someone, to fix what needs to be fixed, to move on after set-backs, and so very much more. While I learned the most from my dad, I have been blessed enough to have many influential coaches in my life. I learned to be passionate about my goals from a set of my football coaches; I learned patience, empathy, and a great deal of character from my basketball coach; I learned organization, communication, and how to be approachable from my baseball coach, and the list continues.
So I ask our coaches – what do you want to teach your athletes? If all we care about are plays, schemes, and strategies, we’ve given the majority of our kids nothing useful for life. In athletics, we are surrounded by willing students who have voluntarily come to us to learn something, so it’s our job to be careful about what it is we’re teaching them. What skills and what lessons will you want these kids to have years down the road?
As a young coach, it took me a while to figure this out: skills, schemes, and strategies can be taught many, many different ways. It’s on our shoulders to be the type of person that we want our athletes to eventually be. I was lucky enough to be taught the right lessons early and often. Thanks, dad.