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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Do You Coach?

After being away from my laptop for a while and being intimately involved in several fundraising events and projects I thought I would take a quick minute to jot down some random thoughts about what I think it means to be a coach. Again, these are my opinions and they don't necessarily represent anyone's perspective but my own... so if you disagree you disagree. You can always start your own blog... 

Admittedly I originally started coaching with the intent of being a head football coach on the collegiate level and one day running my own program. I immediately began coaching in arguably one of the best high school leagues in the country; one that boasts the reigning high school football national champion and several other national powerhouses. I went back to school, got my masters in coaching, athletic administration and exercise science in an attempt to make myself even more attractive to potential suitors and set out to land my first high school head coaching job.

Suddenly everything changed….

I took a trip to Uganda in the summer of 2011 with my good friend Kevin Dugan. What I saw in that beautiful country made me realize there was much more to coaching than just “being the head guy” and “looking for an opportunity to advance.” Coaching was a gift... an honor... a calling that required tremendous respect for the game and an even bigger love for your fellow man. 

I would like to believe (in my own little simple mind) that I was given the opportunity to coach and teach young student-athletes in Uganda how to play American flag football... but in reality (what really went down during those 12 days) I was being taught what it truly meant to be a coach modeled by the character components of humility, respect and faith led by pre-teen kids from Uganda, East Africa.

True coaches are a special breed and are becoming more and more difficult to find. Don’t get me wrong there are tons of trainers out there… but a trainer in my opinion isn’t a coach. Anyone can lay cones on the ground and tell an athlete to run around in circles… but what, beyond that, is being offered?

When I think of a coach I think of my former head coach Lou Holtz; someone who instructs and teaches beyond the specificity of a particular sport and seeks to make significant impact in the lives of those he touches.

I’ve always said that if someone were to get 20 former players who played under Coach Holtz in a room and ask the same series of questions to that selected 20, they would get eerily similar answers to those questions. Not to say we were brainwashed or would give canned answers to said questions, but rather we would answer the questions in a manner that is consistent with our beliefs systems and probably, without fail, quote something from coach to underscore our stance.
Tony Dungy: one of the greatest Character Coaches
 in NFL History  Photo: AP-NFL

THAT has NOTHING to do with coaching football and EVERYTHING to do with making a significant impact on the lives of young men. Don’t get me wrong it was awesome winning most every game we played, but I’m sure my teammates would agree that our camaraderie and family culture also contributed to our success both on and off the field.

In recent times I’ve come to realize that the “mission” of a coach has been blurred by the current sport culture. Winning has become paramount. Even beyond anything else. So much so that coaches would rather cut corners and undermine the very sports they represent in order to secure said victories. Good grief… is that what we’ve become? Is there truly no “safe place” for us to go? Is this all there is… winner and loser?

Or nah…

Wait, wait… I don’t wanna get myself all riled up – I know winning is a major part of competing and if you don’t want to win perhaps you should look for something else to do. However, winning, in my humble opinion is nothing more than a by-product of so many other things that should be taught beyond the game… emphasis on the word “should.” What about character, focus, teamwork, patience, respect, honor and love? 

Hey, look, I’m not going to tell you that we hold hands and sing gospel hymnals at our practices, but there is a fundamental respect between coach and player.  As coaches we may dislike the action on a given play, but that has nothing to do with the athlete as a person… as a human being. No matter how sideways we may get at a given time we have to understand our place in the lives of the young men we mentor.  Some athletes have nothing else… no family life to speak of… no father figure… no discipline or focus… and God forbid having any meaningful expectations with what to do with their young lives… Tony Dungy laments is his New York Times Best Selling book Uncommon: "True respect starts with the way you treat others, and it is earned over a lifetime of acting with kindness, honor, and dignity." 

… enter Coach_______. 

Coach______ has been coaching for 12 years, played at Big State College and in the NFL.  He has a five year plan for what the program needs to raise money, assert itself in the community and get better on the field. He has a plan of how the program will grow and develop and there’s even a plan for how to win the coveted championship. Wow! This coach sounds impressive, right?

Resume and five year plan aside I would ask one question of this new coach who’s expected to take the program to the championship promised land: “Does Coach ______ have any idea how to make a positive impact on the lives of young people?”

In other words aside from winning… why do you coach?

Just askin….

Sport is Life

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