A Coach’s Coach

November 4, 2010
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Coaches. Their job is to tell us what to do. And our job as high school athletes is not really to have a job… but to be students. So I understand why they take it so seriously. If they were not yelling at us, they would be yelling at themselves for not having a job.
But what makes a “good coach”? It is definitely not the desire to want a job. Every coach in my life has had their strengths and weaknesses. Oddly enough, all the people I have ever met also have their strengths and weaknesses. And I am talking about sport coaches here, not life coaches. To be a life coach you have to be really good at life, right? But if you were sooooo good at life why would you need to be a life coach? Shouldn’t you be like an astronaut, or a billionaire playboy? Or a billionaire astronaut, playboy?
My first coach in organized basketball was a tall bald guy, not sure what his name was. However I was not 100% sure yet what my name was at the time (I knew it was a cool name though). Hey, I barely even knew what basketball was. And why would you hire someone to teach seven year olds to play basketball? Shouldn’t someone first teach me how to tie my shoes? (Note: I ended up only wearing Velcro shoes until the age of eight).
For a coach to be successful, at times they need to be on the same mental page as their players. But if my coach was on the same page as me back then, he would have been a very childish man - people could go as far as to think that he was mentally disabled. I mean what forty year old bald guy wouldn’t know how to tie his shoes?
That first season of basketball was not as bad as you would have expected. Our team’s name was “The Mule Riders” and we didn’t lose a game … because no one kept score. I wore my jersey everywhere; I was proud to be ridin’ some “ass” (even back then I was a playa). But yes, I did cry for an hour when this kid named Wilson took the number eight jersey before me. However after all of the crying I sat on the bench, and ate cookies all day. I’m not sure how the season ended up, but I do know that I ate enough cookies to keep me from crying.
After that I was somewhat no longer interested in basketball. I was more into cookies…and on some occasions, bouncing on a trampoline. However, I used to go to a basketball gym with my dad and brother on the weekends. They would play basketball together – and I would set-up a trampoline on the side and bounce up and down watching them play basketball, while eating cookies. I had found a way to combine cookies and trampoline…something only someone truly great at life could achieve, something more lavish and important than being an astronaut, billionaire rocket scientist.
But as I grew older, I started to discover this new, magical world of basketball. And soon I was hooked on hoops. And thus began my experiences with real coaches (sorry bald guy who couldn’t tie his shoes).
What is it with those coaches in the movies - why are they so much better than high school coaches? “Movie” coaches always seem to get their players to create a team “training montage”, and then all of a sudden the team becomes amazing? My coaches tried to do that. They called it morning practices. Let me tell you something about morning practices…they are early in the morning. I don’t get that people think it is a good idea to sacrifice a teenager’s sleep. We are supposed to be growing right now, so please let us sleep, and grow, now. I would be so tired from morning practice that by the time it was lunch I was asleep. Eventually from sleep deprivation I would miss a day of school, to sleep in. I woke up so late those days that I thought I was dead...but then I realized that if I thought I was dead, I probably wasn't dead. After that realization, I would soon remember that I was so tired and angry because of morning basketball practice. Then I would think, “What is the point of all of this?” I didn’t hate basketball, but my coach made me start to feel that way.
These coaches are not like the Gene Hackmans or the Denzel Washingtons of the world. They are regular people. Rarely have I even been truly inspired by a coach. One of the closest things I ever got to an inspirational speech was this:
“I was injured playing college basketball. However I would wake up every morning at 5 am, go to practice and sit on the side and watch. I would work on rehabilitating my knee everyday. And because of that persistence by senior season I averaged six points per game. Because of all that persistence and dedication to basketball, I am now a camp counselor at this camp. Do I have a lot of money? No. Do I have a lot of friends? Not really. But am I good at basketball? Not anymore, I gained some weight since college. But I am only twenty six years old, and I am one of the head coaches at this camp. And I got here by dedicating my life to basketball. If you want to be a loser, leave right now. But if you want to end up like me, then listen and you will achieve greatness.”
That was the most depressing inspirational speech I have ever witnessed. After that I didn’t play basketball for the rest of the day.
A coach should never make you forget the joy of your sport. They should never ever make you ask yourself “What is the point of playing this sport at all?”
Yes sports are fun, for sure. But that isn’t “it”. That isn’t why they are loved. Take me seriously now as I say this: Basketball is like being with a girl. Sure a girl can be fun, pretty, and a good workout, just like basketball. But that doesn’t make you love her. You love her, because when you are with her, you forget about everything else. You forget your troubles, your worries, and you can only remember her, and you can only think of her. While I am playing basketball, I am in a state of meditation. I am thinking, but my thoughts are existential reactions and senses to what I am doing in that moment. I am not in my body. I am in my soul.
A coach should inspire, should encourage, and most of all, make you a better person. If they are not doing that, then they are not teaching you about sports or your true self. Some people don’t get sports, and those people are thinking that the main goal is to get a ball in a hoop, or get a ball through a goal post. However if you think that, then you are missing out on one of the single greatest inventions of man: Sports are not about the “sport”. It is not about the rules, or the winning, or losing. In sports, it is about the learning, living, feeling, and getting. Of getting in touch with everything your body is capable of emotionally, physically, and spiritually. There is no other way to describe it.

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Soccergoalie7 said...
Nov. 19, 2010 at 11:05 pm
You have it all right. I completely agree with you: I had fantastic middle school coaches that were like "movie coaches" who made my teammates and myself much better, and fall in love with the sport of soccer. However, when I hit highschool, I ended up with coaches that, to say the least, did not really inspire you to love the sport. To give you an idea of how many people drop out of our high school soccer program, there were about 16 freshmen this year and 4 seniors. I would also like to say&nb... (more »)
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