As a returning teacher, sounds like whistles blowing and bells ringing have reminded me of dreams and nightmares long forgotten.
With few words, the coach guided about 20 high school boys through an offensive/defensive pass drill. Though I had papers to grade, I couldn’t help climbing up a rickety wooden set of bleachers to sit and watch for a few minutes.
At one point, a receiver stutter-stepped, threw off his defender, caught the ball and ran toward the make-believe goal. It was impressive footwork.
His friends appreciated it and went wild. One of the coaches strutted across the field in admiration of the moves. As the triumphant player jogged back toward the gathering of athletes, he did so with unmistakable swagger. The coach gave him an upraised arm as a show of respect. There was no need to wonder whether the gesture meant anything to the player.
Athletics in general, and coaches, in particular, have the power to transform lives, much less attitudes.
Nothing else good may have happened to that kid all day, but he caught that ball. His friends saw it and cheered. The coach noticed.
And the sun was shining.
Even though it was on a practice field on a February morning, chances are high that the moment and glory will stay with that student. As much as we try to replicate that feeling of success in a classroom, it’s nearly impossible.
Through the years, readers have asked me to write about the power of good and bad coaches more than any other topic. Yet, until now, I’ve never written that column.
As the daughter of a football coach and a former student-athlete who lived for basketball during my formative years, I know the influence a coach can have. Like others, along the way, I had good coaches – even a couple of great coaches, but I also had a few real losers.
I’ve made it a point through the years to let the good coaches know what a positive difference they made in my life. All these years later, I’m amazed at how clearly I remember the moments that shaped relationships with coaches – for the good or the bad. I realize those same coaches probably have little or no memory of the incidents that created much of my teenaged perspective.
But, the primary reason I’ve avoided writing about coaches is that, even now, some of my own emotions are still raw about the way one coach misused his influence. He did his best to “put me in my place” on and off the court. Until I played on his team, I loved everything about basketball. Truth be told, I probably loved it too much.
I have a friend who jokes that he maintains his sanity because he’s “dead inside.” Looking back, I believe that’s what that coach was trying to do. All evidence shows that his goal was to break my spirit. Sadly, he sort of did.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but after having him as my coach, I never cared as much about anything – other than my family – again.
I don’t believe that’s the role a coach is supposed to play.
Coaches are supposed to be like the ones I saw Thursday morning. They blow their whistles, shout words of instruction and encouragement, give high-fives and build their players up – not tear them down.