I know about athletics. I played nearly every sport possible growing up, I went to college to play a sport, and for awhile I was given a paycheck to play a sport. With every sport I played I had coaches that shaped my athletic skills and also shaped me as a young man.
I know about coaching. I grew up in a family of coaches. Both my father and grandfather are in the South Dakota Hall of Fame for coaching, my brother is a college coach, and I have even coached in small capacities. I understand the stress, fatigue, frustration, and joy found in seeing athletes compete and succeed.
However the relationship of a player and coach is unique. It’s one that requires trust, encouragement, discipline, patience, and honesty to be the most effective. The higher you go in athletics the more each of you place your future in each other’s hands. Coaches need players to play well, so they’ll win games, so they will keep their jobs. Players need good coaches so they will play well, win games, get exposure, and maybe get a job playing that sport someday.
Yet the stresses of this job dynamic can be heavy. Coaches walk a fine line of being challenging to their young players and being abusive to them. I’ve had helpings of each in my life and I can tell you both have left a mark.
Recently, former Rutgers University Head Coach Mike Rice crossed that fine line. If you haven’t seen footage yet, here is what sparked Mr. Rice’s firing, the resignation of an assistant coach, and the resignation of the Athletic Director of the school.
I can relate to these players. In my years of playing I’ve had coaches threaten to drown me, tell me they want to kill me with a 2*4 with a nail in the end of it, push, shove, knock me down, and throw baseballs at my head while being told by this coach they wanted to “F me Up”. Sadly, the coach that wanted to “F me Up” said he was a Christian too. I’ve been called worthless, useless, disgraceful, and belittled in front of my teammates. Believe me I’ve had long car ride homes and walks back to the dorms following these lashings that were mentally and emotionally excruciating.
I say all this not so you’ll feel sorry for me because believe me I’m ok. Most of, if not all of these men are out of jobs and away from coaching which is good for the players and the sports they coach.
My reason for saying this is that if it weren’t for a good home, good friends, and a relationship with Jesus Christ I may not have been ok. The impact coaches have on players is amazingly powerful. We will literally run through walls for them and that can be dangerous depending on what wall they want us to run through.
The Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal shed a spotlight onto coaching and the type of power that these men carry. Now, I’m not saying that throwing basketballs at players and verbally abusing them is the same as what Sandusky did. The sexual abuse of those kids goes into a whole other level of severity, but what I am saying is that the impact coaches have on their players is lasting both good and bad.
The best coaches I had were the ones that reminded me of the balance between sports and life. They taught be great skills of the game, but instilled in me that there is more to life than scoring points, hitting home runs, or making millions of dollars. When character, integrity, and hard work were the cornerstones of their coaching that’s when I flourished. You may not have been able to see it in instant production on the field, but I can guarantee you can see it my life today far after I’ve taken the uniform off.
Parents. Continue to encourage your kids and push them to do great things. Don’t read this and pull them out of everything they are involved with because they may get a dud coach. Keep them involved and active in their schools and communities. Just make sure you are the safe place they can come home to regardless of how they play. Take them to church, speak often of the bigger things of life, and instill in them a greater awareness of the needs of others not just their own.
Coaches. I urge you to understand the power you have been given. The next time you huddle up, sit in a locker room, or give your pre-game speech take an extra second to think. Before you craft the next inspirational word look into their eyes. See them for who they really are in that moment. Young men and women that are in need of molding and are looking to you for it. Yes I want you to win! Yes I want them to win! But what I want you to remember is howyou teach them, what you teach them, and why you teach them will effect them far after the season is over.
The final buzzer in life will sound for all of us at some point. It’s what you do with the time God gives you between the dates on your gravestone not the date etched on a trophy that matter.
Stay focused on the bigger picture and understand the bigger impact.