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“Why Do You Coach?” July 13, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Coaching, Education, Family, Football, Love, Parenting/Children, Self-Worth, Sports.
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Last week, a close friend of mine asked me, “Tim, why do you coach? Why do you love doing that so much?” The question stopped me dead in my tracks.
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What is it about the prospect of teaching a sport to others, in my case boys ranging from 6 to 13 years old, and working with them for an entire season? What would possess someone to expend this kind of energy? Maybe this will help explain it.

The Letter (Verbatim)

Dear Coach,

This is your best football player ever. I just wanted to write to say how greatful I am for your teachings in my first years of football. Now I play for my school. I play weakside linebacker and fullback/running back. Are team is 1-1 this season and we’re only getting better and I’m getting better thanks to you’re teachings. I’m one of the biggest hitters on are team, one of the best tacklers, and one of the best runners.
I’ve improved so much since the Raiders and Steelers years. I’ve been captain of the team three times in a row because I’m a team leader. Me and my Dad would really appreciate it if you would come to one of my games. Here’s a copy of our schedule before playoffs. Coach, I gotta play some backyard football with my friends.

Sincerly…

Coaching is Parenting
Truth be known, this all started when my oldest son decided to play football. That was eleven years ago, in 1995, and that’s when I made the mistake of not saying “no” when they asked for volunteer assistant coaches.

From that point, I continued to assistant coach for several years, and then took the reins of the local peewee team (6, 7, and 8 year-olds) when my younger son turned 6. What followed were years of ups and downs as I (sometimes painfully) learned the many lessons of coaching, and in particular, coaching a complex game to an age group that is very easily distracted, in a generation that is accustomed to being entertained.

The Shadow
During my second year as head coach, one of the players started “shadowing” me. When I say “shadow,” I mean he was as close, or closer, than any shadow cast by the sun. If he wasn’t on the field, he would be, literally, at my side, listening to every word I said. If I was kneeling down to talk to the other players, he would stand next to me, sometimes putting his hand on my shoulder.

After a week or so of this, I was at my breaking point. I complained about his behavior to someone at church, and said that it was driving me crazy.

She responded with, “Tim, his parents just separated. Cut him some slack.”

I had no idea.

I felt immediately like a fool, and vowed at that point to lengthen my fuse, and show him an extra measure of patience. What this child was crying out for was stable leadership and guidance, and possibly some reassurance that his world wasn’t going to come completely apart. In his world, I may have been the only thing that wasn’t in jeopardy.

Under the (Right) Influence
That moment, nearly seven years ago, was when I began to understand the kind of influence that I, as a coach, could have on a young child. Since then, I have read the quote “coaching is parenting,” and I agree with it more and more as the years pass. Coaching, when done properly, has all the earmarks of good parenting, both from the love and discipline standpoints.

As the years passed, and my sons moved into higher levels of football, I found joy in staying behind and coaching the younger players. In my favorite season (my last as a head coach), we saw great success, and I enjoyed it more than any other. I think, at some level, what made it so much fun was that I didn’t have to worry about whether I was giving too much time and attention to my own sons, and too little to the others.

Full-Contact Bible Study?
Long before I was lasso’d into coaching, I made the tragic error of volunteering to teach Youth Bible Study in my church. (I say “tragic,” because agreeing to teach Bible Study in a Baptist church is, like it or not, a lifetime commitment.)

Teaching kids in this context is something that comes very natural to me, as I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, and tend to easily communicate with teenagers. I love challenging them with concepts and ideas that aren’t immediately obvious, or that they might not have been exposed to, even if they’ve been in church all their life.

Unfortunately, my contact with these kids is typically limited to 45-50 minutes, once a week. As a result, I know only the most superficial things about them, and they don’t really get to see much of who I am; they can’t see who I am away from the classroom. Over the course of a calendar year, this means that I have (best case) about 45 hours of interaction with 12-14 kids (totaling just over 600 student-hours).

In sharp contrast, the football players that I coach get 2+ hours of interaction with me, 3-4 times a week (4 practices per week in the preseason, and 3 plus a game in the regular season), for approximately 12 weeks, with roughly 25 players. This comes up to about 2400 student-hours, even though the season only lasts 12 weeks (preseason, regular season, and post season combined).

Where Do I Teach More?
Now, one of the great truths of coaching football is that you cannot hide who you are. Regardless of what you do to try to “put on a coaching face,” at any number of points in the season, your values will come through, good or bad. Because of this, when I coach football, I can’t help but teach my values, just as surely as if I were standing in front of a class with a Bible in my hand instead of a playbook.

As for the young man who was shadowing me as an 8 year-old, he’s now a junior in high school, and is attending my Bible Study on Sunday mornings. I don’t know where I’ve had the greater effect, but I do know that what I say on Sunday has a much deeper meaning for him than for any of the other students. He has seen the faith of Sunday lived out Monday through Saturday.

As for the player who wrote the letter, I was absolutely speechless when I attended his game. When he played for me years before, he was not, as they say, an “impact player.” In contrast, when I watched him play for his school, he was absolutely amazing. He was in on just about every tackle on defense, and was involved in most of the big plays on offense. He ran fast, kept his head up (one of the few things I will take credit for teaching him), and played with aggressive intensity. In short, he was a football player. Had I taught him most of these things? I doubt it. What then, did I teach?

Teaching, Coaching, and Parenting
At the present time, I’m not coaching. A couple of years ago I stepped down, primarily because coaching other people’s children was keeping me from watching my own sons play in games.

This year, my youngest will be a sophomore, but because our team is so small, he may end up starting on both the JV and the Varsity teams. In a couple of years, when he’s done with High School, I suspect that I’ll return to coaching in the Youth Football league, and it won’t surprise me if it’s as much fun as it was that last year. That 2400 hours of interaction is a mission field that is just too large to ignore… the needs are too great… the lives are too important.

I’ll be back, but until then, I’ll stay in the stands.

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Comments»

1. rockwatching - July 13, 2006

Something to be said for your passion for teaching what you love.

2. joshuaryoung - February 1, 2009

Preachers say they feel a calling, I suppose that’s what us coaches feel for what we do.

I just wrote a similar post here:

http://coachrugby.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/motivation/


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