If you are anywhere around a sporting event for any length of time you will eventually hear the words, “Hey Coach.” Most of the time it is a young adolescent voice that speaks theses words but have you ever though about what the word “Coach” really means?
August ushers in a new recreation season of football. Coaches get a new roster each year in which the names can change dramatically. It is a rarity to keep the entire same group of kids together for any length of time. Age and commitment usually separate players. The 11-12 year old group loses many players to the middle school team while other aged teams may lose players to such events as moving, changing schools or a player’s decision to not participate anymore.
After coaches receive their roster list they will look to see how many players they already know. Coaches make notes next to player’s names of their potential or what they may need to work on. The next thing is the parental phone calls to each set of parents. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
The three-a-week practices in the scorching summer heat kick off the practice schedule. Conditioning begins with sore muscles and aches. Bruises appear on the players from the intense tackling drills and the stench of jerseys inundated with sweat and sour socks fill the practice time air. One thing that also begins which is not so visible is the player/coach bond.
Coaches quickly learn which players will need a ride to practice, which parents drop off their child at practice and leave, only to return late to pick them up. They learn which players come from single parent homes and who lives with Aunts, Uncles or Grandparents. Coaches learn what makes each player “tick,” who will need additional work or who has never played the sport before. Coaches find a spot for each player inside their heart.
Practices not only condition the body but the mind as well. Players learn to deal with pain and play through it. They learn to take on responsibility for ones self and their equipment. They take ownership of their actions. They learn to deal with the multiple personalities of their teammates weather positive or negative. They learn to deal with adversity which in the end prepares them for whatever circumstances a game might dictate. Players begin to develop an identity. All the while the player/coach bond tightens as the coach leads by example.
“Hey Coach. My mom needs to speak with you after practice.”
“Hey Coach. I can’t get to practice on Thursday because my dad has to work late.”
“Hey Coach. Do you have any Band-Aids for my knee?”
“Hey Coach. I lost my mouth piece.”
The first game of the season always arrives about a week too soon for the coaches liking. It is the first test of their player’s skills and what they have learned. In a world that places such a great emphasis on perfection in sports, games become measuring sticks to judge the improvement of each team. Coaches are looking for consistency from week to week. The win/loss record takes a backseat to “Are my guys executing the fundamentals? Look how much they have learned.”
A great football mind once said “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing;” however, I would like to pose the following: “Learning isn’t achieved overnight, it is formed over time.” Coaches strive to instill good work ethics and positive attitudes into their players as the season goes on. “Never give up!” can be heard on the sidelines. Playing the game with integrity is more important than winning at all costs. Coaches deal with putting a competitive team on the field all the while being concerned with the amount of playing time for each player. A coach knows that by the end of the season he will have to rely on all of the players, even the second and third string players. The balance of when to bring in a replacement in each game can be a delicate one.
Each individual game dictates is own special circumstances. The game takes on a life of its own, from quarter to quarter and minute to minute. Sideline decisions by coaches are critical to the final outcome. “Should we kick it deep or squibb?” “How about going for the conversion?” “Number 25 twisted his ankle, who is going in for him?” Coaches must have confidence in all of their players and it is up to the players to earn that confidence.
“Hey Coach. Number 55 is punching us in the stomach when he makes a tackle.”
“Hey Coach. Can I get in the game?”
“Hey Coach. I need a ride home from the game. I can’t get my mom on the phone.”
Coaches rely on players and players rely on coaches, each needing the other to accomplish their goals. As the season goes on, coaches reflect upon the performance of each player and the team as a whole. They see the improvements made by players who have never stepped on the field before the season began and the accomplishments of the veteran players. Coaches look at the win/loss record and then consider those intangibles that come into play as to why they fell short in the close games. Coaches smile, coaches cry, coaches motivate, coaches are mentors, coaches lead, and coaches encourage but most of all coaches are there for their players.
In the later part of the season, coaches have to deal with injuries and colds as the players acclimate to the ever changing weather. The fall foliage becomes apparent as reds and yellows dot the roadside landscape. Practices are now under the lights with parents bundled in large jackets and warm blankets. Breath becomes visible from exhaling lips. Whistles blow and pads pop. Games become an even greater test of skills as each individual player improves. Coaches begin talking about the upcoming post-season and making preparations. They never stop encouraging their players.
“Hey fellas. Let’s play hard today. 200% effort.”
“Hey guys. You gotta give everything you got. Don’t keep nothing back.”
“Hey boys. It is game day.”
There are no shortcuts in sports and definitely no shortcuts in life. The work ethic that coaches develop will carry over into the classroom and eventually into the fabric of everyday living.The skills and lessons learned on the field stretch far beyond the end-zones and fences.
To everyone who has ever been a coach, is coaching now or is considering becoming a coach I tip my hat to you. You may never realize the impact you make on a child’s life. Players will never remember the scores or win/loss records but they will remember coaches names and what they taught them. You will forever carry the label of “Coach.”
Recreation coaches don’t get paid for their time. They pour their hearts into what they think will make their team succeed and make each player successful.. Their only reward is, “Hey Coach. Thanks!” and that makes it all worth it!