What kind of qualities make a good coach? Knowing the sport they're coaching? To some extent. What about teaching lessons in life as well as the sport? Personally, I think that as much to do with the rules of the game and learning the "tricks of the trade" of the sport being played. I'm strongly believe that you can't have one without the other.
Being a law enforcement officer assigned as a school resource officer in a middle school, and helping out with our school's athletic programs, I see the importance of teaching life lessons everyday to our kids. The benefits are infinite. Sometimes you see a kid get the lesson while there are other times you leave the conversation wondering if they really got it. You hope they do for their sake because deep down inside, you know that they have to get it to make them a better person both now and down the road.
I remember back to my senior year at North Putnam High School near Bainbridge, Indiana. I was a member of a club soccer team called the Cougar Kickers. We had an awesome year our senior year as we went undfeated and won our tournament championship. There was one moment in the year that our coach, Ron Price, taught me a valuable lesson. We were playing a rival team that, let's just say, we didn't care for each other a bit. At one point in the game, one of their big, burly and physical players went full blast at one of our players, taking him out in the process. The referee didn't call a foul. I was furious at the no call and at the player. I never said a word though. I thought to myself that if I had the chance, I was going to make him pay for that. The moment came later in the game. That same player ad the ball just outside of our penalty area. I went to guard him and kicked at his shins, never really trying to get the ball. The ref called me for a foul. I apologized to the ref and told him I was trying for the ball, but just kept missing. Luckily for us, it was outside of the penalty area and didn't result in a penalty kick that is usually 90 % effective for a goal. The next opportunity to substitute, Coach Price took me out. He didn't have to tell me why I was on the bench. I knew. I waited about 10 minutes and went to the coach and told him I was ready to go back in. He told not just yet. I waited another 10 to 15 minutes and went to him again. I told him I was ready to go back in. I knew I had done wrong but I couldn't just let the other player get by with trying to take one of our guys out. He told me what I did wasn't the smartest thing to have done and that it could have cost us a goal. I sat the bench for the rest of the game. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.
I'll always cherish playing on that Cougar Kicker team. We enjoyed each other's company on and off the field as we all pretty much hung out on and off the field. Most of us became very good friends as a result of playing soccer. I can now look back and attribute that mostly to Ron Price. He saw something in all of us that he though would make us good soccer players. He took the time to teach us the game and pushed us to make us better and smarter players.
Every coach at every level has the opportunity to influence players. Some influence in positive ways. Some coaches do it in a negative way. I know of some elementary school age boy who no longer wants to play football because of a negative experience with a coach. That's too bad because he is a really good football player and would excel at the sport. I have heard middle school coaches on other teams curse during games. Not necessarily at their players or refs, but mainly in giving instructions at their players. I try not to criticize or be negative in judgement of that coach, but I always wonder why they are doing that with kids ranging from 12-14 years old. Let's face it, they are teaching lessons when they're doing that. When I wonder this, I think back to the fact that I dont' know the make up of their team, and a lot of times, their school community. Maybe they feel like they have to do and say those things because they feel that's the only to the team understands whay they're trying to get through to them. Let's face it, some kids come from a rough home life and the sporting experience and school is the lone bright spot in their life.
You fast forward nearly 30 years and any adult in their 40's know that kids these days aren't like they were when we were their age. It seems like they are facing more pressures and temptations than "back in the day." I tell my kids who are in my Character Ed classes as we hear stories, that it's better to learn from other peoples mistakes rather than to make them yourself. I tell them the first day of class about a quote - "The quality of your life is a direct result of the quality of your choices." Every story we hear can come right back to that quote.
There is a lot of people in the world that will say that Phil Jackson and Bill Belicheck are the best coaches in the NBA and NFL respectively. They will say this mainly because of the total number of wins and championships each can boast of. I think the best coaches are the ones who concentrate on more than just wins or championships. These are the ones who inspire their players to be more than just an athlete. More famous coaches of that calibre are former Tar Heel coach Dean Smith and UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Lesser known, but equally as good coaches include Ed Thomas of Parkersburg, Iowa. Coach Thomas coached at Aplington-Parkersburg for 37 years, won two state titles and a total of 292 games. Coach Thomas was shot and killed by a former player who suffered from a mental illness. Over 2500 people attended his funeral. His story was featured on an ESPN short documentary. There were several clips of him coaching and interviews with former players. The players all said that he taught them life lessons.
The winningest basketball coach in NCAA history isn't the infamous Bob Knight. It's Don Meyer, most recently from North Dakota State. Coach Meyer has amassed 923 wins. Tennessee women's head basketball coach, Pat Summitt, is more famous than Don. Summitt is one of the first people to give credit to Meyer though. Summitt has repeatedly said that when she was a 22 year old head coach of the Volunteers with four senior players that were 21 years old, Coach Meyer helped her. Meyer's players have said that they may have hated him for the tough practices and high expectations he placed on them, that they now can go back and thank him for what he has done for them and has meant to them, and possibly more important, taught them about life in general. More so now with his battle with cancer following a horrific car crash that nearly took his life nearly two years ago.
John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" is used as a model by some coaches. Don Meyer has stated he has five C's to a successful team. Concentration, Courtesy, Communication, Competition and Consistancy. Sounds like a successful formula no matter whether you're coaching a team, leading a business or teaching life lessons to young people.
It's not, or ever has been, about the extra money in a paycheck to coach. I know that that coaches do more than teach the x's and o's of the sport. For me and the coaches I know and am to be around on a daily basis, it's just as much about teaching things that will make them be successful people 10 to 20 years and further down the road. Winning and achieving success isn't always about scoring more points than your opponent or the total number of wins. Sometimes we don't see the fruits of our labor and what a successful job of coaching we do until several years later. That's what it truly means to be a coach and to be able to sit back and smile at the accomplishment.