Monday, May 7, 2012

The Importance of Good Coaches

Our second oldest son is nearing the end of his first year as an algebra teacher and assistant coach (for football and lacrosse) at a public high school about an hour from where we live.  A couple of days ago, his lacrosse team was playing nearby, so my husband and I went to the game. Although it's always fun to watch a game of lacrosse ("the fastest game on two feet," as they call it), what we enjoy most of all--now that our boys' playing days are over--is seeing our son in his role as coach.

Our son's mentor, his old lacrosse coach (who still coaches at his old high school), was at the game, too, scouting for an upcoming game between their two teams.  Before the action started, our son chatted with the man who was his head coach from the time he was a ten-year-old novice learning the sport in the youth league until he was a high school senior who ended his career as an All-State defenseman and Academic All-American.

When our son took a break from college to come home and figure out what career he really wanted to pursue, he worked as a teacher's aide for a few years before finishing his undergraduate degree and master's at the state university nearby; he also began helping out with his old high school's lacrosse team.  He ended up working under his mentor for five years; together with his father (his other mentor), he coached the defense--and in fact was part of the coaching staff throughout the four years that our youngest son was in high school.  Those years spent working as a teacher's aide and acting as an assistant coach for the football and lacrosse teams at his alma mater made him realize that those were the two things he was passionate about: teaching and coaching.

I saw this sign that said, "Coaches teach sports; teachers are classroom coaches."  It's so true that the two go hand-in-hand. People who are good at one of those things are usually good at the other. Our son is good at both, and he has truly found his niche, his calling.  He's a chip off the old block, because he takes after my husband, who would have made an excellent teacher if he'd chosen that career path.  When we were dating in high school, he was not only a lifeguard but a swimming instructor, and he had a knack for teaching little ones and helping them gain confidence in the water.  As the second oldest of eight, he had an enormous amount of patience with children; I knew even then that he would make an excellent father. My future husband came to visit me at college at the end of my freshman year.  He'd finished his finals, but I was still taking mine, and I was dreading my upcoming calculus exam.  In one tutoring session, he was able to make clear to me material that I hadn't been able to fully grasp for a whole semester, and I ended up acing the final, bringing a low C average up to a B.  That guy is a born teacher!

My husband got involved in coaching when our two oldest sons signed up for Pee Wee football in 1992, and he coached all five of our boys while they were playing in the youth league--and even coached our youngest son's high school freshman football team.  In 1996, our two oldest sons signed up for lacrosse, and my husband became an assistant coach--and again, coached all five boys throughout the youth league years.  He had never played the sport himself, but he became a student of the game and an outstanding coach.  Then in 1999, when our oldest son was a freshman, he began helping out at the high school level.  He ended up being the defensive coordinator for our sons' high school lacrosse team for twelve years, until he finally retired last year at the end of our youngest son's senior season.  He had the privilege of coaching all five of his sons during their high school lacrosse careers, which was a wonderful experience; but the last five of those years were particularly special to him, because he was coaching alongside our second oldest son.

My husband will say that if you take a boy and put him into the military, he will turn into a man overnight.  I believe that team sports like football and lacrosse also help boys to become men--and because of that, their coaches can have a huge impact on their lives.  With my husband's guidance, our sons' high school lacrosse team was a perennial defensive powerhouse; but he taught those boys more than the importance of good footwork and positioning.  Recently, he wrote a letter of recommendation for a boy he'd coached for several years.  When this former player, who's currently a senior, got accepted at the prestigious prep school to which he'd applied, he wrote my husband a touching note thanking him for the letter.  He begins by saying, "Your presence at practice is missed, but you are not forgotten. Every time I find myself a little slow to react, or a half step out of position, I can hear your voice correcting and encouraging me."  He goes on to say, "I am grateful for your recommendation, but more importantly I am grateful for the time and effort you devoted to my development...As I have grown up, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of leadership to any situation...I am certain that your legacy of class, dignity, sportsmanship, and athletic leadership contributed mightily [to both my success] and to the improvement of the school as a whole."  Near the end of the note, he says," I remain profoundly thankful for all that you have done for me as a person.  [You are] truly an example of the Hand of God at work on earth."

WOW, huh?!  Now there's a boy who understands and appreciates the importance of a good coach!  I suspect that before his career is over, our son will receive similar tributes from his players; because when boys become men, they tend to remember the coaches who helped them make the transition.

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