For anyone involved in sports, there’s undoubtedly one person that springs to mind when you think of a coach — good, bad or otherwise.
Some parents I’m sure have stories of a coach who changed their child’s trajectory in sports with their passion and enthusiasm, while others have seen just the opposite — a kid who totally loses the love of a sport because of a particular coach. Some adults probably still remember that youth coach who fostered their love of a game or another who destroyed it. Those memories tend to take hold and stick, either way.
I hope the latter happens far more than the former and maybe I’m dreaming by believing it does, but I think sometimes you just have to believe in the good in people when the evidence isn’t always readily available.
As someone who has coached at multiple levels and been an athlete at various levels, I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to volunteer coaches.
I’ve had yellers and soft-spoken coaches — I’ve had hard-nosed, push-to-the-limit coaches and I’ve had ones that let the kids drive the ship. They all have their particular strengths given the circumstances and they all have a way of resonating differently with different people.
What I think all these individuals have in common is their will to help and the passion, as well as time and energy to dedicate to making a difference in the lives of others.
Of course, you never really realize what sort of impact you have while you’re in it and nobody does it for that reason.
Two stories grow off that tree for me, both happened somewhat recently.
First, as someone who was a fine athlete, I always thought I would be better suited as a coach. I was very analytical as an athlete, striving to find out why things happen, rather than work on the skills that pushed me to the next level.
As an adult, my first full-time coaching experience was not a pleasant one. In a small town where I didn’t know anyone, I took a team of 12 U17 girls, the B-team as it were, and was promptly promoted to head coach, on account of nobody else had the time to do it.
I tried and tried but never seemed to push the right button with the players. I couldn’t get through to them, no matter what I did. We maybe won two games all year, finishing some 60-minute games with six or seven players on the bench due to injuries and no-shows.
That season killed all motivation I had to coach, especially after an incident with an over-eager parent, but that’s a story for another day.
The only glimmer of hope that likely planted a seed in the back of my mind, was a pair of kids who told me they loved having me as a coach and I had helped them that year. It didn’t seem like it to me, but I guess I made a difference to a few.
Just last week, I reached out to a coach I had in middle school for volleyball, to tell him about the remarkable impact he had on me.
Back up a second. I started helping coach youth volleyball at a local school this year and I’m absolutely loving it. I’m part of a team of three, less responsibility than my first dip into coaching, which helps so much to share the load.
It’s not high level by any means but the kids really care and want to get better. They listen and they try their best (Work commitments kept me away from our team this week and I just felt awful that I wasn’t there. Like I abandoned them. Reminder, this is a team I’ve coached for less than two months and kids I barely know.)
It’s night and day compared to my time coaching nine years ago and it sparked a fire in me that I think was probably just smouldering like a poorly put-out campfire.
And so much of what I’ve passed on to these kids is what my coach back in Grades 6-8 told us. I get flashbacks sometimes of our practices in those days when I’m coaching now. It’s freaky.
So I reached out on Facebook, with a message just to tell him how much it meant to me, not expecting a response or anything.
Just a few hours later, he responded and told me how amazing it was to hear from a former player, about how much he loved coaching us. It was almost 20 years ago when I played for him, but we chatted back or forth about coaching strategies and tips about how I could help my team grow and develop. It was such a special moment, I’m glad I had the ability to do it.
It made me think about all those volunteer coaches I’ve had over the years, who no doubt wonder about where their players ended up or if they were able to do something positive.
I started trying to name them off and really think of the skills and lessons they taught me.
I think about my minor baseball coach, who coached pretty much the same group of kids from the time we were seven until we aged out of the sport. I thought about all the time over the winter we spent in the gym, learning throwing mechanics and fielding. About him sacrificing his summer to help us, every year for 10-plus years.
He was as patient as the day is long and I don’t think I ever once saw him lose his cool. I try and channel his patience when I coach, doesn’t always work.
I was the best man at his son’s wedding several years ago, and his son will be my best man next summer. I’m hoping his dad will be there, so I have a chance to tell him then about what a great coach and mentor he was.
I guess this all goes to say that we often don’t tell those who have had an impact on us, how much that meant to us because we don’t realize it in the moment and feel like it’s too late years later.
Sometimes it takes a leap of faith into something you’d never thought you’d do again, to really find something you never knew you were missing in the first place.
It’s not too late — it’s never too late.
Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor for the Red Deer Advocate.