What does it mean to be a coach? What does it take to be a coach?
Both questions I ask myself from time to time as a sports reporter.
With each passing year, each game or practice I have the opportunity to attend, and with each interaction I’ve been fortunate to have with coaches, I learn more and more about the answers.
There are certain generalities involved in coaching that are transcendent through the history of sports.
Beyond the youth-sports level, coaching is a job, at least part of a person’s livelihood. Outcomes in competition often dictate tenure at one place or opportunity at another.
Wins and losses are certainly important. I think that’s understood in the coaching profession.
“Winning isn’t everything; It’s the only thing.”
This quote attributed to legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, is only half true in my estimation.
Winning is fun. It is satisfying. Winning helps coaches sleep well some nights, though I’m sure many would tell you restless sleep follows both wins and losses at times.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the coaches I’ve been privy to cover the past four years is that winning is not everything.
Success often comes as a by-product of several factors, the most important of which is the relationships built between coaches and athletes.
Honestly, the relationship-business of coaching is an evolution in sports that wasn’t predominant back in the Ice Age when I was an athlete.
From when I was a young kid playing baseball and basketball at the Marion PAL Club and all the way to the end of my organized sports career, trusting my coach was a given.
It was understood – do what a coach asks no matter how gruff it was communicated or don’t play.
Respect was given because my coach was an adult and I wasn’t.
One of my most nightmarish moments as a young basketball player came in the seventh-grade city tournament at McCulloch. My Jones Panthers were playing the Justice Patriots in the semifinals. Our future varsity coach Bill Green was in attendance for the first time at a game I was playing in.
It was a big deal at the time. So big that my first shot attempt, with Coach Green in the front row watching, was an airball – from the free throw line, no less. A 15-foot shot that maybe traveled 13 feet.
My respect and admiration for Coach Green manifested itself in sheer terror followed by embarrassment. Thankfully, I made the second free throw and quickly remembered how to play the game.
Luckily for me he forgot that first impression and let me be part of his teams when I got to high school.
I digress, though.
Honestly, Grant County’s student athletes are fortunate, even blessed, to have the group of coaches assembled at each of the five high schools. The same can be said for athletes at Taylor and Indiana Wesleyan.
Not just head coaches either. Assistant coaches are just vital to a player’s and program’s development and successes.
All the conversations I’ve had over the last six weeks with spring sports coaches has only reaffirmed my notion.
Coaches themselves are students. I think it’s safe to say they are always looking for ways to improve and find ways to become more efficient in preparation.
At heart, and many times in classrooms, coaches are teachers first. They provide valuable wisdom, lessons in how to work individually and together, how to handle success and failure, and how to learn and grow from it all. It’s all an essential part of the relationship-building process.
Kids these days, as a whole, are more intelligent. With all the technology and information (or misinformation) available with just a swipe of a smartphone or click on a mouse pad, they also need more guidance and trust.
An article published in 2017 on nfhs.org stated, “Relationships are the foundation of coaching ... The challenge of coaching is balancing rationale and logic along with empathy and emotional awareness.”
Reaching that balance, building that foundation requires trust.
Earning the trust of kids takes being honest, being positive.
It doesn’t mean being soft. Sometimes tough love is required, but trust and love go hand-in-hand.
Spend time talking to the coaches in Grant County and you’ll better understand their passions for teaching, for sports, but most of all for young people.
Wins and losses most definitely matter, and the amount of winning done by coaches and athletes across Grant County makes us lucky as sports fans.
But winning doesn’t always mean reaching the finish line first or putting more points on the scoreboard than an opponent.
Sure, that’s always the goal, but sometimes winning simply means being better today than you were yesterday, continuing to work hard to make that happen and walking off the field graciously in victory and defeat.
Our Grant County coaches all work hard to make sure they, and their athletes, exemplify the best when it comes to competition.
For that, we should all be grateful.