Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To My Favorite Coach Of All Time


            I’ve sat a lot of bench.  Soccer.  Basketball.  Baseball.  Wins.  Losses.  Even ties.  I know just about every zone defense like the palm of my hand, I’m fluent in statistics, and I’m pretty sure I keep the cleanest book in the history of high school baseball.  I’ve watched two championships from front row seats.  But this post isn’t about me.
            From little league to varsity baseball I’ve had dozens of coaches.  Some were good; some were bad (I’ll refrain from commenting on my beloved father’s Wellwood baseball coaching tactics).  The question that always seems to resurface for me is what makes a good coach?
            Of course, there are many ways to approach this.  The simplest comes down to the hard facts, namely, wins and losses.  Yet, there are so many variables at hand that it really can’t be that simple.  Talent pool, as well as resources, needs to be taken into account when deciding what makes a great coach.  After all, anyone could coach the New York Yankees and win at least a few games, but the same manager probably wouldn’t stand a chance with the Bad News Bears.
            Most would agree that a good coach demands a certain respect from his players.  However, I would argue that respect alone is not enough.  How a coach earns his respect has an immense effect on the success of his team.  A coach who runs his players to death when they make a mistake very well may earn some respect from his players, but I think it is the coach who leads by example that gets the most out of his team.
            A good coach must be honest with his players.  Every player should know why they’re sitting the bench, and perhaps more importantly, why they’re playing.  Players can only improve if they know what to strive for.  Unpredictable playing time is the easiest way to kill a player’s confidence and from there they are sure to decline rather than improve.
            I’ve had a lot of bad coaches in my time.  It wasn’t until the ninth grade that I met a coach whom I quickly grew to love.  For four years my basketball coach not only made me into a better player than I ever could have imagined, but he made me into a better individual in the most general sense.  I wasn’t a superstar on his teams, even though I did have a few good games.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that with him as a coach I grew as a player and as a young man.
            He hardly ever yelled at us or made us run.  In fact, when we did run, everyone saw it coming.  We only ran when we really deserved it.  He created a system that we all bought into.  He worked hard for us and we worked hard for him.  We knew what it took to win games, and we did what we had to do.  We busted our butts in practice working on fundamentals, learning the plays, and scrimmaging.  Everyone got better; not just the best kids, or the worst.  Everyone.  Under him we were a team—one unit, and we were unstoppable.  In four years we lost just 9 games.
            I sat just as much bench in basketball as I did in any other sport.  The thing about basketball was that I enjoyed it.  I didn’t need to be the star, I just wanted to be part of the team, and I was.  In practice, our coach bred a sense of companionship and trust that resembled family more than anything else.
            So, when my 3-8 baseball team took a knee at the pitcher’s mound today, after another humiliating loss, I couldn’t help but chuckle as the coach berated us for a lack of enthusiasm and dedication.  A good coach doesn’t have to beg for dedication, they earn it.