The Coach, Part 2

Now that I have written my required Tolkien-like description setting up the swim meet scenario, let's get down to the actual point: the coach.

After all that sitting and waiting, it was during Aidan's second swim that I noticed the coaches pacing up and down the side of the pool, encouraging (i.e. screaming at) their swimmer. I know they do this during shorter races too but it is especially apparent in the 500 Free because for 20 full lengths of the swimming pool, those coaches pace back and forth like caged animals, using hand motions and all sorts of grunts and growls and whatever else to get their swimmers to go just a little faster, kick a little harder or at least keep a certain pace.

But what stood out to me was that Aidan, the slowest of the group, was swimming right next to a teammate who was, at least for a little bit, vying for the win. And their coach was following along this teammate yelling and signaling and doing what swim coaches apparently do (this is not a preferred coaching style in soccer mind you, but I dare not judge as they are very different sports). But even when he took a break for this other teammate to make turns, he never once gave a notice to Aidan swimming right in front of him. There was never once a motion or encouraging yell toward Aidan, even when it would have been really easy and convenient to do so. Aidan was on his own.

I turned to Kurt, all that pent up energy turning into fury. Why was the coach not giving Aidan the same attention as the teammate? What....does he think only the better kids are worth coaching? Is Aidan somehow less important because he isn't quite matching his teammates speed? Has it ever occured to him that perhaps Aidan would speed up with just a little support, that his potential is not being achieved and it is, in part, due to a lack of attention? I mean, this is Coaching 101......

Kurt, having already experienced the broad spectrum of human emotions for the day, shrugged it off. Aidan will not be going to the high school that this coach coaches at so therefore, he simply does not get the same kind of attention from the coach as the other kids. That's just the way it is.

I took the righteous anger approach, like Jesus overturning the temple tables, or more accurately, like what I learned as a child watching Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing:

Nobody puts Baby in the corner! Nobody!

(Because, you know, those two scenes are very closely related in their philosophical principles......)

"Should I go say something?" I asked Kurt, my inside Tasmanian Devil about to let loose. "I mean seriously. We pay the same fees as that kid. Aidan should be supported by his coach just the same, even if he isn't going to win. Maybe he would reach his potential if his coached showed he cared!"

I calmed down when I saw the new assistant coach talking to Aidan after the meet. While he had not been nearly as frantic in his pacing, I had seen him standing there so perhaps he was Aidan's "coach" for that race and just wasn't as obvious or passionate or, um, inspiring.

Later, I asked Aidan about it. He said the other coach had been there during his race, although you'd never have known it.

On my way home, I was left thinking about this whole Jesus character. It's uncanny what a good example he gives us of coaching. Hear me out.

Certainly, he challenged the people at the top, made them stop in their paths and think, then pushed them to be better, showed them the err in their self-righteousness and pointed them to a better way, whether they bought in or not. But what's more telling, he consistently pulled people up from the bottom. He saw potential where others saw failure and disgrace. He saw need over flaws. He encouraged, supported, applauded and loved those whom others would have just as easily thrown out with the dogs. And from the depths of his passion, and flowing with compassion, progress was made. Lives were changed, were transformed.

From a coaching philosophy that rests on a developmental perspective, this makes sense. We cannot just focus on the top. We must at the same time be striving to bring up those who are at the bottom, help them reach their potential, wherever that may be. After all, transformation is at stake.

And that is why, as a coach, I am just like Jesus.

Hee hee, just kidding, just kidding.

Truly, we all fall short, whether coaches or not, and as I drove home that evening, I reflected back on my own coaching, the successes and failures with different players who have passed through my teams, and I realized that I, too, have sometimes made the mistake of failing my weaker players. I, too, have encouraged the cream of the crop while offering little to the bottom. The principles I hold near and dear to my heart and to my personal mission as a coach, are indeed like those of Jesus, but in practice, I am nowhere near perfect. It is easy to get caught up in the grandiosity of success that those naturally gifted athletes bring to a team. It is easy to fall prey to a culture who wants to weed out too early in order to secure wins at the sake of true development.

But we were never called to stick with the easy way, the way of the culture. Not as coaches, nor as people. The hope is that people of integrity find their way into coaching our youth. The hope is that those coaches remember that each and every child is worth their support, correction and encouragement. The hope is that our kids' coaches take their responsibility seriously and recognize that it is in their power to help the kids who are ready to go from 99-100 while also helping those who are still working to get from 1-2. The job description requires that we do both, pushing all our athletes toward their potential, not just the ones at the top.

The job description of being a person transformed by grace is that we dispense that grace to everyone as well. Even our kids' coaches.

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