Coach @’s Corner 5:27.11

May 27th, 2011 in Articles by 0 Comments

Each week Coach @’s Corner addresses a variety of topics related to high school coaching, self-coaching, and our sport at large. Have a question or something you’d like us to address? Contact us here or using the methods at the end of the column.

I’ve been named “Coach of the Year” a few times. One of my honors even came from the Boston Globe, provoking my college teammate’s father to say, “Congrats! This wasn’t related to your old writing gig over there in the ‘90s, was it?”

It probably was. Or maybe it was the e-mail sent by a fellow coach and friend to nominate me. Either way, the fix was on… I’m sure of it.

I won the same honor from my local newspaper on several occasions… until they discontinued “Coach of the Year.” Apparently, too many coaches thought they should’ve won and wrote letters to the editor.  One parent from an opposing team even protested my award. I felt really good about that one, especially when I ran into him at the next meet. Awkward.

But did I even deserve those honors?  Does any coach? Is it a reward for an 8-0 season? A league championships? State championship? Does any coach really deserve it?

My belief is no. Why? You see, in those championship years, a coach probably does his or her least coaching. The thin years are those that deserve recognition. The years when you have to pull kids off the hallways of your school and recruit enough runners to even have a team. The years when you are 0-8 with no state qualifiers to speak of – and you question the purpose of it all, but still keep going. Maybe that’s when a coach truly deserves the title “Coach of the Year” – mostly because they persevere.

I’m turning 40 this year. I have three kids, a mortgage, and two cars. I’m older, grouchier, slower, and in need of excessive caffeine during most track meets. I remember my coach at Boston College muttering something like that to us once while were misbehaving. I didn’t get it. But now I think I do. My priorities have changed – I get more joy out of seeing that new kid take an interest in the sport, have that first distance run where they run 5 miles at 7 minute pace or break 5 minutes in the mile or qualify for the regional meet.

I’m guess I’m not the same coach I was at 25. Back then, I wanted to get that award every damn year. All I had in my life were three seasons of track, 220-lbs. of fat, and a load of Taco Bell wrappers in my front seat. I didn’t know what exercise was for a 15-season stretch, all I did was coach. In the winter, I’d be pale because my only exposure to light was the fluorescent kind at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston.

I guess my vision about winning has changed. Sure, I still want to be victorious (2-2 this season but with 8 state qualifiers), but some of my most memorable seasons involve losing. Those are the years you are developing your program, trying to get some kids to buy into what you are selling. The process.

Ego is something you need to check at the gate as a coach. There are way too many egos out there, too many coaches who want to take credit for accomplishments that would’ve taken place whether they headed the program or not.  I really hope that I’m never classified like that.

Last year, I had “The Big Three” on my outdoor track team – a 400-meter hurdler/triple-jump/400-meter-relay kid; a 100-meter/long-jump/400-meter-relay kid; and an 800-meter/400-meter relay kid. Alone, they won three events at our regional meet and finished second in the 4 x 400. (They all ran 49-50 seconds, but our fourth leg was a little slow.) At the All-State Meet, the team was leading in the 4 x 400 with one leg to go.

They were an astounding group of athletes that dropped in my lap because two of them were in their first year of track and field… as seniors.  The track gods were good to my program that year. And I take credit for none of them. Why? Because all I did was put them in the right events and send the entries in. Sure, there were motivational talks and race strategies but I recall an 0-8 season where I did much more coaching. I should’ve gotten an award that year for not giving up.

After publishing my first short story collection, I sent a glowing letter to my high school English teacher saying how much his teaching motivated me to become a writer. That wise teacher replied in a note, “You succeeded in spite of me.” Knowing his success record with students in the classroom, let me be the first to nominate him for “Teacher of the Year”.  But I don’t think he’d accept it if he won. I think that he was pleased with helping kids improve.

Coach @ ran a 1:24:32 ½ marathon just 13 days after Boston. He feels that he needs some Miracle Miles and strides to overcome that lactic acid threshold for that sub-1:20 at forty. Leave him a note in the comments, or send him an e-mail here.

Author: FasterThanForty

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