Last night, my grandson Jacob, asked me a series of questions on coaching. It was part of an assignment for a paper in his coaching class. He just happened to have an old coach at his beck and call.
Of course, the first question he asked was why I became a coach. I admit I almost gave him the stock answer why does anyone become a coach. Was it the love of the game? Was it the love of the youth? Was it the love of teaching? All good questions with good answers. Not a single one is close to why I became a coach.
At 18 years old, I was doing some art work in the teacher’s lounge when my coach came in for a break. The home economic department had made a three-layer chocolate cake for the teachers.
My head coach filled his coffee cup, cut off a generous portion of that three-layer cake and plopped on the well-used, red velvet couch. He announced to anyone who was listening how tired he was by the end of such a strenuous work week.
I was off to the side listening to all this. I had no idea where the rest of my life was going to take me. It was like a revelation. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? That three-layer chocolate cake was the reason I dedicated my life to coaching.
If I had answered it in any other way, I would have been a liar and a fraud. I took one look at that great three-layer chocolate cake and declared that this was the profession for me.
After 39 years of coaching at all levels, I can honestly say I have never been served a three-layer chocolate cake. I also have never spent a minute regretting my decision.
I was a told I was being a fool. My cake-eating coach heard I was looking into the coaching profession. One night, he was eating with his family at a local bar when he saw me. He warned me not to enter the coaching profession. He swore I would regret it.
My mother sat me down when I was 20 years old and asked when I was going to grow up. She reminded me I couldn’t spend my whole life in sports. How would I ever make any money?
So, I told Jacob the cold, hard truth. That three-layer chocolate cake had led me down the perfect career path. Your first reason for jumping into something doesn’t need to be totally pure. Thank goodness feminism hadn’t hit the home economics department in 1968.
As much as I love my profession and the coaches I have known over the years, there is often statements made that aren’t really truthful. I have heard hundreds of times over the years how coaches love the fact that they can shape young lives.
I call a time-out over that one. I’m not sure if I am in the minority or majority, but I suspect that most coaches got into the profession to satisfy their egos and eat chocolate cake.
The great thing about coaching is it doesn’t matter if your reasons for being a coach are not always honorable, the results are almost always honorable. I never intentionally coached a team or player to make them a better person. Sometimes it just happens.
Athletes are more often than not, great people. Sometimes a little discipline, a little structure and a little luck can give the coach an ego boost and the athlete a direction that’s good for them. Most of the times it just happens.
All coaches want to win above anything. One of the first bosses as a college coach told me flat out, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” Another words, don’t make it tough for a player to succeed.
Phil Jackson, the former Bulls and Lakers coach visited Doane College between the two jobs. He met the men’s and women’s teams after an early practice. He allowed the players to ask questions.
One men’s player ask how he could put up with Dennis Rodman, a league bad-boy. His made an analogy like this: “If you have a prize bull that keeps getting out of the fence, you have two option. One you can butcher the bull or two you can build a bigger fence.”
That’s the philosophy most coaches take but they seldom will admit it. They like to attribute the player’s success to the things the coach taught him. I contend that if the team succeeded, the players showed the coach how they should play to be successful.
Also, coaches are full of crap about how well they know the game. I was embarrassed that in my coaching class at Kearney with Jerry Hueser as the teacher, I couldn’t understand how he was explaining the passing or motion game. I was totally lost but would never admit it.
Years later, a coach called me and asked if I could give him ideas on how his team could run the passing game as well as our team ran it. I had no idea we were running the passing game.
That was true about match-up zone defenses, too. I thought my team was playing a pretty good 2-3 zone. However, I was informed that my match-up zone was really giving my opponents trouble. Who knew?
One of my final pieces of advice to Jacob as he was getting sick of listening to my long answers to short questions was never lose your imagination. I really believe a lot of coaches fail when they try to force their teams to play a certain way for the single reason everyone does it that way.
But why I am dishing out advice. All I know is that three-layer chocolate cake and building my ego really gave me a great career in coaching.