Want to Improve? Get a Coach

The first coach I ever had was my Dad.  When my buddies and I turned five in 1984, someone decided that we should all play soccer.  The only problem was, no one had a Father (or Mother) who knew anything about the sport.  My Dad aka “Coach D,” stepped up and took the reins.

After reading the only two books on the sport at the local library, with whistle and clipboard in hand, Coach D had everything he needed to take our team, The Goalbusters, to the MSI Championship.  Prepared or not, we would lose our first game 12-0.  The rest of the season didn’t get much better as we lost every single game, busting only one solitary goal.  That season, The Goalbusters were good at only two things – sucking down oranges at halftime and crying after games.  We sucked, literally and figuratively.

However, we stuck with the sport and “Coach D” became determined to improve as a coach. Immersing himself in the game, Dad took courses, found books from Europe and battled our television’s bunny ears antennae to watch German Bundesliga games on Channel 56.  As Dad’s knowledge of the game advanced, so did the play of The Goalbusters.  We reached the proverbial promise land when in 1989 the boys and I thrashed the rest of the league, letting up only one goal the entire season, averaging ~7, easily winning the championship and taking home a trophy (not for participation, but for WINNING!).  Coach D proudly kept statistics on the year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also tallied the number of opponents who cried after every game.  You would never have known it by his calm demeanor on the sidelines, but Coach D had a vendetta to exact revenge on the SOBs who enacted atrocities on his reputation and players during the 1984 season (not his exact words, but I’m probably not too far from the truth).

Coaches have had a profound impact on my life and have taught me much.  In addition to showing me how to dedicate five years of my life to seek revenge, Coach D also showed me the value of dedication and learning.  I am also grateful for the time and energy he devoted to me and my punk ass friends (most of them would agree with this description).  As I grew older and started playing for coaches who had years of experience playing and coaching, I found each to teach me something new about the game I played as well as about life. 

One such example was my JV Baseball Coach, Gary Milwit, an absolutely intense man who on the first day of practice (and his first as our coach) looked us all in the eyes and said, “THIS IS GOING TO BE A WINNING TEAM THIS YEAR.  IF YOU AREN’T A WINNER, LEAVE THE ROOM RIGHT NOW.  WE ARE GOING TO WIN AND WE ARE GOING TO DOMINATE.”  It was the most incredible pump up speech I’ve ever witnessed, and I still get chills thinking about it.  What was so powerful about the speech wasn’t the words Coach Milwit used, it was his belief in the words and his belief in us.  Even though the previous year, the team only won one or two games, that speech made us all believers and we went 11-1 for the season.  Lesson Learned – believe you are a winner and well, you become a winner

Another driven coach was Varsity Soccer Coach Karl Heimbach.  While I can still hear Coach Heimbach screaming, “DANNY, GET WIDE…WIDE…WIDERRRRRR” or some other direction, it was his preparation for practice that I will never forget.  Coach Heimbach would have each and every practice meticulously laid out by the minute to both optimize the time he had with us and work on areas of weakness.  His attention to detail was legendary and he implored us to line up our soccer bags, keep our shirts tucked in, and he would even make us practice how we were going to warm-up for games, ensuring we looked like an organized squad.  Shoot, I wouldn’t be surprised if he practiced conducting practices in front of the mirror at home.  Whatever he did it worked as his teams were always prepared and some of the best in the state.  Lesson Learned – good organizations are always prepared and look the part

A coach with a different type of intensity was Malcolm Mitchell.  Malcolm (he never liked to be called Coach), came over from Sheffield, England to manage my club soccer team.  For a bunch of 15-year-old boys, a “colorful” Brit with loads of stories to tell will certainly leave a mark on your life.  Malcolm is what sport pundits call a, “players’ coach.”  To me, a players’ coach is someone who engenders so much good will and is such an advocate for you, that you are willing to run through walls for him.  Malcolm had that impact on me.  I never wanted to let him down, because I knew he had my back.  He also showed me to have an appreciation for not only the game of soccer, but for life.  Lesson Learned – take care of your people and they will take care of you

While my childhood was filled with plenty of coaches who all taught me something about the various sports I played, these were the leaders whose lessons continue to pay dividends to this day.  We often think that great wisdom must come from ancient books or a world-renowned thought leader, but for me, some of the most influential teachers have been recreational and high school sports coaches who most wouldn’t readily label as “Wise Elders.”

I was inspired to write about the influential coaches in my life because for the first time in a VERY LONG time I am working with a new coach.  In an effort to learn how to swim, my wife has been taking swimming lessons.  Telling me how good her coach was, my wife invited me along.  While I know how to swim, I begrudgingly joined her to get a workout and maybe improve my stroke a little bit.  Honestly though, I didn’t think I was going to learn jack.  To my surprise, over the course of several 30 minute sessions, Ashley, our instructor, has helped me significantly and has me exhausted after every session.  Without her, there is no chance I would be pushing myself as hard, learning as much and getting the results I am getting. 

If coaches had such a big impact on my childhood, why then was I so reluctant to work with a coach today, as an adult?  My only conclusion is that age has blinded me in seeing the value of looking to others for help.  No matter how much self-improvement I put myself through, my ego is still there saying things like, “screw working with a coach, you know how to swim.”  My ego is partially right, I do know how to swim, but a coach has gotten me swimming better than I have ever swam before.  Which brings me to the final lesson learned of this post, brought to you by the teachings of Ms. Ashley at Hood College – to get the most out of whatever it is you are doing, find a coach.

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