A Cautionary Tale

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Along time ago when I was super young and yes super dumb I got my first head coaching job. The program I was given had been on an upswing over the previous five years and we were returning a number of all state athletes. As always some kids decided not to return and the remaining kids were very skeptical on whom this young new guy they now had to call coach. As all new/young coaches I was very eager to make a name for myself and start creating a new team culture. Unfortunately, I was not willing to seek out anyone for help. I had my ideas and since I was the head coach we did things my way. Now as fate would have it my team that season did very well on an individual level. Breaking school records in the 100, 400, 4×100, and 4×200 relays. Sadly this early success probably slowed my growth and development as a coach. Another thing young/new coaches fall victim too is they quickly create some enemies in their relentless hunt for respect and success. Again I was unaware respect and success were not tied together. There was one coach in particular that drove me crazy! He was passionate, super successful, and dominated meets in events I had no clue how to coach. I would catch myself saying if I had that kid they would be an all American sprinter or they just recruit the best kids that is the only reason they are good or It’s all politics if I was in that sectional we would qualify our whole team to state.

Obviously, as a young coach you can be delusional without much effort. I got to the point where just the sight of that team and coach got my blood boiling. Then the next three years we had very little success and my assistant coach (Now close friend and confidant) told me if I don’t get better he could no longer coach with me. It was very humbling and eye opening for me to hear him speak those words. As you would have guessed I wrestled with what he had to say for a while trying to figure out a way to blame the system, a coach, or my athletes for our lack of success. Then when I could no longer point the finger I slowly began to realize what was my problem. I DID need to get better, I owed it to my mentors, my kids, and to those people that hired me. I became a track and field fanatic, I became more organized, and I began learn about events I would never coach. Slowly the team got better, larger, and respected. Finally after a lot of ups and downs our team won its first district championship. I was so happy, proud, and had a sense of relief that I could coach a bit.

In this moment of real joy I again was schooled by that same passionate and super successful distance coach that used to drive me crazy.

He came up, looked me in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and said great job coach. One by one many other coaches did the same thing. At that very moment I realized I never once shook the hand of the winning coaches after districts. I was so humbled and sad I never had the class to give a simple congrats with a hand shake. Even sadder was the fact I never even thought that would be the obvious thing to do after a long hard fought season. Now I genuinely try to congratulate the victor after each meet if I can find them. I never told the coach about what I really thought those early years. I now consider him a close friend in the world of coaching. Someone I trust and know I can talk with about anything. So Jim if you are reading this I want you to know you taught me the most important lesson a coach can give. Respect is way more important then success.

If you are respected your typically doing the right thing, in the right way, and at the right time. You don’t point fingers, criticize others, and most importantly you worry about what is most important: the kids you are working with daily. That passionate coach still continues to do the right thing day in and day out. Now retired, in a different conference, at a different school you can find him and pick his brain . He might tell you Oh I am just a pole vault coach. No coach you are way more than a pole vault coach. You are a respected master of your craft and I thank you.
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