What An Opportunity

As a new coach, lessons are many

In Sports on November 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm

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I have an assignment I cannot fulfill.

My sports journalism professor brought in a tremendous guest speaker this week – Buffalo News sports columnist Jerry Sullivan, whom I have written about before (Emotions flow freely, and so does Sullivan’s quality writing). He assigned the class to write a blog post about Sullivan’s visit and what they learned from the talk.

I cannot do that because I was not there. So, if he is my favorite sports columnist, why did I skip class? I promise I had a very good reason.

It was the first day of tryouts – tryouts for the junior varsity high school basketball team I am coaching. This is my first year as a coach, and I have just completed my first week in the position. So, instead of writing about Sullivan, I have decided to write about what I learned in my first official week as a high school basketball coach.

I chose to become a coach because my basketball coaches were some of the most influential people in determining who I became as a man. I looked up to them like nobody else. I was extremely fortunate to have respectable men in those positions, certifiable role models deserving of the adoration. I want to be that positive role model for young men now that I am older – attempting to teach them about life while I teach them the beautiful game of basketball, which I have come to adore.

The first week was surprisingly easy. I ran them hard, because I learned in my career that hard work is the best recipe for success. It is a small school, and they are still relatively young – 9th and 10th graders – so some of them minimal basketball experience. This season will test my patience, and I have already observed that I will learn more from them than they will learn from me. They have youthful exuberance for learning and vitality for life. It’s fun to be around. In the 9-to-5 grind, it’s easy to forget that we were once like that.

The big thing I learned from my first week as a high school basketball coach is that it’s easy to be a leader when you have been around great leaders. I was concerned I could never duplicate the type of passionate coaching and mentoring I received while I was in high school – that I would choke under pressure or forget my drills or just not have it as a coach – but it has come easily. From the first moment I addressed my team, I knew what I needed to do, because I have observed such great coaches in my career. This week taught me that leaders breed leaders.

That is just another reminder that we become the average of the people we surround ourselves with – which is why I want to surround myself with positive influences and purge the negative ones.

On the topic of life choices, I have also learned the importance of filtering my lifestyle more carefully now than ever before. My players are watching. If I want to be a positive influence on these young men, I need to be the best example I can. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I can already see how much high schoolers look up to their coaches and want to emulate them, just as I once wanted to emulate my high school coach.

The funny thing is, I still do.

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