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The Art of Coaching

My youngest son decided sometime in December that he wanted to play lacrosse for his middle school as a sixth grader.  He had no experience, but a lot of enthusiasm so I encouraged him to go for it.  Apparently, a whole bunch of kids had the same idea and so the team basically doubled in size this year.  Unfortunately, the number of available coaches decreased by about half.  And so, as you may have predicted, for the past three weeks, I've been learning how to be an assistant lacrosse coach for the boys middle school team.  I was really just offering to be another warm body on the field and figured at the very least, I could donate my abilities to yell really loud and make kids do pushups and run laps.  I don't really know anything about lacrosse.

Fundamentals are important in every sport.

But, . . . plot twist.

The head coach is not just a good lacrosse coach, he is a very good people coach.  You can tell this by how he can get a group of 31 middle school boys to settle down and listen to his every word without raising his voice.  And how, when he needs to teach the group some self-discipline, he does it in a way that allows them to decide to make the right choices.  And how he just seems to take everything in stride and doesn't stress about things that would send most people up the wall sideways.

The first day I showed up, I was handed a book of drills and was encouraged to jump right in.  He knew I was up for the challenge (even though I wasn't sure) and confidently handed me the reins with my own group of boys.  And this pretty much happened every day.  No matter how things turned out, he was excited to hear what we had done and point out that the kids were doing well and having a great time.

Do you see what he did there?  He needed a lacrosse coach and started to make one in the same way he develops his athletes.  Show the way, open the door, encourage, encourage, encourage.

So, despite only ever having played inter-mural lacrosse in college, Coach has me believing that I can actually help the younger and less experienced members of our team get up to speed and develop the skills they need to be great players in a few years.  And I think he may be right.

Today, in the freezing cold (I added that for the extra drama), I had a bunch of kids playing three on three scrimmages.  They were taking turns playing offense, defense, and when they had to sit out, they were practicing passing.  They were having a ball and as they practiced they were all getting noticeably better.  We stayed an extra 20 minutes at practice with numb hands and chattering teeth and all they wanted to do was just play "ONE MORE ROUND!  PLEEEEEASE COACH?!"

I'd like to be able to take credit for the improvement on the field that I'm seeing in these young athletes, but its not really me.  The atmosphere fostered by great coaching over many years has instilled in these young men not only enthusiasm, but great confidence that they will be a good team.  I wish I could bottle this ability or describe it in a way that is measureable or teachable, but I think its just the hallmark of years of experience, a love for the sport, a love for the kids who want to play, and the wisdom to understand that no matter where they are now, they all have potential.

I want to be just like that when I grow up.

“It’s what you learn, after you know it all, that counts”  
– John Wooden

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