Just Coach Your Team
I started my coaching career as a completely naive, arrogant, and ignorant twenty-two year old at my alma mater serving as the assistant to my high school coach and mentor, Dave Zeller. Coach Z was a legendary coach that was an All-American player for Miami, OH and a back-up to Oscar Robertson for a few years in the NBA.
He was set to retire just as I was finishing college and entering the teaching, and coaching, market. Actually, he did retire. That is, until I called him and begged him to return for a year so I could “learn how to coach”, as he would recite for me numerous times over the next year.
Ever the servant, Coach agreed to return while warning me of the team's limited talent level and likelihood of a rough season ahead. The news didn’t sway my excitement as I looked forward to sitting on the bench and soaking up everything I could from Z.
His meticulous preparation, personal gifts to lift his player spirits, spot on scouting reports, in-game adjustments to take advantage of what few advantages we had, and stoic poise on the sideline were even more appealing as his assistant rather than one of his players. I was given a backstage pass into the mind of a basketball genius for a season.
And, I did my best to soak it all in.
Why Should We Care?
I remember several of the plays and am proud to use a few of them to this day. I remember our huddle break, which was the same as when I played for him and drove home the unselfish style he expected from his teams: “Hit the open man!” I remember the little notes he would sneak into a scouting report - “see me for $5” - just to be sure his guys were reading it.
But, most of all, I remember the advice he gave me when I asked him how he managed to stay so calm and composed on the sidelines all the time. His response was simple and matter-of-fact, as if he didn’t realize the power of what he was saying. Of course, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
His response: “Just coach your team”.
He added context by reminding me that when things are good to coach my team; when things are bad to coach my team; when the referees are terrible to coach my team; when parents are complaining to coach my team; when people are talking good about us to coach my team; when people are talking bad about us to coach my team.
Watching college football games this weekend and the accompanying pre-game talks, halftime speeches, and post-game interviews; I couldn’t help but think of Coach Z and his advice.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
The ego is a dangerous thing. It fools us into concerning ourselves with areas of our lives that we can’t control. This, by default, distracts us from the few things that we can control. It took me many years to realize that it’s this attention to focus on the controllables that Coach Z was referring to the whole time.
Here are a few things that garnered attention from coaches this weekend, and me often, that were beyond their control. Things that distracted them from just coaching their teams.
Sure, several coaches got to beat their chest and claim their dominance. They had the opportunity to rebuke the negative opinions expressed by others and make their egos feel good, but I can’t help to think that we would all be better off if they would just stay focused on coaching their teams.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.