You’ve probably played for several coaches at this point in your life. Coach Pine, Coach Bailar, Coach Middleton, Coach Graves, Coach Reed, Coach Hollingsworth, Coach Casey, Coach Ramey, Coach White, Coach Lewis, Coach Goodwin, Coach Holwager, Coach Croci … I’m forever grateful for the opportunity these men provided and pieces of themselves they poured into me long before I realized they were doing so.
But, you only get one “Coach”. No last name needed, no description required. Anyone that knows you immediately realizes precisely who you are talking about.
At least, I hope you get one.
Z was my Coach.
Now, I could introduce him as Dave Zeller, the backcourt mate to Wayne Embry at Tecumseh HS or the back-up to Oscar Robertson for the Cincinnati Royals but that doesn’t pay him the respect he deserves. Ask any of his former players, Z was in a class all his own.
Why It’s Important As with any mentor, it was Z’s actions, not his words, that meant the most. The handwritten scouting report, the wooden charge balls he cut and painted, the piece of pie he would randomly bring, or the winning scratch off lottery ticket he would give away were all his way of saying he cared.
I’ll never know if Coach took a special interest in all of his point guards, or if I was just lucky. I tend to think he had the gift of making everyone feel like he had a special interest in them. In any case, I am forever grateful. Aside from my parents, Coach had the largest impact on my life of anyone I’ve ever met. I’m sure you could say the same about your “Coach”.
Here are a few of the most important life lessons I learned from Coach.
Deal Hope - Coach believed in me, unequivocally and without hesitation - and he told me. He started me as his varsity point guard my sophomore year, 135 lbs of skin and bones. Through middle school and freshman basketball I had scored more than 12 points one time. In my first varsity game I had 16 points including 4 straight free throws, down three with under thirty seconds to win the game. A week later I had 26 points and made a shot with 3 seconds left to win the game. I’m not sharing those memories as justification of my basketball talent. I was an average high school basketball player, but that’s not what I believed. He believed in me before I did.
Prepare. Always. - Practice schedules to the minute, scouting reports with everything short of player blood types, and repetition repetition repetition. At no point in my high school career did I ever think the other team was even in the same galaxy as we were in regards to preparation. And, at no point did I ever think he told us everything he knew about the opponent. He always knew more than necessary and we always prepared more than necessary. Always.
Be a Lifter - If you took a charge in a game, the next day Coach would bring you a cut out wooden basketball painted with the game, score, date, and your name written on it. It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized the amount of time he had to spend doing just that. He also made one for the player of the game. Why? Because he wanted players to feel special, like they contributed to the group. He was lifting others up. It’s what he did. He never complained about the time it took or how much money it cost him. He just served, humbly.
Make it Personal - At the time, I didn’t understand what Coach was doing. That’s the beauty of it I guess. Every player was special. Everyone had their own needs, own interests, and own troubles. Coach knew them and bounced back and forth from one to the other with ease and grace. For me, it was pouring confidence in. He did this in a variety of ways but there is one I remember clearly. Coach taped my ankle before every game - yea, All-American & former NBA player taped a random, average basketball player’s ankle before every game … see humbly serve above. When he finished taping my ankle he would always write a message on it - “Shoot the ball!” was the most common. Think what you do doesn’t matter? I still have the one from my last game.
Coach Your Team - This was actually advice Coach shared with me early in my coaching career. Things weren’t going well, parents were mad, and officials were seemingly out to get us. I called Coach and started in on a laundry list of complaints, to which he patiently listened to. When I stopped for air, he calmly asked if I was done. He paused for a minute and said “Just coach your team.” He told me to stop complaining about officials, stop worrying about parents and focus on what’s important - my guys and our team. I got the message.
Define Your Own Success - Reflection has allowed me to discover this, now cornerstone of my life, from Coach. I can’t imagine playing high school basketball for anyone else in the world. I’ve now been a high school coach for over twenty years. I’ve never met a better coach than my Coach. Yet, society judges the success of coaches by wins and state championships, a mindset of the masses I fell into my first seven years of coaching. Well, Coach never won a state championship so something had to give. Either he wasn’t the best coach I had ever seen or the barometer I was using to measure success was wrong. Over a decade removed from this life changing realization, he’s still the best coach I’ve ever seen. Wins and championships are goals of course, anyone competing wants to win. And Coach was no different in this regard. But, his priority was always impact. That was success to him. That was his legacy.
This blog was cathartic for me but my hope is that it spurns you to action in two ways:
Thank your “Coach”. Let them know how much they mean to you and why they are so important. Talk about them and share their impact on you with your loved ones. Call, write, and go out to dinner. Time is our greatest currency. Spend it with them. It may seem like time you don’t have right now, but it will be time you wish you would have spent soon enough.
Recognize your impact. If you’re leading, you are likely someone’s “Coach” - and possibly several people’s “Coach”. Acknowledge that gift and intentionally pour into those people. Don’t focus on helping them get the promotion or scholarship, those things will happen if you commit to impacting their lives as people. Help them with their view of the world, their confidence and self-esteem, and clarifying what they value - not what everyone around them values.
My Coach passed away on September 2. His impact is far from over. Find your impact. Give your time.
For more information on building excellence in your teams, visit us at www.bluecollargrit.com. We would love to know how we could help!