I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station,
who did not do better work and put forth greater effort
under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.
We call him Superdad because he's, well, pretty super. He's a super hard worker, he's super patient, he's super positive, and he can make a super duper grilled cheese sandwich. But what you might not know is that among all of those other super qualities, he is also a super coach.
I don't think I always knew to appreciate the fact that my kids grew up having their dad coach the majority of their sports teams. Ben has coached 14 years of soccer (some of those were spent coaching two teams at the same time) and somewhere around 12 years of baseball. He has coached little kids and big kids, boys and girls, winning teams and not-so-winning teams. But there are still players to this day who, when bumping into him at the grocery store, or down at our neighborhood village, will see him and call out, "Hey, Coach!"
You don't know to be grateful for all of the great coaches out there until you encounter the not-so-great coaches. Sometimes it would be the coach of our opposing team who would leave me wishing I could gather up all those other little players and bring them onto our side. Coaches who scream, who belittle, who yell profanities and encourage their players not just to play hard, but to play with the intention to harm. And then there are the coaches whose offenses are more subtle. They are disinterested and unengaged. They don't really know the sport and they don't care to learn. They are the coaches who don't really care if the kids grow as players or as people.
Sadly, these coaches exist. Thankfully, they are in the minority.
Soccer is really Superdad's sport, but he learned to be a good baseball coach, too. He learned by watching other good coaches and offering to be their assistant when our kids were young. He never minded being the co-pilot and enjoyed the camaraderie coaching with other like-minded men whose goal was as much to model good character as it was to build a winning team.
Superdad has won some championships in his time as Coach, but more importantly he has helped to raise champions. He never allowed foul language or poor sportsmanship on his teams. He made sure all his players played and felt valued. And he modeled an appropriate competitive spirit by ending every game with a smile, pats on the back and encouraging words regardless of the outcome.
The other day we heard about a coach who, while viewing the film of the previous game, called out a single player as being solely responsible for the goal that lost the game. Not only is it rare in soccer that one player can truly be identified as the lone weak link in the string of events that lead to a goal, but my mother's heart couldn't help but lurch in response to such an overt act of humiliation by a coach. But I'll admit that in my head I thought to myself, "I don't know...it's really competitive at this level now. Maybe that's what coaches do." It wasn't what I would do but, heck, I'm not a coach.
But my heart's response was vindicated when I saw Superdad shake his head and then heard him mutter,
You praise publicly, you criticize privately.
And I was reminded yet again why parents loved having their kids on his team. Because he knows what it means to be a coach. He knows how you talk to kids. He knows what motivates a kid and what just tears him down. He knows that being a coach is really about being a leader and the basic principles of good leadership apply whether you are running a business or trying to get 8 year olds to kick a ball down a field. You communicate, you affirm, you inspire, you teach, and every once in awhile you get a rousing game of Sharks and Minnows going- because you gotta have some fun.
Superdad's coaching days may be winding down. He got to coach Tim longer than we anticipated when he was asked to assist on his club team last year, but this year Tim will be moving on to a higher level and we will turn him over to a new club, a new team, and a new coach. We feel good about what we have seen from this new coach, but it still feels like an act of faith. Because like teachers, pastors, music instructors, and so many other adult mentors we bring into our kid's lives, coaches can have a dramatic impact for better or worse on the development of these young minds and spirits.
Synonyms for coach: guide, counsel, lead, mentor, shepherd, show, instruct
The best coaches are those who truly understand the power they wield and they do so consciously and carefully. Sports will not always feel fair but it should never feel unjust. Players may not always get what they want but they should always be treated with respect. And my personal belief is that when you are coaching kids below the college level, the development of the person should be as much of a priority as the development of the player. Actually, I believe that should be true at any level of sports, but that's just me.
So, this is my little tribute to our Coach. A thank you for the countless hours he has given not only to our own kids, but to the dozens and dozens and dozens of other kids he has tried to encourage and motivate along the way. I know it hasn't always been easy. I know there have been kids and parents who pushed you to the limits of your patience. I know you reach the end of every season exhausted and spent but also sad to see it end. I see how much you give and it is so very appreciated.
We call him Coach, because that's what he is. Always.