From the Coach’s Corner: Lessons I Have Learned Jun 8, 2014
By Tom Curry
In the past two years I have written about what sports can do for kids as they grow and mature. The process of helping kids through some difficult times and formative years is a challenge that we all know and have ideas about whether a parent, coach or administrator. This month, I would like to change gears and talk about what I have learned in my years of coaching kids and working with parents. It never ceases to amaze me what some of the lessons about life and sports have come to me as I go through each day and season.
Others have brains too…legendary coach John Wooden said this back in his days coaching and it was a lesson that a young basketball coach learned from other coaches and his players. One of the things that some young coaches believe is that they are going to reinvent the game and change the sport. I thought that way when I started out. I knew it all and soon discovered that I had a lot to learn…about the game and about coaching kids. The first lesson was the hardest and probably the best one I would learn and take with me forever. “It’s just a game,” was told to me over and over by a legendary coach who was to become a friend and mentor. He saw that, sometimes, I took things a little too seriously and forgot that these were kids that had a lot of things going on in their lives. It was about them and their ability to take something away from the game, far more important than winning. He taught me to watch and listen more than speak. It was an invaluable lesson that I still carry with me today. The ability to listen and actually let someone finish what they are saying has given me some of the best insight and ideas that I could have. It’s a lesson that I have re-learned a number of times. One young opposing coach taught me that lesson during a game that I will never forget. It was his first year and we were a really good team while his team was struggling, but capable for sure. As the game went on into the final minute, I figured that somehow I would be able to out-coach him down the stretch and was more than a little overconfident. He turned the tables on me using my own play to beat us. I could only laugh after the game because this 24-year-old rookie had outsmarted and out-coached me. Lesson learned that night for sure…
Hard work often beats talent that doesn’t work hard…I am constantly amazed by athletes and coaches who just outwork more talented individuals. They seemingly never give up and always put in the extra effort that more talented people just don’t put in. More often than not, when they meet, the hard working athlete prevails. He or she just doesn’t understand the word quit. The hardest working player I ever had was in my first few years of coaching. This player just outworked everyone on the team. He was not the most gifted basketball player. But he was always the first at practice, the last one to leave and just outworked everyone else on the team. He went on to college and then to a great job in his chosen field. Three years ago I heard from him and was shocked to learn that he had cancer. When we spoke I reminded him of his effort that he had given so many years ago and that beating this would require even more of an effort than any basketball practice or game. His reply was that he fully intended to beat it and that he needed to be reminded of that which had made him overachieve when he was young. He ended up beating cancer and has been cancer free for two years.
People don’t care about how much you know, but they do remember how much you care… The coach I remember in high school I never got to play for. He was the head football coach and Spanish teacher at our high school. My father had passed away at a young age and I had this coach for Spanish. His encouragement and support of me at that difficult time of my life is something I never forgot and was probably the main reason I got into coaching. Now he wasn’t the greatest Spanish teacher. But every kid he came in contact with loved and respected him because he took an interest in who you were, what you were doing and how he could help you. He went on to be a highly successful college coach and never changed his ways in how he approached coaching and his players. Simply stated…he cared!
Kids watch and listen more than you think…I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this month. Something that occurred in the past month gave me the idea for this column. A few weeks ago, I happened to run in to a man who had played for me in the 70’s. He told me something I had said to him verbatim those many years ago and, as I was writing this article, it suddenly dawned on me that I should finish with this thought. Those of you that do coach, whether volunteer or paid, will be remembered for how you conducted yourself, what you said and how you made each kid feel. Now, not every kid who played for me may feel like this man did. But I must admit that I was humbled and proud that he had remembered what I had told him about his ability to compete. He was a reserve player on a good team and while he didn’t play an awful lot, he said he got more out of that experience than anything he had ever done. He learned what it took to compete and it was a lesson that he took quite seriously. I told him that “you may not be the best player, but you will be a success in life because you understand what you need to do to compete!” Now a successful businessman, he also volunteers as an assistant coach at his local high school. I was reminded that night that what we say to a kid can be the start of something good or, if said wrong, something that could be the start of a poor pattern. I hope we as parents, coaches and adults can and will make a difference in their lives—and it starts with remembering and knowing they are watching and listening!