Monday, April 21, 2014

#40 Coach for Life

“The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves”  --Joseph Campbell

I recently received a wedding invitation and, then a few days later, a request for a letter of recommendation from two of my 5% (see Gift of Thanks).  I was truly honored to hear from both of them for the obvious reasons and for many of the not so obvious.  

Both young men were two very important recruits for me at the time they committed to my program.   The one who is getting married was one of the top shooters in the city when he graduated, and it was a big coup for me to get him at our school.  He was a genuine difference-maker that most schools in the area would have loved to have had on their roster.

The other was my first big recruit from a distance far enough away that it was relatively unheard of for our University to have someone choose us from such a distance.  There was simply no other reason for a talented kid from 1500 miles away to come to Missouri outside of the fact that he felt our program was the right fit for him.

Both kids finished their respective careers with injuries that derailed the possibility of reaching their ultimate potential.  Nevertheless, one ended up having games that were epic in regard to the history of the great games produced in the program and the other was a significant part of a National Tournament team and two-year Captain who ended up playing professionally overseas.  I am very happy that both boys had at least the opportunity to showcase their great skill and know there was a time when they were the best they could be.

When I recruited them both, I told them (like I do every young man or woman I recruit) that I wanted them to choose our school for the right reasons and not just for me.  I also wanted them to know that I didn't just want to be their coach for a year or four years, I wanted to be a part of their lives for as long as they wanted me and/or needed me.  No questions asked.  Once they chose to be a part of my family, my support would always be there through thick and thin...even if that meant I didn't hear from them for 10 years at a time. 

For both young men, they left my program with a broken relationship with me.  I didn't want it that way, but I have made it a point for 20 years to teach and coach with the same integrity of raising my children.  I will always love them, but sometimes the most important thing we do as a parent or a coach is to be honest when we know that honesty will hurt.  For both boys, the honesty hurt more than I expected it to, and I don't think either truly understood that it hurt me more to say the words than for them to hear it.  Whether I was right or wrong, I told them the truth from my perspective.

Therefore lies the meaning behind the title of today's blog.  It really has multiple meanings.  For me, the two most significant meanings of the phrase "Coach for Life" are:

1.  I see my job as a never-ending presence in my players' lives.  My services may lie dormant for years at a time or serve only from an observer's perspective, but it is my responsibility to be ready when those services are needed matter the time between "appointments."  [This blog is very much an opportunity to fill in the blanks in between.]

2.  The other is simply a rephrasing of the same words into "The Life Coach".  It is imperative to me that the lessons I teach are not just to be able to make a basket more consistently but to make sure the value of the discipline and work ethic that goes into learning to be a consistent shooter translates into learning to be a better person, spouse, parent, employee, and for many of my players, a better "Coach for Life".

So, the question I have for all of you coaches who read my words (sorry for the LONG delay between blogs, by the way), are you coaching your kids for life or for the next win?  And trust me, I know the harsh realities of those choices.

Many might say that I put my players' life needs ahead of winning too often and that I could have found better ways to do both.  Those people are probably more right than I want to admit.  Unfortunately, regrets are a real waste of time for me, and I know I can't go back in time to fix the decisions and choices I made years ago.  I can only live in the present and take advantage of every opportunity I am given to coach again.

Coach Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary