The year after I graduated high school, I asked to volunteer as assistant coach for the home-school league in which I had played for the last four years. At that point in my life, I had played soccer every season from the time I was four years old and often played additionally in various church leagues, indoor leagues, etc. The thought of going a season without being out on the field was devastating to me. I told myself that at least as assistant coach, I could still run drills with the guys and often even participate in scrimmages at the end of practices. Looking back though, there was another reason I didn’t want to part ways with the team, and that is because my coach, Coach Andy, had changed my life, and there was something in me that wanted to learn how to mentor and lead like he did.
I learned a lot from shadowing Coach Andy that season. I learned that leading practices that address particular weaknesses requires more creative thinking than it would seem. I learned that it is one thing to say you care more about sportsmanship and teamwork from your players than you do about winning the game, but it is another thing entirely to actually mean those words, and the team can definitely tell the difference. I learned that it is hard to watch your team get decimated by a better team and see them give up on the field. I learned that it is even harder to rally them at halftime. I learned that real life is different than sports movies which are known for dramatic speeches that send the spirits soaring into the clouds and turn the game around. In real life, I’d say something like, “Just keep working together, you guys can do it, I believe in you,” which was OK advice. But Coach Andy would say something like, “I don’t care that you’re losing; I want to see you implementing those triangle passes you’ve been practicing,” and that advice was often enough to turn the tide, but even when it didn’t, the team was able to accept defeat with dignity.
One season of assistant coaching didn’t transform me into a world-renowned coach, obviously. But it did give me a greater appreciation for the good work that coaches do.
In reflection, I think there is something unique about Christian coaches. Christian coaches are also able to nurture the souls of the athletes under their leadership, often in profound ways, leading them in developing virtue on and off the field. A good coach wins the respect of the players, which provides that coach with opportunities to speak into their lives. A good coach also demonstrates Christ-like attributes like patience, love and slowness to anger, which serves as an admirable example the team can emulate. Even something as simple as knowing that your coach is praying for you can be just the encouragement needed to surmount challenges or deal with personal suffering.
Behind every good team is good coaches; that is one cliché from the movies that holds true. I think I took my coaches, whether in soccer or basketball, for granted for most of my growing-up years. But coaches matter, and good coaches can change our lives. We should thank our coaches more than we do; they sacrifice so much of their time for us and dedicate so much of their energy to us. We may never know the full extent to which our coaches have shaped our character, but it is never too soon to be grateful for the good work that coaches do or have done.