“Poet, I beseech thee by that God whom though knowest not: in order that I may escape this ill and worse, lead me where thou now has said, so that I may see the Gate of St. Peter, and those whom thou makest so sad.
Then he moved; and I kept on behind him.”
Dante, The Divine Comedy. Canto I – Inferno. ~1321
Anyone who has ever participated in any kind of sporting activity can tell you that the position of a coach is not an easy one to fulfill. Whether a parent, dedicated community member, friend, or simply an enthusiast of the sport, the coach plays a fundamental role the development of the athlete/team, and in the growth of the sport, community, etc. As we continue to evolve in our respective sports, we may part ways with certain coaches, have friction with others, adore certain techniques, succeed under certain personalities, or break under others. Any athlete will tell you that there are countless methods of coaching, and everyone is an ‘expert’ on what works best for ‘ultimate’ success. But do we always/really appreciate how much work, dedication, pain, understanding, and many other small yet essential details go into coaching? I’m not even talking about coaching greats the likes of Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins in regular season and 223 in Stanley Cup Playoffs), Don Shula (347-173-6 record in the NFL), Sir Alex Ferguson (any fan of The Red Devils will tell you how important the manager (coach) is)) or William Jay “Bill” Bowerman. I’m talking about your coach, the one who you just got off the phone with because your toe hurts after this mornings set of intervals, the one who drove halfway across the city last week to sit in on a federation meeting to make sure you were going to be able to run at provincials, the one who sits at home on his spare time and comes up with ways to make you faster, stronger, better, and more likely to win. The job of a coach is not an easy one – and unfortunately it often goes unremarked. It’s too easy to forget whom it is at the base that makes it all possible.
Athletes often talk about themselves – their pb’s, their injuries, their workouts, their goals, etc. This isn’t a bad thing. A certain level of self-involvement is important to surpass and achieve your goals. In the end, ‘me’ is most probably the main contributor to get me across the line faster than the last time. But how often are we conscious of our coach as a living/breathing person? How often do we ask our coaches about their day, how there toe is feeling, or simply what is going through their mind? Who coaches the coach? Wait…no…who cares about the coach? We do. Well, we should. I’ve often had this conversation with coaches (across different sports) about the ‘role’ of a good coach. Often times the words ‘facilitator’ are uttered along with a slew of other terms, which suggest that coaches are present to guide through the process. Guide. Do we have responsibilities in this relationship? A coach (paid on unpaid) takes chunks out of his/her time to tell me to go faster, to break me to pieces in order to build me back up. Could it be more draining – more physically and psychologically demanding – to be the person who has to be constantly working to prevent things from appearing negative or falling apart? Coach’s essentially look to have their athletes succeed (what ever that may mean for the athlete), and to do this they have to fight a series of factors (some out of their control). In anticipating and reacting to these unforeseeable futures the coach often goes out of his/her way in order to make things work – to adapt to the athlete’s present needs. The coach is always working on this uneven ground – enjoying the current moment but thinking ahead to the next move. If you have a good workout, he/she listens to you gloat while preparing for the eventual day where things won’t go as smoothly. If you have a bad workout, he/she has to endure your complaining and glumness, all the while trying to boost your morale and keep you focused on the goal. The coach is not only a professional and emotional crutch to rely on, but he/she also has to be apt in understanding and bringing the athlete to the right frame of mind. There’s no hiding that athletes can be like children sometimes – and playing psychological games in order to keep us focused can be extremely draining and difficult.
I realize that nothing that I have said is revolutionary. We all – somewhere inside us – know this about our coaches. We respect them for it, and sometimes outright love them because of it. In a sport like running, the coach isn’t exposed behind the bench. They’re somewhere at the start line – in between getting splits – and at the end congratulating you and preparing the next workout. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t forget how important these people are. I’ve had numerous coaches in my life – and each one of them has left me with memorable experiences and advice. They do it because they love the game. Rarely does it pay financially to be a coach. The payment comes in the form of athletes who succeed and clubs/communities that grow. Coaches bring people to happiness – they make you and I do what we love to do – they stick by you in sickness and in health – they give their all to see you and I reach our goals.