There’s a phenomenon that no one has ever provided a logical explanation for: coaching. What I’ll never understand is why people volunteer or accept relatively modest stipends to direct a bunch of young, independently minded beings and convince them to pull 1,000 different lengths of rope in the same direction.
There’s a phenomenon that no one has ever provided a logical explanation for: coaching.
Not so much pro or big-time college programs, I understand that –– it’s called money. I guess the wins and, for a special few, championships are nice little perks, but the ability to wallow in a bath tub full of $100 bills any time you choose is appealing to anyone who doesn’t live in a monastery.
What I’ll never understand is why people volunteer or accept relatively modest stipends to direct a bunch of young, independently minded beings and convince them to pull 1,000 different lengths of rope in the same direction. To me, it sounds like training turkeys to juggle torches.
What is more excruciating than instructing one child –– let alone a couple dozen of them –– to perform a certain task, only to watch said kid do something completely different? Maybe a marathon of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”? Outside of that I really couldn’t say.
I boil coaches down to three types:
1) The big hearts
At the youth levels, and we’re talking just-learned-to-walk-and-not-poop-their-pants young, I can kind of understand it. To see that light come on when a nose-picker learns something new is adorable, and gives the teacher a warm fuzzy feeling. In the awkward years of late grade and middle school, the point I lose interest entirely, it’s about preparing them for high school and there’s enough respect for authority to do something productive, even though they’re distracted by every passing member of the opposite sex – for some, that really never goes away.
Then there’s high school, when they’re old enough to formulate their own conclusions, but still too stupid to realize their world view isn’t the only one –– and nine times out of 10 is the wrong one. However, high school coaches are molding adults, giving them metaphoric life lessons between painted lines they’ll learn to apply in all facets of their future.
2) The ego trippers
With the tikes, coaches have at their disposal an army of ankle biters, but each having the attention span of a household pet. At the next level though, they become much more obedient to a coach’s every command –– even if they royally screw up, at least they’re giving it 110 percent.
In high school, it gets a bit trickier, since they’re on the doorstep of adulthood and believe they’re already learned everything they need to succeed on a field or as a CEO. For the ego-driven coach, this is the ultimate challenge –– to organize a group of acne-scarred know-it-alls into a cohesive unit in a quest for glorious victory.
3) The ex-jock/wannabe jock
You’d think these should be separate, but they’re really the same person – seeking athletic adventure to recapture the glory days on the field, or the fantasies in their heads. I have no such inclinations since all of my major accomplishments have taken place on video game systems or in the back seats of cars I’ve owned – and my parents’ cars. Sorry mom and dad.
In youth leagues, it gives the jocks (real or imagined) a chance to impart their wisdom on these would-be Dora the Explorer worshippers, hoping to relive past glories (real or imagined) by winning a league title, with an ice cream social afterward. In middle school, these days anyway, it’s being part of a program, telling everyone “I coached Billy J. NCAA Division I when he was 12.” Some hope to climb the ladder to varsity.
Once at the high school level, it’s all about winning the big game you played in (or cheered really loud at from the stands) when you were a teenager. Some of the ex-jock/wannabes share the above categories, others are in it just for the thrill of winning.
One thing any of these coaches have to endure are the parents. It didn’t used to be too bad, but it’s really a pain these days.
Not to lump all the parents in the same group here, but there are enough for it to have become problematic. They’ve become a new breed.
Today, missing one game makes you a bad parent. Not Hulking out on the coach if Johnny or Susie only sees five minutes of play means you don’t care. Telling your kid that the coach is just dumb and to never mind what he/she says is constructive criticism. In the last 50 years it went from parents let their kids play sports for something to do so mom pop can enjoy some quiet time (and a martini); to attending all the home games for some polite clapping; to traveling with the team, to Anchorage if necessary; to pushing the budding athlete to his/her absolute limit through offseason camps and borderline semi-pro leagues; to shrieking loudly enough to force a change in the coaching position, regardless of that coach’s track record.
It’s become so toxic, I can’t fathom why any sane person would want to be involved in it at any level. If you’re a coach these days, it must feel like walking into a pen of starved dogs wearing only beef underpants.
In the past six years alone, The Leader sports staff has seen a lot of good coaches get run out of programs because either the kids or parents didn’t like what he/she was doing. We’re not talking about forcing children to perform drills across the mouth of a volcano either, the coaches got sacked for using some of the most rudimentary techniques.
I’m thinking of adding a new category for coaches: The masochists, because it takes a special kind of lunatic to be a coach these days.
Chris Gill, sports writer for The Leader in New York, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.