My induction into a former high school’s athletic hall of fame has me flitting hither and yon over memories from forty-plus years of teaching and coaching. For some reason, I don’t feel very worthy of the accolades.
It was great to see former players now conquering their own lives and being successful by any standard applied. Former students, coaching peers, and parents stopping by and pumping my hand or hugging my neck. It wasn’t great, it was wonderful.
Still, I wonder in the back of my head, “Why?” “How?” “Am I a fraud?” Sometimes things were too easy…except when they weren’t.
Dozens have extended congratulations and well wishes on social media and email. Despite my pride and delight…I don’t feel worthy.
The festivities were poignant, my plaque sitting alongside Tim Bright’s, a player who passed too soon due to colon cancer. A player who was, along with hundreds of others, responsible for my success. I wonder what he might have accomplished had he not left us. His family is so dedicated to his memory. His charity is still doing great things for those who suffered as he did.
My wife…a former coach herself and far superior in my estimation. As always, standing by my side. Always supportive, always ready with a meaningful critique of the last game’s outcome. Greatest supporter and greatest critic. “Just let them play and quit bunting so much.” “Why did you do….” I do miss her voice distinguishable from anywhere in a stadium no matter how large or loud the crowd was. “Come on Coach, run your other play!” I am so lucky and so unworthy.
As I look back, it seemed too easy. I know I’m looking through the sands of time and the time is becoming a sandstorm. Still, great assistant coaches, great players, and great parents made my successes. I just walked around being me.
I’ve heard so many horror stories that I never experienced. There were just a few bad apples, just a few obstacles…maybe they weren’t bad apples…maybe I just did find the key to unlock their potential. I do feel like the king of frauds.
There were laughs and tears but the tears were minimal. When we gather and exclaim, “Do you remember…?”, the question is always about the laughs. It is easy to remember the good times.
Through the magnifying glass of retrospection, even the bad seasons were good. Seasons we knew we were bad but managed to get better. Sometimes a seven-win season could be as rewarding as a state championship season. Seasons you really didn’t know how good or bad you were. Seasons you just put in the work that didn’t seem like work and hoped for the best. I believe I always received the best they had. I hope they received mine.
When I first began my coaching journey, I was terrible. Some might say, “Nothing ever changed.” It is a fact I’m comfortable with because I believe I grew despite feeling apologetic to those early teams.
I grew and turned a corner of sorts after a bitter loss. I lamented to the offending coach. “I don’t know what to do.” His answer was, “You love them. Remember, you’re not coaching football, you’re coaching kids. Win or lose you love them.” I tried to apply his nugget through the rest of my career.
Names and faces blur over time but I can honestly and unapologetically say, “I loved them.” I didn’t coach football, soccer or baseball, I coached kids. Maybe I’m not as big a fraud as I believe.
It has been three years since I last stalked a sideline or a dugout. I honestly haven’t missed the practices or the games. Every time I think I might return to a grassy field my body does something to remind me of the beating it has taken over the years and those feelings pass.
What I miss is the comradery. I miss the interactions with my players, the coaches and the opponents staring back at me from the opposing dugout or sideline. Those were good times and I miss them.
I still feel like a fraud. It was too much fun, it was too easy. Great players make for good coaches. I had a cornucopia of great players. Thanks for the memories guys, thanks for the effort, thanks for my successes. Thanks for letting me be me and letting me be a part of your lives.
Don Miller writes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
The featured image was lifted from https://eic.rsc.org/feature/coaching-for-success/3010068.article.
The whistle is the symbol of the coaching profession. I find it interesting that I rarely used one.