Feb 28, 2012

Put Me In, Coach!

A year ago at the end-of-season wrestling banquet my youngest son was honored as “best newcomer”.  This year, he qualified for the State wrestling tournament.  I want to show you a video of Gideon.  It will surprise you… it’s doesn’t have a moment of wrestling action it.  This video holds the secret of how a kid goes from buying his first pair of wrestling shoes to being one of the sixteen best 170lb wrestlers in his state.  Just watch – it’s only 40 seconds – and I’ll explain everything afterwards.

The video shows Olathe Northwest assistant coach Mike McLaughlin talking to my son after his second loss in the double elimination tournament – he was done at State.  What do you see?  Do you see a sore loser?  Maybe a soul-crushed athlete?  Do you see a coach blowing his stack over poor performance?  There was plenty of that at State, PLENTY!  But none of that here.  Let me tell you what I see.

I see an enthusiastic, positive coach and I see a young athlete soaking up that coaching.  I have to tell you, filming this scene may well have been my proudest moments as a dad – people love coaching my son!

This wrestling season, in lulls between action on the mats, I read Carey Casey’s Championship Fathering which reveals the three aspects of what the National Center for Fathering believes makes great dads – loving, coaching, modeling.  As the season wrapped up and my son attempted his championship run, I realized that coaching only works if the “target” is coachable.

I like Casey’s “coaching” concept.  (I hope you’ll check out the book.)  It is said that “practice makes perfect” and dads run the practices, preparing our children for successful engagement in the world.  As I watched my son receive encouragement from Coach Mac, I reflected on what I’ve tried to do on the home front to raise children who value coaching. 

I’m engaged in my children’s lives (maybe more than they’d like sometimes).  I know what their world looks like and I make a point to talk to them about it.  After competitions and even activities at school and church, I ask for them to tell me how they think it went.  I offer both encouragement and constructive criticism – for them personally and about the group.  I’ve also learned to give them time to chill out before talking.  It’s not always helpful to talk to a child about what they did, right or wrong, before they have time to realize it themselves.

When coaches and teachers are involved, I always ask my children to talk to me about what the instructor said.  I learn the quality of guidance they’re getting and I get to reinforce my children’s learning.

I try very hard to help my sons build a “big picture” view of the world and of their engagement in it.  Wrestling matches come and go.  Presentations at school come and go.  Dates with pretty young girls come and go.  As dad, my job is to help my children understand their gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses, and how to maximize all the good things about who they are.  Some of the best coaching I’ve done comes in the off-season.  Let me explain. 

I think Coach Mac got a lot of
good coaching along life’s
way, too.
  Here, between matches,
Mac sits with his dad, Tom,
who carefully watches entire
tournaments, sizing up the
competition, and making notes
about our boys.
  Good stuff.
In Gideon’s first year of wrestling, he was often a downright bad sport.  He’d suffer a loss, storm off the mat, and toss his head gear.  At the time I told him to knock it off, but I also spent a lot of time in the off-season talking about maintaining his cool, that competition is a test of his skill at the moment, not a referendum on his humanity.  This year he’s taken his beatings with greater dignity and sportsmanship… and I’m as proud of him in his losses as his victories. 

I’ve also learned to actually tell my children, “I’m proud of you.”  I seriously could care less if they win or lose.  My pride is anchored in their effort and character.

Last word.  As I began cobbling this post together, it dawned on me that being coachable goes a long way past the gymnasium.  My oldest two sons are making their way into the workaday world.  They are very blessed to have mentors (coaches for grownups) who are helping them grow from being “newcomers” to being top level contributors in their fields.  I see a lot of coaching transference from preschool soccer to running a business.  I’m happy to say that my boys are still listening with open ears to people who want to help them grow and excel.  I’m proud of them.

Clark H Smith