The Great Ones…
Growing up, my thing was athletics. From the age of five through twenty-five, I was almost always “in-season.” For better or worse, my best efforts were reserved for workouts, practices, and games. As with every athlete, I eventually reached the pinnacle to which my abilities and work ethic could take me. Fortunately, I maintained my grades along the way and learned a drive for success to fall back on when my athletic life ended.
When you play as many sports as I did, you get to experience a wide range of coaches. Some good, some bad, and many in between. Every once in a while, though, you get to experience some great ones.
Great coaches are not always your friend, except when they are. They know when to push and they know when to pull. At one time or another, often through frustration, self-doubt, or shear exhaustion, you probably want to punch them in the throat. But you never would.
They command respect.
Sometimes they yell. Actually, they tend to yell a lot. Most of it good. Some of it bad. The good ones know to yell more “attaboys” than they do “gosh darn its.” In my experience, rarely did they cuss. Except for effect. And when they did, it was quite effective.
All the great coaches I’ve known are organized. Everything is planned. Variables that can be controlled are controlled. Variables that cannot be controlled are anticipated. Time and effort are managed and never wasted. Expectations are set, measured, and benchmarked. Accountability is not negotiable. Feedback is constant. Whether you like it or not.
The great ones have the ability to make a good player better and a great team legendary. They can also make a bad team learn about life. They have the ability to speak with a glance and to show their disapproval or pride with a crooked smile. They can bust your balls after a stupid play and then make you laugh about it in the film room the next day. Great coaches, like great fathers, make their players want to be better and to do better. They are true leaders in every sense.
Sometimes I think of my life as a giant jigsaw puzzle. Every piece is something that happened in my life that makes me the man I am today. Those pieces have been placed through the years by family, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Day by day, they are still being placed. When I look back, some of the most important pieces (the most important lessons) came from great coaches that taught me a lot more than how to throw a football or swing a bat.
It’s been twenty years or so since I last played a “real” game of any sort. Exactly twenty-five years since I last put on a helmet with a face-mask. Today, I got a text that we lost one of the great coaches I once had. The hollow feeling in my gut was expected. Even though I hadn’t seen him for years, he made an impact on my entire life. I was one of many former players today who could still seem him hunched over on the sidelines, headset on, hands on his knees, with a look of determination as if he was about to make that next tackle.
Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to see these words in print. I do have faith that he’s out there somewhere. That he knows, that he feels the impact he had on the lives of so many of the men and women that he once coached.
And to the other great coaches that I had and continue to have to this day…I can only hope that we meet again and that I can give thanks. If not, perhaps this will make the rounds on the internet or Facebook or somewhere and that you all will read this and smile that crooked smile of approval. There are too many of you to list, but you’ll know who you are if you stumble upon this. From me and the hundreds of your former players, thank you.
Thank you for adding so many pieces to our puzzles and for making us the men and women we are today.
God speed, Coach. You are already missed.
-You can send questions or comments to Dr. Parrish at [email protected]