When you're with the same group of people from August through November, the heat, rain, cold, early mornings and late nights tend to bring you closer together.
More than that though, it's the pulse of the team, the bond that's formed between players and the families, that's created by something other than the game...it's developed and generated by the coach.
We've all known good coaches...and bad. The ones that encourage a team to excel and the ones who discourage to the point of defeat.
What makes a good coach though? The kind that ignites a player and a team?
I believe there are four primary elements, the first two being, awareness and attitude.
Awareness in the fact that even though there might be one team, there are several facets that comprise it. There are strong players, timid, focused...afraid. So many different personalities exist, it's impossible to treat them all as one. We've seen this first hand.
Of our three boys, our youngest would power through a wall if you'd let him. He's no bigger than a minute, with a fight that would make your head spin. Our middle, has a pure love for the game. You can see him smile from ear to ear on the field, even through his helmet. Our oldest son is as big as a house, and yet he's a gentle giant. We've urged him to play sports, even though he didn't want to. He'd rather read or draw than participate in athletics.
Finally deciding to stop pushing, this year when we signed the two younger boys up, we didn't register him.
During practices for his brothers though, a funny thing happened. He saw his favorite coach from last year, then wanted to play.
Why? This coach has played professional football for the Steelers and Panthers and looks like he could kill you, but like our son, he too, is a gentle giant.
Oh, he yells and pushes the team, don't get me wrong...but he does it in a way that makes them feel strong and sure about themselves...as opposed to beaten down and dejected.
As soon as I saw my son's eyes, I knew he felt it, too. I was close enough to the sidelines to hear what was being said to him, even though the coach didn't know I was listening.
Taking our son's helmet, he assured him before putting him in, "I've got you. I'll always have your back."
He was aware of how our son felt and knew exactly what to say. This awareness helped push our son through his fear to feel proud of himself in the end.
Another characteristic of a good coach, is their attitude. This is key. It's easy to have a good attitude when you're winning. The true test though, is when you're not.
The coach's attitude sets the stage for the rest of the team. It can be broken down into simple terms of fight or flight, really. When it's the end of the game and defeat is inevitable, how does the coach handle it? Does he throw in the towel in a rant, or does he stay strong until the final second?
And what about after the game?
Again, it's easy to be a great coach following a victory, but what about a loss? Does he beat the team down? Tell them everything they did wrong?
In years past, I've literally seen a coach grab a nine year old by the facemask screaming, "We lost that game because of you".
We lost last night, then the coach pulled the whole team together. Through the cheers and claps from across the field of the celebrating opposing team, our players and families gathered to hear what he had to say. Instead of speeches of defeat and dejection, he discussed how the boys had grown together over the season. How they had developed a bond through good and bad and how the most important thing to take away from the season was the quality of character and the strength of how they would become as future men.
He could've said a thousand different things after that game. He instead, explained to the team how it's always easier in life to preach from the mountains, however many times you'll find, you'll have to preach from the valleys. Your attitude, faith and strength will determine if you're able to do that. That night, the team walked away with their heads held a little higher.
Passion for the game and compassion for the players is paramount. I've gone on about the boys and their coaches, but it also held true for our daughter. She cheered for the first time, and her coach couldn't have been more amazing. The compassion she showed for "her girls" as she called them, was nothing less than remarkable. The hours and dedication she spent on and off the field were unparalleled, and the girls sensed every bit of it. Even a child can tell when their coach is genuine at heart.