The Process of Purpose

by Ryan Krzykowski

I sat in my chair, staring at the page.  Why do I coach?  That was the question I was asked to ponder at Joe Erhmann’s InSideOut Coaching workshop in 2013.  Certainly, I had a general idea as to my reasons for coaching.  I’d been involved with sports from the time I could walk, oftentimes not caring about much else in my life.  Sports were what mattered to me most, and coaching was a natural way for me to engage in my number one passion, and share it with a younger generation. 

As a very young coach, I had been hired onto a staff whose collective goal was to “do what God wants us to do”, and “use our sport as a tool to change lives”.  While these were absolutely worthy pursuits, I had never really drilled down into those ideas at a personal level.  Why did I coach?  How could I narrow all that down to a single sentence?

As I initially worked through the process of defining my coaching purpose, a few formative experiences and ideas flooded my mind.  The first of these wasn’t a typical coaching lesson — it happened with my own son in our own backyard.  From the time he could talk, my oldest son (now 17) would beg me to play baseball with him.  When Robbie was small, we lived in Naples, Florida and in that mild climate we were playing ball outside some 300 days per year.  For a sports addicted Dad, it was like heaven.

By the time Robbie turned 8, spending all that time playing with me, he had begun to show some talent as a little ballplayer.  The summer before he started 3rd grade, we moved from Florida to Olathe, Kansas, and that first fall we signed Robbie up to play on a baseball team.  I figured it was the perfect way for him to feel at home in our new surroundings.  That same fall, I began to develop the idea that it was time for Robbie’s development as an athlete to advance to the next level.  I distinctly remember the time I decided that our daily game of catch was going to transform into a “lesson”, in which we were going to do some retooling of his throwing mechanics.  What could be wrong with that?  This kid loves to play, wants to get better, and I knew how to coach.  That was my thought process.

Long story short, on that afternoon when I stopped playing with my son and began “coaching” him, I systematically began sucking the joy out of his baseball experience.  Highlighted by my harsh, critical language, the thing my son loved to do most in the world began to feel like a job.  What eight year old wants to be told over and over again that he isn’t doing it right?  It’s not that as coaches (or parents) that we ought to ignore errors or mistakes that should be improved upon, it’s just that small children (and eight year olds are small children) need to simply enjoy playing the game long enough to develop the kind of mental toughness and tenacity that will help them become the type of athlete who is willing to put in the practice to reach their potential.  That doesn’t happen very often by age eight.

Bottom line, as a Dad, I kind of blew it.  I took the thing my son loved to do most in the whole world and helped make it something he didn’t really feel like doing anymore.  Coaching doesn’t get much worse than that.  As a result, the first goal I have as a coach is to foster a love for playing the sport.

As I thought more about helping young people grow in their love for playing the sport, I was taken back to my reasons for playing sports when I was young.  I’m sure at first I played mostly for the joy of simply playing, but I also realized that by middle school, and definitely high school, I was largely playing because I craved the attention I received when I played well.  I had seen enough TV shows and movies to know that the hotshot athletes in high school were the coolest guys who got to date the cutest girls.  That sounded pretty good to me, and so while I know that I enjoyed playing, during my high school years I always had one eye checking to see who was paying attention to me.

Here I was, playing team sports, and honestly, what I cared about was me.  At practices, 99% of my thoughts were about just me.  On the rare occasion when my thoughts turned to another person, it was almost always because that person had done something to affect me.  I knew how to pretend to be a great teammate, but I really wasn’t one.  I was there for myself.

I don’t blame my coaches for my selfishness — that’s all on me.  At the same time, those coaches had an opportunity to show me something more, and for the most part, they missed that opportunity.  That became abundantly clear one day when I was a few years into my first coaching job.  It was August, and we were leading a workout in the brutal Florida heat.  The coaches I had played under would have been yelling to keep pushing and quit feeling sorry for ourselves.  But one of the coaches on our staff played it differently.  As our players began to tire, my colleague decided to seize a teachable moment.  He calmly walked over to a kid who was struggling and told him, “I know you’re tired.  So is everybody else.  When you get tired, remember that your teammate is too and remind him that you’re in this together.”

It was the simplest thing: teaching a young man to encourage others in that situation is a win-win.  It enables him to lift someone else up, while taking the focus off of himself.  It is essentially teaching him to love.  That idea became the second piece of my coaching purpose — a love for others.

As I pieced together the first draft of my Coaching Purpose Statement, I had this:
“I coach to help young people develop a love for their sport and for others…”, and I just needed a phrase to tie it all together.  In reading InSideOut Coaching, I had come across Joe Ehrmann’s purpose statement: “I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good.”  If that’s not Joe’s statement exactly, it’s darn close, and I latched onto that last phrase, “change the world for good” and decided to hijack it into my own stated purpose.

“I coach to help young people develop a love for their sport and for others that will steer them toward becoming someone who will change the world for good.”

That’s how it happened for me, as I worked through my own experiences, successes and regrets, I was able to put something on paper that has become central to not only how I coach sports, but who I am as a man.  I want to help people experience joy.  I want to help people grow in their awareness of and capacity to love others.  And I want to make a difference by helping others make a difference, changing our world for good.