In chapter 8 of his book InSideOut Coaching, Joe Ehrmann tells the story of Coach Tom Pecore, an Oklahoma high school soccer coach. Frustrated by a challenging day on the job, Coach Pecore has a snippy encounter with an injured player prior to practice:
He never made eye contact with the young man. Instead, he engaged in a conversation with the leg — a critical piece of his soccer team’s success. “How is it today?” Tom asked.
“Better,” the young man said.
“Get down to the trainer a half hour before practice.”
Those were the last words Tom ever spoke to his athlete. A few hours later the young man went home and shot himself.
That’s a hard story to read, and although it happened some 13 years ago, I’m guessing Coach Pecore thinks of that exchange often. The point Ehrmann makes in the chapter, entitled “Contact, Communicate, Connect” is that as coaches, we have a nearly unparalleled opportunity to do just that, contact, communicate and connect. Obviously the young man in this story was desperately in need. It seems plausible that his coach could have helped things end differently; he certainly was in a position to. The question I ask myself is, as a coach, am I willing/able to put away self and wholly commit to the health and growth of young people, even on the days that are most challenging for me personally? Am I willing to pause and make a connection? Am I able to listen empathetically when necessary?
Like just about everything, contacting, communicating and connecting is easier said than done and we aren’t going to do it perfectly. Also, I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom, like if we miss a chance to connect with an athlete it’s a life and death situation. 99.9% of the time it isn’t, and we do get another chance tomorrow. But regardless, a missed chance to connect is something to correct, not simply gloss over. Bill Severns writes, “As coaches, we have to remember that we are handling diamonds.” These young people are so incredibly valuable and deserve to be loved and listened to. As we head into a new school year and sports seasons, let’s be in the habit of listening and caring. Even one transformational coach will change the world. Working together, we can all be world changers.
On July 27th, one of our friends in the KC area coaching community suffered an unthinkable family tragedy, as her 1 year old little girl lost her life in a terrible accident. Would you please visit the Rodden family’s Go Fund Me page and consider making a gift?