by Ryan Krzykowski

We have mentioned InSideOut Coaching by Joe Ehrmann often over the past five years.  In chapter 8, titled “Contact, Communicate, Connect”, Joe begins by telling the story of Coach Tom Pecore.  Coach Pecore served at a high school near Oklahoma City, coaching soccer.  InSideOut walks us through the tragedy of a player at the school who took his own life in 2003, as he struggled to deal with rehabbing an injury, and who knows what else in his life.  For his part, Coach Pecore recognized that he tended toward “transactional” coaching, usually not seeking to engage players at a level that went beyond their sport.  He made significant adjustments to his coaching philosophy and methodology, and worked to reshape his soccer program into a “transformational” one.  While nothing was going to bring back his player, Coach Pecore sought to build something that would “honor the young man.”

Reading this story, it is intense and one can imagine the emotion and pain involved.  At the same time, it’s a story from fourteen years ago that happened hundreds of miles from here.  Not that the distance makes it less significant, but it does make it less personal.  A couple weeks ago, I received a string of 22 texts from a KC-based basketball coach that hit much closer to home.

When my phone first blew up, I thought my friend’s messaging had been hacked, as text after text came through.  I quickly and sadly realized that this was no hack, but rather an emotional pouring out from someone in real pain.  The words were directed to other coaches in their program, and it was clear these words needed to be shared beyond that audience.  These words are powerful.

With my friend’s permission, I share this with you.  The content has been scrubbed to keep it anonymous, and some of the points about the irrelevance of sports must be taken in context.  It’s easy to imagine how the intensity of the situation makes a sport feel meaningless.  With all that said, here is what he shared:

I wanted to share some thoughts that were on my heart over the weekend.  This kid was on our team two summers ago.  He is a talented two-sport athlete with a great personality, liked by many.  On Friday he hanged himself at his home. 

We are all competitive.  We have watchful eyes that judge every closeout, missed box-out and contested jump shot.  Our attitudes and smile to frown ratio are often dictated by the numbers on the scoreboard.  It’s so shortsighted and I’m the king of it.  It’s immature even if it only lasts for an hour.  

Today’s kids are growing up in a world so different than what we know.  On social media, we see all the ‘highlights’ of life.  The parties, good times, vacations, trophies and successes.  No one posts a picture of themselves sitting alone in their room questioning their self worth.  No one posts pictures of themselves wandering their hallways at schools yearning for real relationships.  Teenage years are being wasted while personal value is judged by the number of thumb taps on their Instagram posts.

I was angered this weekend by the way other coaches spoke to their kids after games.  Kids received no instruction, no support or no encouragement while running up and down the court only to be dogcussed to death afterwards in the hallways because they weren’t “good, tough or smart enough”.  And, if I had to guess, most were like our guy who came from a fatherless home.  It’s a tragedy that so many grown men posing as coaches use words to destroy and tear down a generation that needs to be loved, mentored and shown what it is to be a “real man”.  

My favorite part of our club is that we are different.  Not just borderline different, but not even close to others.  Our philosophies are different, but more importantly our purpose is different.  Kids want sports but they NEED real relationships.  They need to be loved.  They need to be pushed.  They need to be hugged.  They need to hear “I love you”.  Many of you would be the first person our kids would call in a time of crisis.  If we did this only for a picture of a trophy that we can post, we would be a FRAUD.  Beginning with our original one team, sports wasn’t the end all, be all.  The game was USED as a way to improve lives.  To develop necessary habits.  It’s about changing the trajectory of an entire family for generations to come.  

Coaching is a privilege and our words hold tremendous power.  They can either tear down or build up.  Long after they are spoken, misguided words can eat away at a young man and stick with him for years.  We all know that coaching here is not a Friday-Sunday investment.  It’s Sunday to Sunday year round.  Kids need random phone calls of encouragement.  Kids need a personal text mentioning their name and their specific value.  As I deleted our former player’s number from my phone yesterday, I felt shame for all the wasted time I spent watching an NBA game or scrolling through Twitter.  A simple phone call.  A 10 second text.  Would it have changed anything?  I don’t know.  I will never know.  I regret not trying though.  

This tragedy has me committed to being more intentional on checking on our kids.  Many come from brokenness and are consumed with self-doubt.  I’m going to seek out opportunities to let them know they are special.  Their worth comes from being PEOPLE.  Not athletes.  What team they play on is IRRELEVANT.  If they play in college is IRRELEVANT.  If they make shots is IRRELEVANT.  

We can and should still challenge kids, push kids and hold them accountable.  We must also LOVE kids.  Every day.  All of them.  Thanks for being part of our family and LOVING our kids.  Constantly.