What is a coach? We are teachers. Educators. We have the same obligations as all teachers, except we probably have more influence over young people than anybody but their families. And, in a lot of cases, more than their families. Joe Paterno
I am proud to say that I have been a coach (and teacher) here in Texas for 26 years. It is a job that I have loved and hated at the same time for each and every one of those 26 years. Like many, I started out at the middle school level learning the basics, everything from planning for a game, washing uniforms, and helping the same kid put the knee pads in his pants for the eighth week in a row. I have won games and lost them. I have had undefeated seasons, as well as winless ones. I have seen scrubs become stars and vice-versa. I have seen the young men and women under my tutelage become soldiers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, and yes, coaches. Most of all, I have come to see and appreciate the awesome power of influence that coaches have to shape and influence the athletes and students that we are charged with.
None of this was more evident than on November 5, 2016, when 40 of my swimmers joined my family and me for the Out of the Darkness Walk at the Woodlands Waterway. The Out of the Darkness Walk is an annual event held in cities across the country to promote and educate people about suicide awareness and prevention. Not only did they raise funds and participate in the walk, but they listened to speakers and others tell their stories, visited with exhibitors, and learned how they could help in their own community.
Before school began, it had been decided by head coach Rachel Banes and I that our swimmers would take part in some kind of community service project. Not only would it serve as team building, but provide our kids with an insight into the lives of others, especially outside the bubble of The Woodlands. As far as which project we would undertake, that decision was easy.
On October 8, 2014, my 13 year old son Peyton came home to his mother's house and hung himself. Despite the heroic efforts of first responders, and the doctor's and nurses at Dell children's Medical Center in Austin, he passed away from his injuries on October 13, 2014. In the days, weeks and months that followed, there was an outpouring of support from the coaching staff. Meals were prepared, collections were taken, a Go Fund Me page started, and many made the 300 mile round trip from Conroe to Round Rock to attend his funeral.
After his death, I started #Products4Peyton to collect toiletries for the Ronald McDonald House where my family stayed while Peyton was in the hospital. It was my way to repay an incredible organization for their kindness and charity during an emotionally trying time for my family. Because the Gulf TISCA meet is held at the Conroe ISD Natatorium, I reached out to the other coaches to encourage their swimmers to bring in donations. I was not prepared for the volume of donations that we received. Toiletries took over the coaches office and locker room, and they continued to come in until we were able to deliver over 250 boxes to various Ronald McDonald Houses in Texas.
It was then that I realized how powerful a coaches' influence can be. The other coaches took up my cause and encouraged their athletes to contribute. Because of this, hundreds of people benefitted from the kindness of strangers. Think about what could happen if we all chose some kind of community service project for our teams. It can be anything from projects in your own community to nationwide campaigns. The key is, to get your athletes involved.
I am sure by now that many of us have seen the story of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph and sixth grader Bo Paske, and how sitting with one child at lunch has changed his life. When Travis say down to eat with Bo, he had no idea of the positives that would come out of it. All he saw was a little boy eating alone. But Travis is not the only one. Student athletes at Penn State, Tulsa, Miami of Ohio, Duke, and even College of Mount Saint Vincent, to name a few, participate in community service, and have seen the positive effects in their communities.
Your students could read to younger students, pick up litter, volunteer with senior citizens, or run with shelter dogs. Some states, such as Maryland and California, have gone so far as to require community service hours as a condition of graduation.
So here is my challenge, choose a community service project and get your athletes involved. Get your captains and team leaders together and discuss what they want to do. Perhaps one or two have already been involved in projects that could expand to the team. You also need to make sure that you are involved. I know time is a valuable commodity, but if we want our athletes to buy into it, then we must as well. You can start small in your community by reading to elementary students, having a party for the special needs kids, cleaning up trash in the community, or sponsoring families or children over the holidays. Or you could have your athletes take part in national events such as Out of the Darkness Walks and Race for the cure. The key is to have them actively participate, not just donate money.
As coaches, we all love to look up in the stands and see that the community has come out to support us. Now, shouldn't we be willing to support the community?
Are you up to the challenge?