A Tale of Two Coaches
When I was in high school, I ran on a very competitive cross country team. I originally was coxed into signing up for cross country by my mom, mainly because I hadn’t played sports most of my childhood, and running was really all that I knew how to do.
Cross country was the first time I really learned discipline. The first few months of getting in shape as a new student athlete were brutal. My teammates and I would entertain ourselves during long runs by daydreaming about tripping and breaking an ankle or being bitten by a snake.
There were all sorts of rules about being a cross country runner. Drink 6 bottles of water per day. No soda. Eat a light lunch. Don’t skimp on stretching.
There were also unwritten rules. Don’t complain. Don’t skimp on school work. Remember that it’s your obligation not to let your team down. Embrace the pain to achieve the growth. Every season was memorable, but my first season is one I play back continuously when I think about the life lessons that the sport taught me.
That first season we had two coaches. Our assistant coach was younger and lighter in his conversation style. He was the one you went to if you were feeling sick or had a dumb question or wanted to get the download on the day’s challenge workout. He gave encouragement frequently. However, his praise was somewhat impersonal. He cheered because you were on the team and you were running.
Our head coach was very serious. When he was pushing you, which was frequently, he did so without hesitation. He rarely gave praise. However, when he did give encouragement, his feedback was direct and personal. If you beat a personal record, he acknowledged your achievement in delivering, regardless of where you stood on the board against your peers.
When I think about coaching well, I think often of that coach. He wasn’t always the most popular when you were doing the work. But he made you want to do the work, and really recognized you in a personal way when you deserved it.
It’s so much easier to just cheer for the team, and check the box that you’re an encouraging leader. It takes a lot more thoughtfulness to hold praise when it’s not warranted, to know what an individual’s goals are, and to personally recognize people for their work and achievement when they do something great.