Cutting the coaches some slack

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Shelter Island Boys Basketball Coach Mike Mundy knows wins and lossees are not the most important part of his profession.

With tomorrow’s American festival of football and family ready for kick off, it’s good to take a moment to consider the roles of those who prepare teams for competition, along with more durable pursuits.

I have always felt sorry for coaches in any sport and especially coaches here on Shelter Island.

We want to play sports as eagerly as larger schools, but odds being what they are, being the smallest school gives us little chance of having winning records. Our coach’s deserve a lot of credit for putting themselves in the position of knowing those odds and still doing it for the kids. They put in a lot of time working long and hard hours preparing for games. Because of the team records, they’re somehow not considered successful coaches and are constantly second guessed.

I strongly disagree: therefore, the reason for this week’s column on what I think is good coaching. For example, what our coaches are do for our kids is excellent training. Like all instructors I know, they’ve have studied the game, and first show students the correct way do things. They listen to their problems and give solid life lessons. That’s the job of the high school coach.

Beyond high school, what is coaching? One thing I’m sure of is that coaching is not all about teaching. You must first be taught to do something the proper way and once that happens, then you need constant tutoring to make sure you are still doing it. It is about solid basics trained and retrained. So actual coaching takes place after high school basics are taught. Even though I am talking about sports coaching, the same thing extends far past athletics.

When you consider the greatest sports coaches in recent history, they all have a few things in common. First, they were all great teachers who knew how to motivate, inspire and encourage teams to perform. They coached with passion and led by example. Virtually all of us have benefitted from mentors who have taken us under their wings and helped us develop. I have found that great coaches remained lifelong father figures with their players. Players continued to love and respect their coaches long after their playing days in school was over. To me, that’s the mark of a great coach.
When we think of the great mentors and coaches, Brooklyn born Vince Lombardi’s name always seems to comes up. A masterful motivator, Lombardi always said “Leaders are made, not born; they are made from hard work and effort.” All the great players that played under Lombardi were at his funeral; he was loved and respected all his life for the many lessons he taught under the name of football.

Phil Jackson, a man that is widely considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball, put his emphasis on teamwork rather than individualism. Jackson’s famous quote was “the power of oneness is far stronger than the power of one man.” Pat Summit, eight time winner NCAA women’s national basketball championship also believes in hard work, teamwork and discipline.

The great Bear Bryant also believed strongly in discipline, while Mike Krzyzewski and Joe Paterno were all about team work and trust. Eddie Robinson, the winningest college football coach in history, was about fighting for his men and getting them to believe in him, while Don Shula, the winningest coach in the NFL, believed in hard work and discipline.

Most coaches know all of this and more but they are stuck in the early stages of teaching and doing their best with the rest of it. All I ask is when evaluating coaches, give them a break and let them do their job. The children are getting a great education on life, teamwork, discipline, and winning and losing. In the end, when the playing is over, the coach will be rewarded for all their hard work by remaining a lifelong friend of their student.