A couple months ago as I was walking down the street, I caught the eye of the young guard standing in the front window of a jewellery shop. He frowned at me and looked down his nose as if to imply I had no right to be looking in his direction. My response was to smile and keep walking, but as I walked I realised something about this behaviour was familiar to me, and it ruins the careers of many coaches in sport.
There are coaches in sport who act the same way as this young guard did. These individuals behave as if somehow their proximity to sports stars incurs some sort of superior status. The thing is though, as it is with the guard in the jewellery shop, we don’t own the treasure – we just look after it. Though many act otherwise, our work has no bearing on our worth.
Some coaches and other experts whom work in sport come to believe that because they work with elite athletes they are somehow more important, gifted or special than others in their industry. I probably fell into this category earlier in my career, but as I met and learned from many others not at the ‘elite’ level I was forced to confront my own ignorance. Great coaches can be found anywhere.
A young coach I met with recently described how a well known pro blasted him for ‘wasting his time’ (after this young guy had volunteered time to assist this ingrate). This behaviour often arises out of the need feel important, and those that display it are bitter because they feel cheated by the realities of their job. Coaches are not the stars of the show, we are the servants.
Most people think working in sport is all glitz and glamour, but actualities of the job can often be far from it. I have been privileged to be involved and contribute as an expert to some of Australia’s high profile organisations and teams. What I can tell you is this, if you want to work at the highest levels in sport, your job will be everything you dreamed and MORE.
You do what needs to be done. You are a very small cog in a very big wheel, every cog is important sure, but only because all cogs share the load. At various times in my career I have found myself standing in freezing water in the middle of winter, being abused and spat at by fans, standing in the rain for hours on end, and coaching on one hours sleep after taking the redeye home from an interstate game. I would never have anticipated these experiences as a starry eyed uni student.
Treasure these experiences and see them for what they are, opportunities to model the behaviour you demand from your athletes. The most valuable players are those that play whatever role the team needs at the time. They learn this attitude of commitment, sacrifice and teamwork from their coaches. When we do all of what we are payed for and more, we show our athletes what it means to be a pro who plays their part for the team.
I believe too many young coaches enter the field under the wrong pretences. To borrow a phrase from my good friend Mick Chiovitti, these people are often too caught up ‘chasing tracksuits’ to realise their job has nothing to do with which team they are associated to. Gaining work at the elite level will not suddenly make you more worthy, special or important. Your job is to serve, not star.
If you don’t love coaching for its own sake, don’t waste your life chasing a career that will never make you happy. Sure you might master the political game that gets you to the top and ensures you appear useful, but you will end up bitter, cold and mediocre at what you do. Coach for the right reasons, do it to help others achieve their dreams, and you might just achieve your own.