Monday, April 6, 2015

"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 absolutely love high school sports.  I coached Varsity Girls' and then Boys' Golf for 33 years, and I have worked at the football games and track meets at North Allegheny for years. I enjoy being with the kids, and helping them to learn important life lessons.

I am 62 years old, and when I was a senior, only two sports were available to girls: I could have been in either swimming or girls' basketball.  I was a terrible swimmer who had swimmer's ear, so that was out.  I liked basketball ok, but my real love was fast pitch hard baseball.  I need to interject here that I only had brothers, and there were no girls in my neighborhood until I was well into my teens, so I only had boys as friends.  My brothers both played little league baseball, but back then, I was not allowed to play, just because of my gender.  I protested, but one girl's voice did not matter, even though I played as well as my brothers.

So, not ever having a high school sport to play makes me like and enjoy high school sports even more!  All the sports- even water polo and girls' lacrosse.  I think it is so wonderful that students have so many opportunities and choices.

I was at a track meet today, working the javelin throw and shot put for both boys and girls. I liked the effort I saw on the field, but even more, I loved the interactions the students had with their coaches.  The encouraging words, the heartfelt high fives, the urging to try for a personal best, and the constant coaching were like a cacophony of happy sounds at this track meet.  Although I was not really coaching, but rather calling the event and recording the stats, I still loved being called "Coach Rittman", as I have for 33 years.  

If you are a teacher, and if you have never worked at an athletic event or coached a sport, I urge you to do so.  You do not have to be a professional player to coach at a junior high or high school.  You have to like kids- that is the most important thing- and you have to know enough to teach a bit about the sport.  You have to be  mom and a dad and a cheerleader and a negotiator and a rules maven, but most of all, you have to have a big heart and great words of encouragement. Something magical happens between a teacher and a student when they become coach and player. The relationship line changes as the team and teacher meld into a team of two or more working toward the greater good for the overall team, and raising the bar for reaching a personal best.  School classrooms become a distant memory as teachers and students work together on the field, the golf course, the volleyball court, the mats, or the swimming pool.  Students and teachers get to know each other, and an entirely new frame of respect begins to develop.  And here is something else- no matter how tired you are as a teacher at the end of the school day, when you get to practice or game time, the kids pick you right up!  Coaching golf for 33 years was one of the best parts of my 37 year career.

In closing,think about coaching.  It requires good sense, the ability to get along well with others, strong leadership qualities, good time management and people management skills, clear communication skills, some basic knowledge of the sport, and lots of encouraging words for kids.  Although I know I made a difference for lots of students during my years of coaching, I think they made a bigger difference in mine. 

Think back to some of your great coaches.  If it's not too late, give them a call or write a note to tell them what a difference they made in your life.  No coach takes the job for the pay! The hours are terrible and the pay is low, but the rewards are more than you ever thought possible, because you get to make a difference for someone every day. 

Our world would be so much worse if we did not have so many wonderful high school coaches. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

As always, I welcome your comments or suggestions. 

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