As coaches we have a variety of responsibilities that we must be aware of, especially when it comes to the kids we coach. One element of our responsibilities is to keep things in perspective. This post discusses the idea of why it is important for coaches to keep our perspective.
A short time ago when I was working out at the fitness center in my town, an older gentleman (70’s?) said to me, “I wish I was as physically fit as you are.” Now understand, I am no specimen of physical fitness – far from it. I look in the mirror and see a somewhat overweight, out-of-shape, 55-year-old guy looking back at me wondering where his physical fitness went. I think of when I was 35 and wonder why I am not that guy still. However, this older gentleman sees me and sees someone who is physically fit. And it hit me right between the eyes (and unfortunately in my too large gut!) – it’s all about perspective.
This man does not know me. He knows his level of fitness. He knows what he is capable of and not capable of. He knows what hurts when he works out. He knows the pain he is in the next day.
But he does not know me. He does not know that every step I take has pain in it due to years of basketball, running, hiking, etc. that has led to three knee surgeries, two hip surgeries, multiple ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, and a tendon that is coming loose from the bone on the bottom of my right foot. He does not know that I don’t have full extension or rotation in my shoulders due to three rotator cuff surgeries. He does not know that I can’t play basketball anymore (my favorite recreational sport to play) due to all of these ailments. All he knows is he is seeing a guy 15-20 years younger than him who looks like he is in reasonable shape, and he thinks, “I wish I was as physically fit as him.”
I look around the gym and elsewhere and see other people, and I do the same thing this older man did looking at me. We all do. Our perspective skews our reality, but more importantly it skews other people’s realities in our minds. I see the person driving the Mercedes and think, “Must be nice. If I only made the kind of money s/he makes.” Yet, I have no idea how much s/he makes (or even does for a living), and I have no idea how hard or easy of a life s/he has. I just have my perception of what I think his/her reality is, and I make all kinds of assumptions about it, just because of the car s/he drives.
This is how stereotypes of people affect our thinking. We put someone into a certain class of people based on a stereotype of our perspective of what we “think” their life is like. However, we ultimately have no idea what their life is like. We are not them. We can no more understand all that they are going through than they can understand all that we are going through.
Get to Know Your Athletes as More than Just Players
So what does this have to do with teachers, coaches, and athletics? It is critical that coaches understand this concept of perspective. We teach and coach young people. These young people come to us from all walks of life, all kinds of circumstances, with all kinds of positives and negatives happening to them. Some of them are carrying around a lot of heavy baggage, much of which they had no part in creating. They just happened to be born into some tough stuff. Others are carrying around very little baggage, and life has gone fairly smoothly for them. They are fairly happy with their circumstances and the elements surrounding their lives. Most people fall somewhere in between, with varying degrees of baggage.
However, no matter where they fall, we ultimately do not know their situation. For us to project our perspective onto their lives and assume things about them is not fair at all. We must be careful not to make judgments about our kids, their parents, fellow staff members, and anyone else we come in contact with without knowing as much as we can about them and their situation. This requires teachers and coaches to establish positive, open relationships with these people. We must get to know the people who we lead and who we work with.
I cannot just focus on my players as “players.” I must focus on them as people. The more I come to understand them, the better I can serve them. That must be a leader’s guiding force.
It’s About Our Kids, Not Us
Coaches must also understand perspective in another way. We must keep our job and our role in people’s lives in perspective. We cannot take ourselves too seriously. This is not about us; it is about the young people we lead. We must also understand that the vehicle by which we work with them is sport. It is young people playing games. When we take ourselves and our importance in the world too seriously, we lose perspective. This is one of the few times that I consider the phrase, “It’s only a game,” appropriate. The playing of games portion of our jobs is something we need to take less seriously. I am not saying the games, preparing for them, and competing in them are not important. However, I am saying those are not the most important facets of what we do.
However, at the same time I am saying that we must take our jobs and our roles as leaders of young people extremely seriously. We are trying to help young people learn all kinds of things about life while providing them the opportunity to have a positive experience through sport. The life lessons that kids learn from us will inform so much of who they become. That is an extremely important role in our world, and we must take it very seriously. This is where we cannot accept the idea that “It’s only a game.” What we are doing for kids is so much more than a game, and we must treat it with the importance that it deserves.
Be a role model. Be a teacher. Be someone who keeps his or her perspective on what it is that you are doing as a teacher and coach – instilling in children the life lessons necessary for them to go out into the world and live positive, productive lives. Oh yeah, and one more thing – stay in shape, so that when you are 55 and someone older than you thinks you are physically fit, their perspective is not warped. Believe me – your 55-year-old self will thank you!
For more on the various responsibilities that we have as coaches, check out my booklet “The Responsibilities of Coaching.” In it I discuss 10 responsibilities that we all have as coaches, and the importance of keeping each of them in mind throughout our coaching careers. Due to a printing error in my last run of them, I am running a “Half-Price Special” on “The Responsibilities of Coaching” until the ones left in stock are gone. Check out my website under the “Books” tab for more information on the booklet and on the half-price special.