These past few weeks I have been working on a story that broke my heart.
It dealt with local volleyball player, Kendall Schaffner and her mom who is also her coach, Lindsay Schaffner. There are some parents who know what it is like to coach your own kids at least one time in your life. The mentality of a coach who has a child on the team has to be a little bit different.
As a coach who had my own children play for me, I would tell them at the beginning of the season that I would have to be a little harder on them so that others would not scream “favoritism.” Which, as I look back on it now… was a little bit unfair. And so, to be a coach’s son or daughter, they not only couldn’t get away from the game when they came home each day after practice, but sometimes they bore the scars of me being a little tougher on them.
I explained it as my expecting more out of them, but really, I was trying not to tick off the parents of the other kids. Even though, I worked many extra hours with my children, and they were well honed in their sport and their hard work and talent earned them their spot. With me it was what they knew not who they knew.
As much as I wanted to get that point across, there was always one or two squeaky wheels who didn’t get it.
I can remember in high school when I was coaching basketball and my younger son who also had a love and talent for baseball, went out for the baseball team. As it turned out, there was a coach’s kid on that team. That coach’s kid seemed to always get the breaks, but I had to see past the hurt I felt from my own son’s inadequacies, and face the fact that his kid was better and knew more than my son.
Because that kid lived with a coach who had worked with him for years. When that coach and his kid were out practicing past dusk and spending time and money to go to specialty camps, my son was taking the summer to work on his basketball skills.
My son came home mad one day because the coaches kid got to pitch more innings. I asked him, how many batters did you walk? He responded. Seven. How many batters did coach’s son walk? One.
So I asked him, “why are you mad?” His excuse for his own faults were too easy. He’s the coach’s kid. I looked him straight in the eyes and told him very simply. Don’t get mad, get better. And to do that you have to put in the extra time.
Anyway, tough love. Then there were also the speeches about building character and learning roles like sitting on a bench with a team attitude… on and on and on. I decided to prepare my kid for real life by teaching him lessons, not feeding him excuses with a side dish of sympathy.
The toughest part of athletics for me was not the coaching or the parents or the administrators or the losing or the criticism.
I know that ALL parents can relate to this one scenario, coach or not.
When your kids hurt, there is an ache in the pit of your stomach and a lump in your throat that makes even swallowing impossible. My son Troy had to miss an entire year of basketball due to an injury. Now, Troy was one of the quickest guards I’d ever coached and I don’t say that because he’s my son, but he was impressive. On the night before his school practice started, he was playing his last AAU game in Central Michigan. It was toward the end of the game and he was killin’ it. A freak accident occurred as he went up for a rebound and right before my eyes he was laying on the ground writhing in pain and his knee was out of the socket. We sat there for 45 minutes before the paramedics came and even though they put the knee back in place, the orthopedic doctor said he’d lose nine months.
It wasn’t just the pain of watching him in pain, but the days and weeks later watching him wrapped in a cast at his practice watching everyone else taking his spot and younger kids moving up the ladder. It was watching him hobble on a crutch, filling water bottles for teammates during a game and seeing tears in his eyes as he tried to be strong. It happened twice in his career and each time he got a little better at basketball. Oh, maybe not his shot or his passing or his speed, but the maturity he needed to play the game at a higher level came by learning lessons in that valley that he could have never learned on the mountain top.
I think back on it now and wish I would have had an annual awards ceremony for my kids. And if I had to do a lifetime achievement award for them now, maybe to affirm how incredible I thought they were, I would give “the Tenacious” award to my daughter Dacia who was always rolling up her sleeves to get the job done. Now at 40 she still runs the “Tough Mudders” and corporate marathons. She doesn’t know how to quit. Then there is Jon who most likely would win the “Leadership” award with a head to figure things out, the consistency to stay on an even keel in nasty weather and a heart to love even the unlovable. Tyler would be my “Offensive Player of the year.” Absolutely one of the best big, pure shooters I have ever seen and a drive to succeed. Troy would be my “Defensive Player of the Year” who stole the ball whenever the team needed him to do so, and yes quicker than quick. My youngest, Seth was one out of all five who didn’t get his high school team’s MVP in his senior year. But of all my kids, he’s the dog I want in the fight when the chips are down and to me, he will always be the family MVP. Gone through much adversity, almost died at birth, but always, the true heart of a warrior.
A proud coach? Absolutely. A humbled and grateful dad? You bet. Maybe it’s not too late to hold a family awards ceremony around your house each year.