They come in every variety. Some swagger to hide their fears. Some are full of hesitation and their self-doubt is written in their every gesture. Some are loud and their speech says the world is their turf, just for them.
You can barely hear some, suddenly they seem limited to a whisper. Some wear the newest fashions, the “in” attire and some come in tatters with busted tennis shoes.
Some are white and some are black. Some are short and some are tall. They all have one thing in common, they can play basketball and we went and got them.
We cajoled and promised. We painted bright dreams. We sat in their homes by the hour and in the gyms. We talked and talked and wrote letters and called them on the telephone. Getting them. That’s what recruiting was all about. Getting them.
And suddenly, like Captain Marvel after a “Shazam!” there they are, in our midst, and just as suddenly there comes over us an awesome realization. These children, these talented kids with a basketball, are ours. They are ours to improve and to perfect their skills. We will try to make them faster, more accurate, more attuned to every aspect of the game we coach. We will succeed with some. We will fail with some. Some will go on to the good life and some will fall by life’s wayside, old children with busted dreams.
So, is that it? Is that our obligation to them? Is that what this calling of coaching is all about? I think not. I believe that those parents who send us their most precious possessions, their hopes for the future, their tomorrow’s, and the kids themselves are due a lot more from those of us who dedicate ourselves to this profession. We owe them a vision of life, and it cannot and must not be limited to what happens on a basketball court. We owe them a sense of right and wrong and we must tell them what we do, for better or worse, will have consequences, that inevitably there will be a piper to pay.
We must teach them that there is not a law of nature that the end always justifies the means. More wrong has been committed against humanity with that flawed philosophy than perhaps any other. We must show them the dignity within themselves, and equally important, to respect the dignity of others.
We must teach them that their word is sacred, that what they say must be true, for if not, they are only shells and not men.
We must teach them that the education that they will receive in the classroom is invaluable to them and a far better accomplishment than playing basketball.
We must broaden their vision of their world so that their lives are not focused on the next game to the conclusion of all else. Time and time again, we must tell them good-bye. As we study them, now men, we must study ourselves. What have we done with them? Are they better? Worse? Are they more than when we got them? Less? They are living records of our own failures and successes.
Really, that is what coaching should be about. Other people’s lives and what we help them to do with those lives.