As I settle into the new year and reflect about my life coaching practice and the ongoing amazing journey to get to this point, my thoughts shift a bit to the nostalgia in my life. I have recently mentioned to people that inquire about my coaching practice that “I feel I have been a coach most of my life”. I know those words come from a bit of playfulness and nostalgia and I feel most people understand that about me. It’s my hope that people will give those words more thought as a takeaway to our conversation and maybe give more thought to their own lives in terms of what coaching means to them in their relationships – both personal and professional. We will get into what I mean by hope a little later. The way I stated those words, “I feel I have been a coach most of my life”, did come from an origin of humbleness and many reflective moments, journaling, and actions to make it true. I usually go onto explain my statement in more detail, again with the hope of something greater in us all.
At first thought it felt a little presumptuous or self-proclaiming for me, as I knew deep down, I would rather hear it from someone that they think I must have been coaching all my life as a compliment or form of positive feedback, more so than to say it myself. There was a part of me for a brief moment that felt uneasy about claiming to be a coach most of my life. After all, I have never held that professional title or held the credentials until recently (well maybe coaching junior high baseball for many years) but I think you know what I mean here, and possibly how I felt for that moment. However, the uneasy feeling of saying it quickly faded when I broke it down to what I really meant by it, and I regained a smile of conviction inside and life purpose. That is where I would like to elaborate a little about the “life coach within”.
I can remember back to my days of playing high school football, certainly not the biggest player on the field, weighing in at a soaking wet 175 lbs. as a fullback. For those of you unfamiliar, that position is usually staffed by at least 215 lbs. or more of athletic beast lol. At best, I was a 175 lb. gazelle – but the thing was I could block, and the coaches loved that so that’s how it was and that’s what I became – a blocking fullback. The other aspect of this little story is that my weight as a freshman and as a senior was 175 lbs. It just never got beefier for me lol. I did play the position like a much bigger guy with all the heart and finesse I had because I didn’t want to let the team or the fans down. Back then that position made me proud and it was my mantra to make the best of it. My playing fullback definitely came with many challenges: short lived fear, doubt, physical pain, (clearing my throat)… certain less than clean comments from defensive lineman….. with beards I might add!, that wanted to take a chunk out of me….you know, challenges!
All my teammates, coaches, parents in the stands, friends, janitors – everybody knew I was almost always out-sized by the opposing defense, and even questioning the coaches in selecting me for that position. Back in my freshman and sophomore years I was playing fullback too. Except I still had a somewhat decent size, uh…well, I will just go with equivalent size to the opposing team’s defense. But I had to learn to overcome the good of having some size advantage with the bad of my many fumbles. For those unfamiliar, it is the cardinal sin of a running back to give the other team the ball by dropping it – especially when they didn’t deserve to get it back. Yep, it’s pretty much giving the game away for a teenager and a crime sure to suffer the wrath of the coaches. Challenges never escape us, right? Fallible and failure come to mind at this time, along with those constantly nagging doubt and fear words.
So after the second fumble (that is correct, 2 fumbles in one game) of one of my Freshman away games in enemy territory, came my first vivid memory of an encounter with “life coach within”. There aren’t big crowds or bands at these little contests to muffle the noise, and the stands had a spattering of parents or teachers and they were sitting very close to the players bench. Shortly after the second fumble and on my sheepish jog back to our bench, with the pit of my stomach ablaze and my head down in shame, I hear the loudest woman’s voice I’ve ever heard – “way to go Scotty-O, we love you!”. This was before the coach got to me. I wonder to this day if he was thinking, how in the hell am I going to follow that very well heard (you couldn’t miss it with ear protectors on) loving encouragement – for fumbling the second time in one game? It even caught me off guard and I was a little bewildered at the time.
Parents can be the most brazen supporters, especially to a teenaged boy – even if they aren’t your own. Sports parents sometimes get a bad rap these days and I will admit some take their enthusiasm to an extreme and there are a few that lose sight of the fact the game is about the kids and young adults and not them. Back then the parents traveled to almost all away games at least the ones that were not working. So, my buddy’s mom Mrs. D filled in when my parents couldn’t make it. Her son Johnny D was an amazing running back and was good to me too. He picked me up when I needed it, and unlike his mom, wasn’t as vocal as she was. He was there for me without judgement or advice – his humor comes to mind. The point is, they were both there for me. And fortunately so were my parents after the game when I got home. They let me process the grief in a safe and trusted environment and made me feel like if I fumbled again, they would still be there by my side. Mrs. D, Johnny D, my parents, some of my other friends that later made me laugh about the horrifying experience, were there for me “coaches from within”. We all had nicknames back then in case you missed that little tid bit :).
By the way, the fear of wrath from Coach H for fumbling the ball, never came. I could see it in his eyes that he was not going to give me any more grief. He just smiled at me and said “Oly…that’s the last time you do that, do you read me?” He didn’t bench me. He didn’t chew me out. He did just the opposite. He stood by me and read my dishonor and ownership of the crime. He probably felt my embarrassment of Mrs. D’s praise (ha ha) and gave me an amazingly simple goal to go back out there and not fumble again. There were no ultimatums or threats, just the opposite. He empowered me to get back in the game. He provided me safe space to learn courage and empowerment. It worked. We all have potential in us to do better, to attain our goals, and reach fulfillment on our own. Sometimes we just need a “coach from within” to help us get there.
43 years ago, several people showed me examples of courageous and empathic leadership. That little story has always stuck with me. It is my great hope always, for us all to be a “coach from within” to as many people as we can. And then on go ahead and say it with conviction, “I have been coaching most of my life”. I hope we can allow individuality and uniqueness to shine in our world, no matter how challenging life can be. To live in our own light, without fear or doubt.
In Peace, Health, & Strength,