Updated: Apr 6, 2020
"The only way to live forever it through the legacy you leave behind."
If you have looked at my Instagram page at any point over the last 3 years or so, you have probably seen the quote above. It is something I try to keep in mind every day in the things that I do. Being both a coach and a teacher I think I am kind of drawn, like so many others, to this sense of wanting to help people. There are millions of coaches and teachers out there in the world. Each of them just trying the best they know how, to help to guide people in the right direction. Each of them takes their own approach to it. Each of them has an impact in a different way. I truly feel like if you are giving it your best effort in EITHER of those positions, you are doing the world a service. Young people need mentors. They need role models. They need the people in positions of power to know that they care about them and that they truly have their best interests at heart.
One of the most difficult things about being a coach or a teacher is ever truly knowing if you got through to the kids that you work with. You end up working with hundreds, sometimes thousands of kids, and you never really know if your work is good enough. As a teacher, sure your kids can have the best test scores. Sure they can pass the AP exams and know all of the content that there is to know. Sure they can go into the next class and be better at your subject than the students who came from another teacher. As a coach, sure you can win a lot of games Sure you can win state or regional titles. You can win national championships. You can have every accolade in your sport that there is to garner. You can do all of these things and still not have the impact that you set out to have when you were younger and got into the profession.
So what is the true test of how successful a teacher or a coach is? What is that unit of measure that lets you know just how you are doing along the way? As a teacher, is it that state mandated test average. You know, the one that in your department meeting after the test is given is scrutinized by your department head in open conversation. Is it your score on your yearly evaluation by your principal that comes in to take a snapshot of what your year looks like that critiques your work? As a coach, is it the number of state titles you have won? Is it the number of National Championships whose banners hang in your gym?
I think that as an athlete myself, I have always been very competitive with everything that I do in life. From trying to beat my little brother in video games from the time I was 10 all the way through last night during the quarantine. From trying to win at bowling when I only go once every five years to trying to beat people in golf which I am not very good at. That competitive piece IS important in being a good teacher and a good coach, but in my mind it isn't the most important. As a teacher I have lead the entire district with my test averages and I have had really high scores on my reviews from my principal. As a coach I have won multiple national championships and have sent plenty of athletes on to play at the next level. Do I pride myself on the success of my kids? Absolutely! As a teacher and a coach, the success of your students and athletes means a lot to you. Would I consider myself a great coach or teacher based solely on those accolades? Nope, not for a second.
Teaching and coaching kind of go hand in hand. I often tell people that I feel like I do more coaching in the classroom sometimes than teaching and that I do more teaching in the sand sometimes than coaching. For me, and I am sure that for most teachers and coaches, your personal success is never based on your record or your scores. It isn't based on wins and losses or how well your student can perform on district assessments. Those things are a bi-product of what a great coach does, and what a great coach is. So then how do you determine how well you are doing at your job? Scores, results, wins, championships... Those are all tangible things. Ways to put onto paper that you are doing your job well. If not with tangible things, then how?
For me, I have always wondered that. I have always wondered just how you know you are doing what you are supposed to in order to be the coach you set out to be in the first place. Well, last night I got that answer for myself. You see about a month ago one of my seniors, Taryn Ames, came to me and asked me if she could interview me about coaching for a paper she was doing at school. I kinda laughed thinking to myself, you really want to know about coaching? There are so many other careers out there. I thought kids would be way more interested in being an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, heck, even a professional athlete, but a coach? Of course I told her I would, and we did the interview. One super cool thing about coaching beach volleyball is that you get to have athletes for multiple years and you get to watch them basically grow up. Taryn had been with RPM from the time you couldn't even see her drowning in her over-sized t-shirts when she would come to practice. I was honored that she would want to interview me.
Well, a month later the craziness of the Coronavirus set in. We are all out of school and transitioning to online platforms. I had kind of forgotten about the interview and then it popped into my head. I had her send it to me. The following is what she wrote. Yes, I got her permission first.
Through a Coaches Eyes
When you were younger you might remember your mom or dad signing you up for a sport. They would drop you off at practice and leave you in the hands of your coach. At such a small age you might not have understood the importance of a coach, but as you get older you begin to realize that a coach can be one of the most important and influential people in your life. The media is always highlighting new performances in sports made by professional athletes. We are given so much information on what it is like to be a top performing athlete but have we ever stopped to wonder and ask what it is like to be a top performing coach?
As I walk down the steps to the sand courts at Horizon Park up in Scottsdale, I am overwhelmed by the colors of red and blue and the different messy hair dues, but what stands out the most to me is the smiles on everyone's face. Nick Bowling is one of the coaches at the competitive beach volleyball club known as RPM Sand. Mr. Bowling has been coaching kids for seventeen years and began coaching at RPM when it first started in 2013. Growing up in a small town in Flagstaff encouraged him to be a coach because there were not many people who had the amount of knowledge that he had with sports. When coaching his very first team at the age of twenty seven he was asked why he was coaching juniors instead of college kids since he had the expertise and skill to do so. His immediate response was “Well, I grew up here, someone took the time to teach me the game, I guess I just feel like it's my turn”. I asked Coach Nick what his biggest fear was when starting to coach and he explained that it was simply the doubt of not being good enough. He told me that he did not know anything about kids except his experience of being one so the fear of being inadequate, as he called it, was constantly in his mind.
As I watched Coach Nick interact with all the players and other coaches, I wanted to know what sets him apart from other coaches. He described to me that he is different from other coaches because he accepts that he is not the greatest and most knowledgeable coach in the world. Just as he tries to teach his players that there is always room for improvement, he embellished that in himself. From observing him in practice it is very easy to tell that Coach Nick does not carry himself as though he is better than everybody else or even higher than his players. He treats himself like one of the kids who is just trying to improve and get better along the way. I then asked coach Nick what he felt was his biggest strength in coaching. He began by saying “I pride myself in my ability to form a mutual respect with my athletes. To help them to genuinely understand that I am not coaching for my own accolades, but rather to help them each to reach their full potential and reach for their goals both on and off the court”. I see the girls in practice interact and talk with coach Nick and you can see the respect and love they have for him in their eyes. They know that he is there for the sole purpose to help them get better which forms a bond between all the players and an immense amount of respect for him. The relationship between coach Nick and all the players is not just the usual coach and player relationship, but instead you can see how all the kids look up to him and love him like a family member.
People commonly think that it is no big deal to be a coach and it's easy because they are getting paid. This common misconception and accusation is far from true. Sometimes as players and parents we forget that coaches are people too with their own lives and struggles. When I asked coach Nick what he does to get through those hard days he explained his experience with the losses of loved ones. In the last couple of years coach Nick has lost a niece and nephew, both who were babies. Holding their tiny, precious bodies he says has completely changed him and the way he looks at life. He shared with me that “All I tell myself when days are tough is that I’m going to wake again tomorrow and try to brighten the world around me the best I can because I want to honor them. I want them to look down on me and be proud to be a part of my family, so when things get hard, I just tell myself that tomorrow is another chance to do some good”. After hearing this I realized how much stress is put on a coaches shoulders. They deal with all the disrespectful players, the rude parents, and any other backlash from other people. On top of all that coaches have different things going on in their life that can put a lot of stress on them and weigh them down.
The hours of hard work and stress a coach goes through is something that should not go unnoticed. Instead of just continually praising all the successful athletes, coaches deserve just as much of the praise. After talking with coach Nick and observing his practices it is very clear that he views all his players like they are his family. You can see how much he cares about each and every one of them and how all he wants to do is see them succeed and be happy, even if it's not in the volleyball world. He is the true meaning of what a coach is and what all coaches should be.
Well, I gotta say, it definitely brought tears to my eyes. You see, when you set out to do something, the road takes strange turns along the way. Sometimes you question why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes you wonder if it even matters. All of the thousands of hours I have poured into what I do. The ups and the downs. The hard questions you have to ask yourself along the way when you wonder if giving your time is all worth it. What IS the legacy you are trying to leave behind? Are you staying on the path you set out on? In this moment. All of those questions were answered. It IS worth your time. It IS worth the heartache that it causes sometimes. For all of you teachers and coaches out there who are putting in hour after hour, day after day, year after year of your time. I'm telling you right now. It's worth it. You see, it isn't just about the wins, the championships, and the stats. It's about the connections. The bonds you form. The Impact you have. Taryn, thank you for helping me to see that. I most humbly appreciate it.
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