This summer, I read an article entitled "What's happened to the volunteer coach in America?" When I say "the volunteer coach," I'm referring to the unpaid youth coaches that helped shape many of our lives. These were the moms, dads, and other motivated men and women that gave their time to teach us and our friends, the sports we love. They arrived at the fields, courts, pools, etc. earlier than anyone, on their days off, to set up so that we could practice or play, and they stayed late, making sure all the equipment was put away and that everyone had a ride home. These men and women put up with bad weather, angry parents, and all the hassles of trying to get a group of kids to all listen at the same time, without compensation, just for the chance to see us get better at fielding that ground ball, scoring that goal, or simply to see the look on our faces when we did something that we never thought that we were capable of doing.
When I was young, I never realized the impact these men and women had on not just my life, but on the whole community. When I think back in my mind, I vividly see the warm summer sun setting over a baseball field in my hometown. The stands are packed, but not just with parents watching their children. The stands are filled with teachers, business owners, retired people, and younger baseball players whose games finished early, so they got Sno-Cones from the concession stand and came over to the older boys' field to watch. And through it all, I can see my coach, a young married man who is still dressed in his work clothes because he didn't have time to change after work. He works at the Dover Post printing press, and his hands are always covered in black ink from handling the newspapers as they come fresh off the presses before the ink dries. He stands in the coaching box of the third base line, baseball hat on, his tie loosened halfway, and he's jumping up and down, his arm swinging and waving one of our runners around third base and sending him home. My teams leaps to their feet to greet the base runner as he crosses the plate, the fans are cheering and clapping, the younger boys are reenacting the play, and in that moment all of these different members of the community are one. The coach was engaged, and cared, and made us feel like our growth on the field and our lives off of it mattered, and the whole community followed his lead. There was never a price of admission to the baseball field, no charge for parking, and the umpires, coaches, and managers all worked for free, but the memories they made, and the impact they had on my life, was priceless.
The coach was engaged, and cared, and made us feel like our growth on the field and our lives off of it mattered, and the whole community followed his lead.
The article that I mentioned made the point that the volunteer coach that I just described, is a dying breed. The author stated that the modern American parent isn't interested in volunteers, but craves high priced, plugged in, professional grade coaches that would ensure that their child would make it to "the next level." Sure enough, youth sports are big business in the United States. Parents do hours of research, evaluate potential coaches, and pay thousands of dollars to be with the right coach on the right team. Parental guilt and disposable income have created an industry for these coaches—but the results are often less than desirable. You see, when a coach's main concern is his or her reputation—a list of important-sounding accomplishments and how much money those accomplishments will provide him or her personally—it is the athlete and the community that suffers. And when so many parents have become obsessed with pushing their children towards the pursuit of greatness, they lose sight of the pursuit of goodness.
In this room are powerful resumes. We have people that have played and coached on the highest levels of high school and college, combined with decades of athletic experience and wisdom. We have coaches that are passionate about their coaching education who read books and attend seminars on how to be on the cutting edge of coaching their sports. In this room we have extremely competitive and knowledgeable coaches who will leave no stone unturned until they know they are fully developing the talent of the athletes they coach.
But for all of your backgrounds, coaching acumen, and the sharpness of your minds, you all still possess the hearts and souls of the volunteer coach. Every afternoon you are given almost two hours of uninterrupted time with our student athletes, more than any single teacher or advisor, and you build and grow and develop not only them, but our whole community. I've seen the power of our fans on the sideline of the Cannon Game lifting the football team on their shoulders for the final game winning drive as time expired. I've seen teams break practice for ten minutes so that they could stand at the finish line of a cross country race and cheer, giving a runner the final kick needed to pass her opponent. I've seen our students fill the stands of state tournament games at night, faces painted and dressed in red. You haven't lived until you've listened to our collective student body begin singing at the top of their lungs, proudly in unison, "When the Saints Go Marching In." You don't just hear it, you FEEL it. A game that started as 11 v 11, turns into a game of 11 v 310. The most powerful impact that athletics has at St. Andrew's is that it teaches our students their efforts matter, that being engaged matters, that being there and having each other's backs matters, that pushing their chips to the center of the table and being "all in" matters, and that when they take this approach collectively as a student body that there is no more powerful force in the world than the St. Andrew's community. And it all begins next Wednesday with you. So in advance, I thank you for your time, energy, and effort. I thank you for encouraging, pushing, mentoring, and caring about the growth of each and every athlete in every single sport and on every single level. And lastly, I thank you for being the heart and soul of the St. Andrew's community.