When someone asks me “What do you do?” I instantly go to say “I’m a coach.” It’s how I see myself, how I define myself. It’s the most important thing I do outside of my home.
And I LOVE being “Coach”. Out of all the titles I have held throughout my life there’s none that comes close. I believe that Coach Eddie Robinson captured why best in his famous quote “Coaching is a profession of love. You can’t coach people unless you love them.”
Love is what makes a life worth living. Love is what gets you out of bed with a stiff back and a sore throat to go teach a clinic all day. Love is what makes you stand out in a muddy field in the freezing rain, on your birthday when you have a 104 degree fever. Love is what makes you drive for hours to watch a child run a fifteen second race in 106 degree weather. Love is what makes you spend money you don’t have so someone has a shot at the impossible.
It triumphs over all else.
But with any other love, the love a coach has for those in their charge brings along with it tears. Coaches tears are invisible tears that are never seen and hardly ever suspected. They are the tears that fill a coaches soul on the inside while consoling their athlete after a bad loss or hard fall. They are the tears that turn into ice water while eulogizing a young athlete at a funeral mass. These are the most bitter tears of all – the ones shed while out alone on a run or fishing out in the ocean. They are the coaches tears for those athletes lost to age or infirmity. Those taken from you too early. Those impeccable model athletes whose careers were cut down before you while in their prime.
No matter how well you try to prepare yourself, you cannot escape the violent emotions you experience when it happens, on that beautiful sunny day. In the span of seconds the hero of the day, the champion, the all-American is rendered into a thoroughbred limping from the track and headed to the barn. You can never really prepare for that moment. The gut wrenching, instantaneous throttling through the stages of loss. The cold sweat that covers you when everyone else looks to you as how to act, how to handle what just happened, how to carry on. The tremor you stifle by clenching your fists. Your soul itself seems to blacken as you bring to composure the darkest and most chaotic scene you’ve seen. There is a weight on your back greater than you even knew.
You wonder how you could possibly be this person everyone is looking to. This bellwether. This coach.
You wonder what there is left to turn things around, to heal, to move on. All seems to be gone.
And it’s then you realize that only one thing remains…
You look up at the face of God and then look down at the faces of your athletes and you feel you soul lift. You feel the weight gone. You tuck all else away and you carry on.
Because you love them.