A coach’s dilemma: finding the right words
by Delaney Walker
Sep 29, 2013 | 718 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"This is no democracy. It is a dictatorship. I am the law."

How did Denzel Washington pack so much authority into his words? If I used the same line on my girls, they would just look at me. Granted, Washington's character Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans” was attempting to integrate a team set in its racial divides. A backbone of steel is needed for such an endeavor.

“My girls” comprise the Lee Women's Rugby Football Club at Lee University. I serve as assistant coach under Dr. Michael Freake and Nancy Campbell. It really is one of those trial-and-error dealios.

A nice way of describing my status? I am currently a work-in-progress.

I started playing sports as a freshman in high school. It began with volleyball and continued through soccer, softball, track and field, basketball and rugby. All of my coaches were revered, until I realized some may have had the title, but did not deserve my respect.

What made a good coach? Or rather, what makes a good coach? What are those intangible factors that set the great from the good, the good from the OK, and the OK from the poor?

All of my favorite coaches never lost sight of their players. They recognized each person on the roster represented more than just a number, position or skill. Every player had their own opinions and personalities.

Some of us had baggage. We brought it to practice and lugged it from game to game. While we were asked to check the baggage at the door, we never had to act like it was invisible.

Another common factor was their love for the game. Whether basketball or rugby, they knew the ins and outs of defense, offense and everything in between.

Sometimes I am astounded by my own ignorance. Did I just think the game plays came to these people? I never considered the hours of preparation, research and game study they did for practices and game days. Freake works to find the most effective plays and drills for the Lee Lady Ruggers. I know this, because now I am privy to the behind-the-scenes work.

Mostly it involves me staring blankly at him and going, “OK. OK, so I know they are supposed to be passing the ball, but what skill are they learning here?”

My sophomore basketball coach needed to quit. The man had no tact, gave some players preferential treatment, wrote terrible game plans and had really, really bad breath. (OK, so the last one could have been a medical condition. Normally I would not bring it up, but he insisted on speaking very close to our faces.)

As my father noted, we won our games in spite of our coach.

At one point my coach informed me, "Delaney, you aren't very fast, but you have long arms, so you should use them."

Are you starting to wonder if my animosity toward him is more due to his insults than skill? If so, hear me out, Readers.

I am actually fairly athletic, and while I am no sprinter, my speed was not the problem my sophomore year. The main issue I faced was my debilitating lack of confidence. I am not saying it was his place to correct my internal struggle. However, I do believe an effective coach has the ability to spot how to best impact his or her players.

Telling two of my teammates, “You guys are like mashed potatoes and gravy. You guys aren’t good alone, but you work great together,” was not effective coaching. Maybe he didn’t know how to address their individual differences? 

Despite my distaste for the man, I feel a sort of empathy with him. Coaching is difficult. Or, rather, effective coaching is difficult.

In one drill, there are a variety of skills to assess. Even if the players are simply passing as they run down the field, I am watching to see if they are supporting each other, calling for the ball, bursting onto the ball, giving good passes, running the correct lines and using the proper technique?

I am quickly realizing rugby immersion might be the only answer to all of the girls’ questions.

Also, when is the best time to point out mistakes? Where is the balance between improving players and encouraging them?

These are the questions that plague, Readers. And they don’t even break the surface.

Coaches in movies always seem to have great lines (e.g., Herb Brooks in “Miracle,” “And the name on the front is a [heck] of a lot more important than the one on the back!”)

But, this has not happened to me yet. I guess effective coaching isn’t so much about good lines as it is good choices. Having an awesome comment quoted is really just a bonus.

My main goal is to know as much about the game as I can, so as to offer spot-on advice while remembering these players have their own struggles, triumphs and stories.

Effective coaching involves not only creating great players, but building up strong individuals.

As coach Larry Gelwix of Highland Rugby said in “Forever Strong”: “You boys might think I coach because, uh, I love rugby and I love to win — both true — but I keep coaching because of you guys. That’s why I’m more interested in turning out champion boys than champion teams. I want you to be forever strong on the field so you’ll be forever strong off it.”