In March 2009, Chicago Public Schools administrators proposed a new rule prohibiting high school coaches from using profanity while performing their coaching responsibilities. To my amazement, I was asked to go on a national radio show, not to debate whether this was a good rule, but to discuss whether it was even possible for coaches to comply. I assured the interviewer and the listeners that it certainly was possible and that I and many members of my staff were able to do it without need of an ordinance. I pointed out that the school board would be very disappointed if they went into the classrooms and found teachers cursing nonstop at the students and that I didn’t understand why it should be any different on the playing field. I believe that coaches, especially in high school, should be held to the same standard as classroom teachers-if not a higher one. I agree with the idea behind the proposed rule in Chicago, but I must say it’s sad they would have to legislate such an obvious standard of leadership to those in powerful positions of influence with our youth.
I learned how much influence coaches have from my father when I was in junior high school. He took me to a River Rouge High School Basketball game to watch the legendary Lofton Greene in action. Little did I know that what I saw would have a profound impact on how I would lead my teams and family. This is why learning how to let go as a leader and father is so important.
Coach Greene’s success at River Rouge had become legendary in Michigan high school basketball. Coach Green has been the head coach at River Rouge High School since 1943, and his teams won twelve state titles in Class B ( the second largest classification in Michigan), including nine in an eleven-year period through the 1960s and early 1970s. He built quite a dynasty, winning 739 games and coaching fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, brothers and cousins. When River Rouge came to Jackson, I was going to see some great players, but my dad wanted me to see their coach. The hype from my dad-and he usually wasn’t big on hyperbole-didn’t live up to the experience. At first. The River Rouge team was truly a marvel to watch. Coach Greene? Truthfully? He was not that impressive to a junior high kid. He stayed in his seat for most of the game. He might as well been a spectator, as far as I was concerned. He did get up during the time-outs and managed on a few occasions to talk to his team, but that was about all the coaching I saw from him. I was underwhelmed.
After the game, my dad asked me what I thought. The River Rouge team was truly a marvel to watch. They played fast. “I wasn’t very impressed with Coach Greene, though” I confessed. “He didn’t do anything. He just sat there calmly with his arms folded. No expression. I didn’t really see him do any coaching.” My dad replied, “When you’re a teacher, you talk when you teach. You don’t talk during the test.” If you teach well enough,” he continued, “you really don’t have to worry when the students are taking the test-they are prepared and can take care of themselves.”
In any leadership position, especially dads and coaches, the hardest lesson is the application of learning and letting go. Through this leadership role, be the positive influence in your child’s or athlete’s life. Share your wisdom freely until they absorb it. Then when the time comes for them to make the decisions based on your teaching, either in life or in a game, step back and watch it unfold. This is one of the greatest trust exercises of all. Trust your teaching, and trust your student’s ability.