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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Let's give a salute to coaches

Having been around coaches most of my life, first as an athlete, and second as a coach and then as a school administrator, I realize that coaches have the best job in the school district.

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I never met a coach that I didn’t like. I truly believe that if our world were run by coaches, male and female, rather than people with money and power, our world would be a better place.

Having been around coaches most of my life, first as an athlete, and second as a coach and then as a school administrator, I realize that coaches have the best job in the school district. Why? Because they get to see a student as "somebody" and not just a body.

Coaches realize that in order to be a winning coach, they have to show a genuine concern for each player. I vividly remember a counseling session I had with my Luther College coach, Edsel Schweizer. He talked about how I was doing in football and what I needed to do next year. After that one-on-one session, I never felt so alive in my life. He knew how to reach me.

Coaches have to be more than a coach. They also have to be psychologists. Coach Schweizer, one of the winningest coaches in Luther College history, also taught psychology. When I took his class, one of the first things he said was, "Psychology is everything." Coaches first have to be psychologists and second, someone who plays with X's and O's.

Coaches aren’t good coaches because they know their sport well or because at one time they may have been a standout in that sport. Coaches are good coaches because they realize that coaching also involves getting into their players' minds. They try to discern what motivates each player. They try to instill in each player not only the confidence needed to win but also the character necessary to be a good player and a good person.

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When I graduated from high school and went on to college, I wrote my high school coaches letters thanking them for all they had done for me. In that letter, I probably said something like I wish I could have performed better. If they were still around today and if you were to ask them if they remembered that letter, they probably would say something like, "Who did you say wrote me a letter?" Coaches don’t remember all of their players but all of their players remember their coaches.

I watched more of the high school football playoffs this year than ever before. I especially enjoyed watching the coaches. Some coaches were stoic like Bud Grant and some were bursting with energy and enthusiasm like P.J. Fleck of the Minnesota Gophers. One thing they all had in common was they truly enjoyed what they were doing.

Coaches do like to win but they would be the first to tell you that winning isn’t everything, especially at the high school level. The best time for coaches doesn't necessarily occur on the athletic field but on the practice field, before and after games, eating pizza together, coaches' meetings, meeting individually with athletes and those times before and after a class when athletes come up to their coach and just say something like, "We had a good practice yesterday."

Considering the hours they devote to the job, it really is a second job for which they are paid very little. So, why do they do it? Well, some do it for a little extra income but they love the sport they coach and they love the athletes they work with. Deep down they wish they were on the athletic field again having one more opportunity to make a tackle, shoot a jump shot, get a pin or serve an ace.

My only experience with a big time coach occurred when I was teaching at the University of Northern Iowa and one of my supervising teachers was Barry Alvarez, football coach of the Mason City High School. The first time I met him was in his office where he was on the phone with some other coach talking about linebackers. That year Mason City was the state football champ and Alvarez moved on to greener pastures eventually ending up at the University of Wisconsin where he became a legend.

Some high school coaches hope for the opportunity to coach big time but I think most are content with their high school athletes and would rather not deal with all of the turmoil that comes at the big time level coaching in spite of the higher salaries. (P.J. Fleck makes about $4 million, making him the highest-paid public employee in Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz makes about $125,000.)

Coaches deserve a salute because they know what winning entails. In the words of football coach Lou Holtz, "I’d say handling people is the most important thing you can do as a coach. I’ve found every time I’ve gotten into trouble with a player, it’s because I wasn’t talking to him enough." Coaches talk to players and that’s what makes them so special.

Riddle: Why can’t a bicycle stand on its own? Answer: Because it’s two "tired." Coaches seldom get tired because they truly love what they do.

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100%

If we had a 100% graduation rate we would have more students participating in sports and other activities.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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