Peers Who Care - Swartz Creek High SchoolCoaches often ask their captains to lead their teams by example whether it be by making plays, getting hits or cheering on their teammates.  Coaches can and should lead by example too, especially when it comes to academics and vocations.  They can discuss their education, career and experiences with their team. 

At one of our workouts group of players learned that in addition to my day job, I have a side business and build web sites.  "That's cool," one of the girls said.  Another asked, "You really have your own business?"  They asked me a bunch of questions from what college I attended to how I learned to make web sites.  I briefly explained that although I have an associate's degree, everything I know about computers, technology and web sites I've learned on my own.  "I'm self-taught," I said.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.  Benjamin Franklin

A coach doesn't have to have a college degree to stress the importance of education.  I know many people who didn't go to college, but who have had successful careers.  Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to get a college degree to earn a good living.  There are numerous professions that don't require degrees, but provide decent incomes.  However, these occupations do require the ability to learn new skills and to keep them updated.  A coach with such a career surely has valuable experiences and advice they could share with their players.

Getting to Know Your Players

Kara Manier (left) Michigan HOSA Conference FinalistWhen we were doing our off-season high school practices I asked the girls at the end of each workout if they had any homework.  My goal was to let them know I would be paying attention to their grades and not just their softball skills.  Our softball program has stressed good grades ever since I can remember and our team earned academic all-state again this year.  But, I wanted to go a step further.  I asked the girls about their future plans.  Will they be attending college?  What career are they seeking?  I asked because I really care.  I learned a lot about my players by doing so.

There's a girl who wants to be a doctor, several who are going into nursing, sports medicine, accounting, etc.  Many of the girls volunteer with the school's Peers Who Cares club providing free tutoring to fellow students and other community services (top picture).  A requirement of Hailey's (2nd grass skirt from the right) sports psychology course was to give a presentation to a group.  She chose to give it to her softball team and coaches and did a great job.

Kara (left in this picture with her HOSA partner) is a conference finalist in the 2014 Michigan HOSA competition, which was held in Traverse City at the beginning of our season.  She was nervous about telling us she would be missing practice, but we assured her that the competition was a priority over softball.  Next her and her partner will be travelling to Orlando, Florida later in June to compete in the HOSA National Leadership Conference.  Needless to say, they are extremely excited. 

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.  Socrates

Tabby Miller and Coach Greg CruthersTabby (standing next to me) was selected as one of the top speakers in the senior class.  She was asked to give her senior exit speech at the school board meeting.  She informed us (coaches) that she couldn't make practice that night because of a school activity.  She gave me the details after I asked about it.  I decided I would skip practice too, because I wanted to be there to support her.  I did not tell her I was attending.  She was surprised to see me waiting in the doorway as she arrived. 

When Tabby launched into her speech I was blown away by her public speaking skills.  She is a natural.  I knew she had leadership potential when we decided to make her one of the team captains, but had no idea how excellent her communication skills were.  And then it was my turn to be surprised as the slide appeared on the screen with a picture of her and I from the fall powder puff football game. 

She went on describing the people who have been her mentors and had positive influences in her life and how I was one of them.  As I sat there smiling my eyes were welling up as I was struggling to hold back the tears.  Afterwards as we were walking outside a board member asked if I was her father.  With a big smile I replied, "No, I'm just her coach."

The fact is we coaches have much more influence than we sometimes realize.  It's up to each of us to make it positive.  Coaches have to monitor their players grades to ensure eligibility, so it's easy to mistakenly equate good grades to an education.  Instead, we can show them the value and importance of continuing their education beyond the classroom and throughout their lives.  We can lead by example.  Socrates said, "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel."