Friday, April 5, 2013

The All-Purpose Ringmaster

Earlier this week, Margo and I took our two oldest kids (6 and 3... old I know) to the local circus, put on by a small, local circus company. It was a humble, low budget circus. The type that can perform in the smallest of venues. It was a circus of only a few performers, five dogs, and a little horse that the kids could stand next to for their picture: "$5 with your camera, $10 with mine".

The acts were simple (not necessarily easy) and traditional. Some of the performers looked beyond their prime, yet gave an effort and performance that I could completely respect (as if I am the expert circus talent identifier).

I also felt as if I should have purchased one of the generic circus coloring books, a few large balloons, and some cotton candy they were selling, in hopes that they didn't go broke and would be able to perform another day.

Even with all the antiquated props and sets, and a scant audience, they put on a show. And what really caught my attention and resonated with me was the ringmaster. As we were finding our seats, he was making his rounds making sure everything was in order, helping with the sets and performers. After opening with the classic, "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages...", he was over adjusting the lights for the performers. Later, he was selling popcorn. Then selling souvenirs - no job too large or small. And with great dignity. His all-purpose-ness reminded me of one of my coaches when I was younger...

I grew up in a small community that paired with a couple local small towns for school and sports. This meant we had to often travel 10-15 miles to school or to practice at different times throughout the year. I had a junior high coach who would drive us by bus at 5:30 for our 6 am practices (not to mention he, himself, lived another 20+ miles away... in another state!). He would also drive the bus to and from games. He was the 'equipment manager'. He taped ankles. He got the water bottles filled. He coached us in multiple sports. He cut the football field grass and painted it's lines. He swept the basketball floor before and after practice. All the while teaching us discipline, humility, and the fundamentals of the games. I am sure... no, I know, he did a hell of lot more than we ever knew.

I know that some days after practices, he would be refereeing girls volleyball or basketball games. He also scouted high school football games, prepping scouting reports for the varsity team and coaches.

Not to mention, having to deal with all the damn parents who thought they were the coaching experts or thought their child was getting shafted in some way. Thinking of those parents that bitched or scoffed, pisses me off even more today than ever. We weren't elite athletes, and we didn't need elite coaching. We needed the basics and to be taught discipline and humility. My coach had the thankless job of being Mr. Utility, just so many of us could have the opportunity to play on the... small-time stage. I completely get it now.

He is still coaching junior high kids today - 20 years later - having had coached something like 20 years prior to me. All the while teaching at the high school, and raising and supporting his own family.

I deeply appreciate my junior high coach (as I did the ringmaster). Definitely way more now than I should have in my younger days, when all my thoughts were dreaming of the big leagues. Today, I call him one my coaching heroes.

No job too large or too small.

Thank you, Coach Keller.

And thank you to all the youth, junior high, and high school (usually multiple sports) coaches who have done, and are doing (often unrecognized) a great job teaching and leading. Especially those doing all the extra coaching 'dirty work' because of limited resources, but made up for with tremendous resourcefulness.

There's more to coaching than just being an expert in the X's and O's or techniques of a sport. More than the sets and reps. More than the programming. More than just the practice or training session.

I don't care what kind of salary a coach makes, what status they hold, or what 'big-time' school they are at; a coach is a person, and no person is beyond any job that must be done.

Even if that means driving the bus, filling the water bottles, or painting the field... and to me, that's a bad-ass coach and a leader who I want to follow.



Josh Leeger said...

Absolutely. A great example for everyone to emulate.

Dave "Cooter" Symington said...

Nice article Aaron!! I completely agree with you. Coach Keller has also helped me in many ways and many times and I sure appreciated it too!