Writer’s Block: Thoughts from a coaching seminar

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Minnesota State High School League’s “Why We Play” program and a coaches seminar at Coon Rapids High School.

Jason Olson
Jason Olson

I’ve never coached an organized team from the start of a season, so I haven’t had the chance to experience the roller coaster of emotions that make up a full season. I have helped run soccer practices here and there in my free time away from my newspaper duties. The practices were mostly fun, side games or introducing a new idea like how to defend a corner kick or more technical stuff, but it revolved around youth soccer programs in their infancy.

I have more experience with watching coaches from afar at games or practices. The variety of approaches is massive, but all seemed to have the students interests ahead of their own.

I learned several things from the condensed seminar at Coon Rapids, but what I’ve learned the most during my time working with more than a few of these educators is how much they genuinely care about the kids.

Of course we all would like to see a state title from every team, every season. That might be a goal but beyond that, what is the purpose of sport?

Teams are always going to prepare and perform to win each time they compete. That isn’t a purpose. Like Minnesota State High School League Associate Director Jody Redman described:“It’s two things. Human growth and development of the kids and connecting them to their school [and greater community].”

Separation of that goal (winning) from purpose (learn lifelong skills like teamwork, accountability and the other positive traits we look for in society) was one of the more poignant takeaways for me.

Looking back, common sense should say that in an educational-based athletic program (schools versus club-level team) the purpose should be more thoughtful than the famous Vince Lombardi quote of “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.”

It sounds good in a quip or something to motivate a group of football players in a locker room before kickoff on a crisp fall night to get the emotions going. But we need to dig deeper than that.

The program looked at Joe Ehrmann’s book, “Inside Out Coaching” where he helps coaches develop a coaches statement and in turn develop that purpose using four questions: Why I coach? Why I coach the way I do? How does it feel to be coached by me? How do I define and measure success?

I received an email from a frustrated parent who appreciated the original piece but offered another angle. Paraphrasing their question: what happens when the coach puts winning as a purpose instead of a goal?

I think feelings are always going to be strong when a student is cut from a program or isn’t used in what they believe to be the best way to win.

I know the horrible feeling of being cut, but it helped form what I guess would be considered a purpose looking back as motivation to try a new sport.

Those that don’t make a team might have strong thoughts about winning at all costs, no matter age or experience level.

This begs the larger question to be answered about a play-up policy where upperclassmen are given priority on a varsity-level team over an underclassman.

I’ve seen compelling arguments on both sides of the issue from the senior that played on the JV team for three years and missed out on the varsity team for a younger student with more talent to the eighth-grader that excels on a national stage not be able to possibly bring a state title to the local school because of their age.

I’m not sure I have the perfect answer for this but I’m going to try and give my thoughts.

I understand the argument for high school varsity teams being reserved for juniors and seniors only. It is a scholastic-first idea and therefore, should be reserved as a reward for those that played at the younger levels in the program.

On the other side, if a goal is to win, shouldn’t coaches be able to start or dress those students they believe give the team the best chance to win regardless of age?

As long as the goals and purpose are clear and shared with administrators, parents and students, I believe the current state standard in place of seventh grade or older is a fitting guideline and should remain in place.

While the experience of playing a varsity sport is a unique life experience, that shouldn’t stand in the way of a capable younger student taking a spot simply based on age. That seems discriminatory on the basis of age and in all reality entitlement. Whomever performs better on the field, rink, mat or pool should earn that spot to help the team instead of giving one student a few more high school memories.

I know this might be harsh, but it seems like the only logical solution, coming from a senior captain who was a last-man cut as a freshman.

Jason Olson can be reached at  [email protected]