About This Coaching Thing...

About This Coaching Thing... 

by Dunn Neugebauer

I'm not a Division I coach and never want to be. After all, the underlying philosophy there from the "supporters" is - "We're with you win or tie! Oh, and about that tie thing..."

It's easy for coaches to get on the ego trip of winning sometimes, and our kids often suffer because of it. I almost screwed that up last cross country season, my desire to have state coaching titles to go with my two I won as a kid.

Kids are pulled into so many directions, straight out of the womb these days. Better. Faster. More. Still, the bottom line is, more isn't better, rest is often your best training. If you don't take time for renewal, you won't be a better self for anyone, mainly yourself.

My advice to 14-through-18-year-olds: Be a boy. Be a girl. Do your best, but don't forget to hang out with your friends. Watch the new YouTube video. Flirt, make memories while you're supposed to be studying for tests; talk about the hot guy in chemistry class, have random conversations in the hallways. Balance, baby, balance - a VERY underrated word.

I'm a high school coach and my worse mistake comes when I forget that. Two rules work their way inside my head when I do: 1) It's not about me, and 2) It's not about me.

I spent this weekend at a two-day track meet, 28 teams, most if not all bigger schools. One major point: They sacrificed some of their Spring Break to be here. All got better. One broke the tape; one took home two medals. All learned. All are now off to other parts of their lives.

Anyway, last year at times, our cross country team was picked to win it all. We didn't, we learned, and standing at the finish line at Carrollton, one major thought worked past my ego: There are 20 runners here. Most of the entire Upper School came to support. These youth now know the A-to-Z: from running in random cornfields in front of only God, to being the main draw in front of the entire running state.

You see, it's about scared freshmen girls who mature so much they talk your ear off just two short years later. Boys making a game out of yelling in the stretching circle. Girls braiding each other's hair before races. Getting up at dark thirty on a Saturday - it sounds tough, but as Tom Hanks said, it's the tough that makes it great. Seeing Jackie, Nick, Aidan, and Welden nailing it at Milton this weekend. Sweating. Healing. Back to class. Off to see a movie. Balance dang it!

As for my finish line, they get better. They enjoy each other. They still have lives or they (bleeping) well should have. And as for the graduates, Jayaraj and I got a text last Wednesday from a former runner now at Sewanee. It seems her roommate is getting mad at her because "she won't shut up about her cross country and track days!"

Let's see now: Win? Lose? Tie?

Call me crazy, but this is sounding like a win to me. And God Bless high school sports, the way they're meant to be.

  • Dunn Neugebauer coaches cross country and track at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in Atlanta. He's written a couple of books, but besides writing, his favorite things are still coaching and random 22-second conversations with kids between classes.