Coaches have an incredible opportunity to positively impact students. Close your eyes for a moment and think back—who was the one coach that positively impacted you? The coach you couldn’t wait to be around at the end of the school day? When you think about this coach, the one who so quickly filled your mind’s eye, what did they do to make your experience so impactful? What fundamental need did this coach meet in your life? Did they inspire you? Motivate you? Bring a positive change to your life? The answer is yes! They understood your needs and supported and encouraged you. They had a clear vision for what they wanted you to become—the best version of you.
The experience you brought up in your mind is the same impactful experience students need from adults today. They need a caring adult in their life who will positively impact them for a lifetime.
In research conducted by David Murphey, he finds that children and adolescents who have a “mentor-like” relationship with someone outside their home are more likely to complete tasks they start, remain calm in the face of challenges, show interest in learning new things, volunteer in the community, engage in physical activities, participate in out-of-school time activities, and be engaged in school. Additionally, those who have a caring adult outside the home are more likely to talk with their parents about “things that really matter.”
Why do we have athletic programs in schools? Because sports provide meaningful, “mentor-like” relationships with caring adults. Adults who are focused on providing transformational experiences and a caring community. Your one coach provided you with a place to belong. They saw your human potential and accepted their role in helping you grow. They helped mentor and guide you to become the person you are today.
My friend, colleague, and the AD at Fridley High School, Dan Roff, was asked to provide the eulogy for his one coach—Coach Niles Schultz. Dan’s beautiful tribute to Coach Niles sums up the long-lasting impact a transformational coach can have in a person’s life. Below is an excerpt from the message Dan shared.
“By attending Augsburg and coaching and teaching in Minneapolis, I had the opportunity to get to really know Coach Niles…it allowed me to see the many sides of him as my true self was beginning to take solid root. I worked for Niles in the cement business for two summers and coached on his football staff.
Here are some things I learned about him—he was a beast, that farm boy from Zumbrota could put in a good day’s work. He was stubborn about a task and physically rugged. These were great traits when something needed to get done. He laughed a lot. He found people funny, tough situations funny, he found life funny. It was a very intoxicating quality that made Niles very attractive. People liked being around him. He enjoyed people—one of his greatest qualities was he chose to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. He did this before Strengths Theory became a thing. I think that’s why he fit in here in Northeast. He enjoyed the simplicity of its people. They didn’t ask for much but were very clear and focused on what they did ask for. They were hardworking and loyal—two qualities dear to Niles. He respected that and lived it as well.
I celebrate Niles every day in my teaching, coaching, and work as a high school administrator. Niles affirmed me and believed in me when I was struggling to believe in myself. His voice echoes through me when I have difficulties and I hope to believe I help instill confidence and self-worth in the people I now have the opportunity to work with.”
The real value of education-based athletics lies not in the culture’s narrow view of success—winning, scholarships and personal achievement, but in providing students with a connection to a caring adult in their school community. We must focus on what will be remembered long after the scoreboard has been turned off—relationships and how our one coach made us feel. Make a commitment to give each student in your school community one coach, a caring adult who understands their role—to help students build a foundation for a successful life.
This article also appeared in the Minnesota State High School League’s Fall Bulletin.