By Tony Earp
When I was student teaching as part of my requirements to earn my teaching license, I had the opportunity to work in different schools across Columbus and learn from some of the best teachers in the classroom. With all I learned in my time student teaching, there was a defining moment for me one Friday afternoon when I walked into a middle school classroom to do a lesson I prepared. That moment has been the foundation for the way I approach teaching and coaching.
As I entered the room classes were changing, and the kids of the class I was about to teach followed in behind me. It had been a rough day before arriving at the school to teach the class. I woke up late for work that day, and got an ear full from my boss earlier that day. On top of that, a friend who was suppose to be coming in town to visit cancelled at the last second, and I was not feeling well. I had a pounding headache, and I just wanted the day to end. Teaching this class was the last thing I wanted to do.
I guess I was noticeably unhappy by my facial expression, body language or the way I “gently” dropped my bag on the desk. The teacher for the class came over and asked me if everything was ok. I brushed her off with a quick, “I’m fine” and got ready for the lesson as the kids started taking their seats.
As I started class, there were a couple kids in the back of the class taking their sweet time to sit down and get their notebooks out. Although they were probably taking the standard amount of time it takes a teenager to do anything, my current mode was expecting military type precision to my instructions. With the first snap of the last straw of my patience, I screamed, “Sit down.”
Before I got to continue with what was about to come out of my mouth, the teacher quickly stood up and asked me step outside with her. Obviously, this was the last thing I wanted to deal with and was ready to snap on her as well. As soon as the door closed behind us, she changed how I would approach my job from that point on.
She got to eye level with me, and simply said this, “I do not care what is wrong with you, and those kids do not deserve anything less than your best when you step into that room. Leave all the other **** out here. Do not bring it in there with them. This could be the best part of their day, and you can never let yourself be selfish enough to take that from them. Now, you be the adult, and make this a great day for them. Deal with ‘your stuff’ later.”
She was right, and probably why she is one of the best at what she does. I made a promise to myself that I would adhere to what she asked of me, not just while student teaching in her classroom, but each time I have the privilege and opportunity to teach, or coach, a child.
Her point, which she did not make very subtle, was two fold:
- We cannot be certain what each kid deals with throughout each day. It is possible that a child’s hour with me could be the only positive part of their day.
- It is up to me to make sure that I do everything I can to make that time the best part of their day, NO MATTER WHAT, without exception.
I have modeled my approach to coaching with this “be the best part of their day” as the foundation of what I do each time I run a training session for a player or group of players.
Before you start to think that I am all about ice cream and skittles during my time coaching kids, that is not the case. I believe you can establish a learning environment with a high level of discipline AND enthusiasm. Any high level training environment requires both of these at all times.
All this means, is that when I step on the field with kids, they always have my undivided attention and I will be focused on helping each kid feel important, empowered, and confident in their ability to learn. They will know that I care about them. I care enough about them to not make the session about anything else except them, and helping them improve.
When you are having a bad day, and you are about to step on the field, although difficult at some times, you need to leave the “bad” in the car before you get out. A player, a child, does not deserve to have their practice spoiled by a coach with a short fuse and irritated demeanor, or a coach who will have less than normal patience or rip into a kid mainly just because he is having a bad day.
All kids fight battles either at home, school, or with friends, at some point throughout the year. Other kids are in a constant battle, some much worse than others. Many of these situations we are not aware of, some we are are, and for those kids, their time at practice or playing a sport is their one place of solace. It is their escape, for a short amount of time doing something they love, from what they are forced to face the rest of the day.
By making a player’s time with you the best part of the day, it does not just make it a great experience, and possible refuge, for the kid, but it also makes you a much better coach. This is a key characteristic of the best coaches. They are fully engaged and committed to each player to make sure they are challenged and enjoy training and working towards a goal.
I think back to my best coaches, and teachers, and it was very hard to ever tell what type of day they were having at any given moment. There was a steadfast consistency to what my experience was going to be like in their classroom or on the soccer field. There were very few, if any, shocking moments for these teachers and coaches that were completely out of character. It is what made their classrooms and training sessions “safe places” where I wanted to be, learn, and work incredibly hard.
In the end, to be the “best part of the day” for the kids you teach or coach is a simple, but powerful, philosophy and approach to the most important profession. Teachers and coaches, at times, spend more time with kids during the day, than anyone else. By taking this approach, not only will you make an incredible difference in more kids’ lives, but the kids will learn more, work harder, and have a terrific example to model their behavior after. As this is an important approach for teachers, it is something we should all strive for when it comes to those we interact with each day… friends, family, and even complete strangers.
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org