Boy, did I respect Phil Jackson when I was a boy. Yeah, he had Mike, but watching him on TV or at Bulls games, you could tell he was a tough coach. I was in awe of how he was able to get so much from all of his players every single game. What I didn’t know at the time was how much effort and commitment Jackson had put into his own philosophy of coaching and mentoring, later writing a book to share that wisdom. When I finished reading Sacred Hoops at the ripe old age of 12, I resolved to become a successful head coach when I grew up – after I played for the Bulls and won three championships, of course.
I have always believed that a young child or young adult can benefit greatly from having one or two mentors in their lives. In some circumstances, the mentors are both obvious and present, in the forms of our parents and teachers, or even close family friends. Then, for those that participate in competitive sports programs, there’s the coach. The quintessential mentor, a coach is in charge of and responsible for many things, including: his or her players’ safety and well-being, physical conditioning, mental acuity, soliciting maximum effort, encouraging commitment toward achieving a goal or overcoming an obstacle, behaving and acting respectfully, and exhibiting good sportsmanship. Coaches must also lead by example and show young athletes what it means to embody all these important qualities in order to become a better person. That’s a lot of weight on the coach’s shoulders, but nevertheless it’s an opportunity for those “teachable moments” in life to arise and to learn valuable life lessons.
Many great coaches across history and time will tell you that it’s easier said than done. Even the greatest athletes and business professionals had mentors that either guided them to their successful ventures or inspired them to realize their potential.
While my bar and bat mitzvah tutoring business is my primary form of mentorship these days, my passion for teaching has led me to explore other forms of mentorship. This fall and spring, I had the wonderful opportunity to work as a head coach for two middle school sports programs. I was excited and eager to jump right into my role, even though I had no prior coaching experience at this age level. Despite knowing more than enough about the sport to feel confident about my abilities to model and teach the mechanics, I was acutely aware that coaching is more than simply teaching skills and technique (we have YouTube videos for that).
Any coach can show you how to shoot a free throw, or how to round the bases. But a good coach and mentor will teach you how to shake hands after every match; how to keep your head up when you lose; how to give everything you do your absolute best effort with no regrets; how to build a strong desire to become a better human being.
There is also an understanding that being a coach requires selflessness, to be willing and able to place the team’s and the players’ interests above your own desires and dreams. I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to witness mentors that set unrealistic expectations or resort to extreme measures when they have difficulty communicating with players. No matter what age, I’ve discovered that all players deserve and require a mentor who can understand the why and not just the how.
I was initially inspired to try this by my two younger siblings, Jesse and Hayley. Jesse has been involved for many years with an organization that tutors and mentors high school students, and he continues to show support for those that are less fortunate and lack the proper mentorship and guidance. I’m so proud of him for leading by example and giving back in a way that promotes a positive and encouraging relationship between those involved.
My sister was the one that suggested – a while ago, she likes to say – I reconnect with my alma mater and explore potential coaching opportunities. I didn’t have the time or the proper schedule to coach back then, but the idea stuck with me for several years, until the opportunity came knocking. Looking back, I’m grateful that I did it, and even more grateful that I’m surrounded with mentors that continue to reach out and offer guidance, love and support whenever it’s needed.
So let’s raise a glass to all of our mentors, past and present, who made us who we are today. Anyone reading this article who has an opportunity to take on a leadership or mentoring role, I strongly encourage you to consider it. It will change the way you see the world and even the way you see yourself. I know it did for me, and I cannot wait until I have another opportunity to coach.