Our University – Coaching

I was reading a piece about the “Big Dance” and how important it is to a university.  For the uninitiated few, the Big Dance is the annual NCAA basketball tournament that some feel will boost college enrollments, solve fiscal problems, raise average entering ACT scores, increase retention rates, give more students a chance to get an education, prevent cloudy weather, solve marital problems amongst members of the academic and extended community, and relieve backache simply through institutional participation in the annual event.

It is a series of basketball games, not the Second Coming.

On the other hand, I read a piece, I think on the same day, about our swim coach, Rick Walker, and his successful effort to save a swimmer in the Mediterranean Sea.  He was there as a referee or judge and Rick sensed a swimmer was weakening.  She was drowning.  He jumped in and saved her life according to Italian authorities, while helping to oversee the international open sea meet.

That is a big dance.

Many coaches, the best of them, are always teachers first and coaches second.  Not to undervalue Rick’s ability and willingness to step in and save a drowning swimmer, but he does that every day.  I know it.  He assists students who are drowning in doubt, lack of realized goals, inability to reach potential, misdirection, unwillingness to sacrifice self for the greater good, and all sorts of other maladies nearly equal in final effect to drowning.  Absolutely equal in this sense: the potential of a life fully lived is lost in every case.  

Good coaches who are great teachers know that and are key contributors to making a university excellent.  None of it has to do with the big dance in March.  It has to do with the idea that we are in the business of developing human potential.  Not a won-lost record, not a conference or national championship.  This is not to say those things would not be appreciated when earned under the correct circumstances and driven by the correct motivation.

Any basketball coach worth her salt will tell you the big dance is a derivative of great coaching, not the goal.  Those five guys or girls running to and fro on the hardwood floor are what coaching basketball is all about. A world record breaststroke is only as valuable to an education as the student who pulls his way down the lane.  The speed at which they do that is a secondary outcome of an investment of the coach and the athlete.  Rick Walker is a great coach and a great teacher.

BTW (For the uninitiated few BTW = By The Way) all of this can be reversed for great teachers.  They are all great coaches.

Laurie Bell is a former coach, if it is possible to be a former coach, on our campus.  She was an excellent field hockey coach, but in her second life works in the Office of Major Scholarships to assist, read: coach students in gaining prestigious national scholarships.  When she started this work in 2003 our record was not so strong.  In six years, our students have become Phi Kappa Phi Graduate Fellows, Udall Scholars, Goldwater Scholars, USA Today-All USA Scholars, and Homeland Security Scholars.  And these are just a few examples.

This too is a coach at work, not at field hockey but, at the very essence of coaching; and in fact all university life – the development of human potential.

Coaches and teachers, teachers and coaches, you can’t draw a line between the best of them, saving and building lives. 

That’s a big dance that will make a university great.

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