What Does It Mean to Truly “Coach”?

I have been called many things in my lifetime, husband, brother, Mr. Slezak, a few others names I won’t put in the blog (just kidding), and a coach.  The term coach means a lot to me and I am actually honored when someone calls me by it.  I am sure as you are reading this a picture of a coach from your past comes to mind, maybe a person who really helped you along or a bad youth experience.  I know I have had both of those in my life.  By definition a coach is someone who is responsible for the direction, instruction, and training of a sports team or individual.  To me a coach is much more than just that one dimensional definition.

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The truly great coaches like UCLA’s John Wooden, basketball’s Phil Jackson, and Clemson’s Chuck Kriese develop more than just sports skills, they shape the entire life of their athletes.  To them it is not just about sport performance (wins/losses) it is about developing the person.  Great coaches simply use their sport as the means to teach young men and women life lessons.  Sports are such an outstanding metaphore for life and this is why I believe tennis can have such a positive impact on the lives of young people whether they dream of playing professional tennis or just enjoying the game recreationally.

People wonder how I have seemingly endless energy to coach tennis and train athletes.  I literally get excited to train high level athletes and 5-year-old beginners to the same extent.  Sure I know a ton about my discipline but what really gets me excited is knowing that I can have a positive impact on a person’s life regardless of their age or ability.  When you look at coaching like that how can you not get excited?  Tennis and fitness are simply the means with which I teach young people.  Certainly the job is to get them bigger, faster, stronger, and playing great tennis but it becomes much more meaningful when you are developing the person along the journey.

So the next time you call me or someone “coach” think about what the term really means.  Think about the message that coach is sending to your child when you drop them off.  When you start to see coaching through that lens it becomes very clear how to distinguish a good coach from a great coach.


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