The ESPN Awards show, the ESPY’s, was on TV several weeks ago. However, the comments made by the presenter for the “Best Coach” award are still with me. It is not so much her words but more that the words of her college basketball coach had such an impact on her that she had her body permanently marked with those words. The presenter – I don’t recall her name- commented that all athletes have had a coach that helped the athlete become the best they could be. For this presenter, it was the late Pat Summit, famed coach of the Tennessee Women’s basketball team who told her players, “Left, right, breathe, repeat”. The presenter stated she even had that tattooed on her forearm.
There have been many great coaches who have inspired an athlete, or an entire team with the comments they have made. I recall reading the book “Coach” about famed Green Bay Packer’s coach Vince Lombardi who was quoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing”. In searching my “On Demand” options from my cable TV service provider so I could get the name of that presenter, I came across a show that was just some of the key speeches from past ESPY awards. And then there is the coach in the movie “Bull Durham” who tries to inspire the team to win by reminding them of how simple the sport is…”you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.”
While not all these sayings from coaches are ones that will stay with an athlete throughout life, in my case, two simple phrases from my high school swimming coach have been with me since I was in the 6th grade. I did not go to the extent of having them tattooed on my body as the presenter did, but that does not mean the words of my coach have not been with me throughout my life.
When my family moved from Pennsylvania to north of Chicago, I was signed up for swimming lessons at the local high school. I had learned to swim with an American Red Cross course when I was younger but the classes at the local high school (New Trier East) on Saturday mornings, when I was in 4th grade, improved my swimming ability. I even won a T shirt from a year end event where the High School head coach was the judge and the criteria was not speed but form. By 6th grade, I was doing evening workouts with the high school team and the head coach Dave Robertson.
On many occasions, Dave (we never called him Coach or Coach Robertson) would tell the team two phrases which have tried to apply to my life. The first was “What I am to be, I am now becoming”. While that is something that one might think only applies in our youth, it has been a phrase that I have applied throughout my life. Whether my time in high school getting ready for my collegiate life, or as I entered the United States Naval Academy for my post-high school education, or even once commissioned and serving in the Navy for nearly 20 years as a commissioned officer in Active Duty, Active Reserve, or In-Active Reserve duty, the words of my swimming coach were always with me. They were with me when I married and when my children were born. Whatsoever it was that I was doing, the words “What I am to be, I am now becoming” were with me.
The other phrase from Dave (was “If not me, who. If not now, when?”. This has been something that I have carried with me more than the other phrase. Whether it is as I walked by a piece of trash that was not put into a trash can, or when there is need for volunteers to help at some event, the phrase “If not me, who. If not now, when?” has resonated in my mind. It is not really the sort of mantra that I have carried to my racing as something to get me to work harder toward a better finish. It has been a phrase that I have applied more to my non-athletic life and I believe I have been a better citizen than what I would have been had I not applied those words.
So for all those who have had a coach in their life, consider what that coach has told you over the years. You may find that some of those comments are those which you can apply to the whole of your life. In the case of the female basketball player that made the “Best Coach” award on the ESPY’s, this was true of the word Pat Summit told her. In my case, it was the words of my swimming coach from the early 1970’s that are still with me to this day.