Over the last ten years I’ve coached a great many youth and high school players. I’ve had the real privilege of officiating a freshman that I coached when he was thirteen, coming in to play for a few minutes while his team was winning, and then seeing that freshman turn into a senior leader on his team four years later. Officiating is, and will always be, the way I give back the most to the game of lacrosse, but there is such an allure in coaching players of any age that it is always a pleasure to coach at a camp, clinic, or rec league.
My favorite part about coaching is getting to watch the lightbulb moment in action. Seeing a high schooler I’m instructing over the offseason fully understand the proper way to break down on defense after several repetitions, or seeing the gears turn in the mind of an eleven-year-old as he processes the benefit of finding the extra pass in a two on one. That is my selfish reason for coaching. I really enjoy it when players gain a flash of insight about how to play the game better after a little nudge or two from me in the right direction. But that is not the main reason I coach.
When you take out the team records, the individual statistics, the diagrammed plays, and the seemingly constant travel to practices and games all that is left is one question – why do I do this? For me at least, the answer is that it matters to the players.
When I was very young I won a competition in my Taekwondo class for being able to stand at attention the longest. For a seven year old boy standing still for any length of time is an accomplishment, but I managed to keep myself from squirming long enough to win a martial-arts themed coloring book. In this book were many different stories about the proper attitude to bring to a lifetime of training, and one story stuck with me for nearly twenty years. After searching I found this coloring book story was based on “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley.
The story was shortened considerably in the coloring book, but here is the core of the tale:
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”
– The original text from above may be found here: http://mommiesofmiracles.com/star-thrower-loren-c-eiseley/
In the coloring book a new martial arts student witnessed a master tossing starfish from the beach into the sea, but no matter who the people in the story are the truth is always clear – It does not matter how long you’ve coached or how many wins you accumulate. What truly matters is that you had a positive impact on another person and they will remember you as I have remembered the amazing coaches in my life.
So if at the end of this regular season you are tired and wondering why you’re still leaving work early for practice and staying late to help a player improve their technique remember that you’re a coach and every one of your players is a star on a beach waiting for your positive impact.