Seeking good life-coaches

Reflections on Life
Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Ironically, by the time we get really good at connecting the everyday dots of life, we see that the span of our life is closer to sunset than to sunrise. This curious twilight phenomenon is a sharp variation or do-over of the axiom, “Youth is wasted on the young.” How many athletes have asked themselves, “How good could I have been as a young athlete in my prime had I known then what I know now as a coach?”
It is of great interest that some of the all-time greats in the world of sports have been described as another coach on the field. In mind-bending fashion, if their stance on the infield was not right for an individual batter, centerfielder Willie Mays signaled to infielders where they should be standing for the tendencies of a batter.
As no other, Willie Mays ran the bases at full speed, looking directly behind in order to direct “traffic,” that is, the runners behind him, to stop at a base or to keep running and take the next base. He did all this while touching only the inside point of a bag as he rounded first, second and third, thus not wasting a fraction of a second. It is no wonder that Willie Mays alone hit two inside-the-park homers to left field.
Coaching is not unique to or proprietary to sports or learning institutions of every kind. Rather, coaching is inherent to any learning situation in every activity, work, profession, entertainment or occupation. Since one can coach a debate team, we know that there is someone somewhere who can coach another to learn and/or execute whatever is at hand or coming down the pike to be done. For instance, one can coach another who aspires to write prose or poetry of various kinds. And we know all too well that lawyers coach their clients to testify in court, enabling them to transcend the dots of legal knowledge by connecting the dots of legal practice.
Coaching sometimes parades under other names, such as being the master to an apprentice who works side by side to see and imitate each technique, move and progression in getting a job or performance done. Thus, the apprentice method of learning is one of the most time-honored in the history of humankind, and, though it has morphed over the centuries, it still retains its luster amid modern technologies.
Highly significant is also the fact that the best coaches do not usually come from the ranks of the superstars and not even from among the better players. Some of the best coaches in baseball in particular did not even earn a spot on a major league team. Superstars such as Ted Williams, who also coached, have a problem relating to the challenges incurred by more pedestrian, journeyman players. They literally don’t know how to connect the practical ballgame dots for mortal players.
This means that great knowledge and skill can be secondary among the assets of a great coach, well behind the coach’s heart and a willingness to learn how to tap into the mind, emotions and heart of the people who are being coached. This is a variant of, “It’s not the dog that’s in the fight; it’s the fight that’s in the dog.” Time after time, we see very journeyman individuals who are world-beaters as a team.
Parents are the first and most basic coaches in life for all of us. This is great when both parents are on the scene, alert and heart-and-soul involved in the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual development of children. Mother and father need not be astute or sophisticated if their head and heart are right.
Sadly, it is not an exaggeration to say that most families, especially black families, are partially dysfunctional, and have been growing more dysfunctional each year since the halcyon days of 1964, when 76.4 percent of black families were nuclear – a mark that exceeded even the favored white families of the U.S. Yes, both marital coaches, mama and papa, were working hand in hand to develop each child. Nuclear black families now teeter around 30 percent with the bottom falling out.
So, despite heroic efforts of many single parents, overall horrendous effects are seen in our youth at home, in school and on gang/drug-ridden streets, because Coach Papa is not aiding Coach Mama. Literally, sometimes it is the sports coach at school who adopts clueless children and “fathers”/”mothers” them in the ways of life, gently helping to connect the dots where the home coach is not on the job.
With at times near uncoachable, faltering apostles, Coach Jesus was hands down the greatest of all coaches, holding his crew to the highest standards possible.
Parents, who are our prototeachers, other teachers, spiritual directors, coaches of every kind and at every level need always follow the template, the Man from Galilee, who can and will show us how to connect the dots of life when no one else can.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lives in retirement at Sacred Heart Residence in Bay St. Louis. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)