Duke fans: Thanks for reading. I look forward to updating my blog often and hearing from you via Twitter @steve_wojo. If you have a story of a coach and how he or she impacted your life, please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will compile a list and share the stories right here on our blog.
Coach Wilson is turning 90 this week. Who is he? He is the man who got me started in the game of basketball at the age of nine. He has run a free clinic six days a week for almost 50 years open to anyone in my hometown of Severna Park, MD. He is a legend in the Maryland area and has coached thousands and thousands of kids for free his entire adult life. I believe he is a treasure to the state of Maryland and its community. Those clinics and his overall support changed my life forever. I am not the only one – “his kids” are represented in the NFL, NBA, and MLB and are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business owners across the USA. Most of them would tell you their own unique stories of how Mr. Wilson’s care, devotion, selflessness, generosity and “coaching” impacted their lives in a positive and lasting way.
His upcoming 90th birthday got me thinking about “coaching” and the impact that coaches can have on young people on all levels — youth, high school, college, and even the pros. I get frustrated because most of the things that people hear about coaches are not positive. Coaches are associated with scandal, a lack of integrity, job turnover and big money in a world where drama sells. To me, the vast majority of coaches are true teachers who do it for the right reasons. I think a lot of times that is lost.
Ultimately, coaching is a way to give back. Outside of my family — my mom, my dad, my brother and my sister — the people who have had the biggest impact on my life are my coaches. From Ed Wilson who introduced me to the game of basketball to Walter Benewicz who introduced me to soccer to my high school coaches Ray Mullis and Mike Dahlem who took a dream of potentially playing Division I college basketball and led me to Duke to obviously Coach K, coaches have changed my life. And those are just a select few. Coaches have enriched my life so much and inspired me to have a similar impact on the young men I coach. That’s why I do it.
The reality for me is that college basketball is a bottom-line business too. You have to win to keep your job. Within and outside the scope of winning, there are amazingly positive things happening. Kids are getting the chance to do things like get a degree, travel the world, and have life-changing experiences they would not have had if they hadn’t played a sport and had a coach who believed in them. Coaches become reliable mentors and friends. Through coaches (at all levels across all sports), kids gain confidence, learn how to turn adversity into success, develop belief in themselves, pick up valuable communications and life skills, and build great friendships. It’s a challenge because everyone focuses on the wins and losses and that’s a main reason why you play. I love to win and and go toe to toe with the best. But it isn’t the only reason I coach. I don’t think there’s enough stories told about the success of coaches outside the win columns and record books. The Coach K’s and Tom Izzo’s do it the right way for the right reasons. So do MANY other coaches whose names aren’t recognizable to the general public. These coaches have empathy for others, give their best every day, and dig in away from the courts and fields to understand each player on an individual level. The people around them are better for having been around these coaches. I wish some more of those stories could be told.
One of my favorite stories is the rise of Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas and the journey we shared together. You share the ups and downs, from the lows of injuries and tough losses to the highs of ACC titles, the Final Four and winning it all. Each moment — good and bad — is shared emotionally and spiritually. Ultimately, the bond between Zoubs, LT and me is built more on the day to day level than the ring we won. Both will connect us forever.
Coaching is an honorable profession and a huge responsibility. Coaches play as big a role in our society as anyone outside of parents and family. At its core, coaching is not about the money, the TV and working with star players. It is about helping young people figure out who they are, who they are going to be and how they are going to get there as athletes and as people. Like me, most coaches are a result of other coaches who molded us, believed in us and helped us become who we are.
Thanks again to Mr. Wilson for helping me think about why I coach and how influential coaches can be in the lives of the people they touch. I promise to do my best to follow in the example that you showed me as a nine year old boy in Saverna Park.