The youth coaches I most looked up to as a teenager must have been the ones my parents liked the least: young, intense, guys who wanted badly to win. It’s a hazards of competitive youth programs, whether sports or debate or jazz band–the professionalism and maturity of the coach to whom you entrust your kid.

I had plenty of responsible, level-headed coaches who valued my long term athletic and personal development over the team’s place in the standings. Looking back, I recognize that these coaches were always a parent of a player on the team. That must have affected their approach to coaching.

The other ones–the ones I so admired and yearned to impress–probably didn’t have enough going on in the rest of their lives to moderate their zeal for youth sports. The stories they told about former diamond glory still were, for them, the best it had been. They lacked the perspective of a life filled with meaningful commitments off the field and outside the gym. Some of them still lived with their parents. One of them bought us beer.

The impact of a coach on a teenager goes well beyond what they teach about technique and the way they inspire with a pep talk. It extends to how they make and communicate roster and practice decisions and how they relate as grown ups to players’ parents. Responsibility and maturity in those latter areas matters more than excellence in the former, to my view.

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