The day after we got pummeled by our rival high school, Coach ran us as hard as I’ve ever been run: single file from home plate on a dead sprint 330 feet to the right field foul pole, then who-knows-how-many feet across the width of the outfield to the left field foul pole before a final 45 degree turn and 300 feet back to home plate. Rest 60 seconds, then do it again. And again, and again. I stopped counting at eight times, when my teammate Danny started throwing up. We did it at least twice more.
We weren’t running because we lost, or even because we lost badly. Coach didn’t show up to practice that day intending to destroy us, only when he arrived he found us all lounging around waiting for him to arrive and for practice to start. This was a clear signal to him that we didn’t care enough about having been embarrassed the day before to take it upon ourselves to start practice without him. We needed to be taught a lesson, and running seemed a suitable pedagogy. The preamble to his sprinting instructions were as memorable to me as they were senseless: “You’re all about to learn that shit rolls downhill!”
That practice was a turning point. We took Coach’s abuse to heart and went on to win the rest of our games and the league championship.
No, wait. We lost most of the rest of our games and even got blown out a time or two more.
I do not remember my high school baseball coach as an inspirational figure who made me want to be a better athlete, much less a better person. He certainly did not improve the results for his team. When I think of him now it’s as a petty, immature young man who enjoyed far too much the privilege of yelling at and insulting teenagers. That’s a skill that only gets you so far; I think he started selling used cars a few years after I graduated. He made no lasting positive impression.
I’m thinking of him as I listen to Daughter describe how her cheer coach berates the team for their lack of “desire” and “effort” when their stunts fall. He doesn’t coach to correct technique, but to demean his athletes’ attempts. It’s lazy and uncreative coaching, and I can’t see that it is doing the team any good (three years in this gym and every year the same lectures). Daughter wonders how much more she can take, and she fears she’s the only one; her teammates seem to side with the coach, encouraging one another to work harder and be less lazy. Daughter is baffled. She’s gassed and is giving her all, and she can see her teammates are too. They need corrected about the stunts, not about their attitudes. That they all accept a grown up’s inaccurate characterization of their best effort is troubling to Daughter.
What else are they being conditioned to accept?