“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.”
John Wooden

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Man in the Arena

By Jim Freeman
March 13, 2014

This title for this site is purposely lacking in a certain specificity so as to include all of us who stand on the sidelines: coaches, trainers, family members, friends, all those who cheer, boo, instruct, hope, pray, curse and encourage.  We stand and watch while our brave charges run onto the field or court and risk, win, fail, compete, laugh, cry and suffer. And they do all of that publicly, surrounded by tens, hundreds or thousands of spectators. A significant portion of those spectators will observe and immediately form and state opinions about the talent, character and worth of those they are watching.

Theodore Roosevelt (pictured above) gave a speech entitled Citizenship in a Republic in Paris more than 100 years ago. The very famous paragraph from that speech appears below:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

That paragraph has been quoted countless times across a variety of disciplines and it remains, for me, one of the most eloquent descriptions of what is involved when one embarks on any sort of competitive  journey.  I chose to become a coach because I thought it something meaningful to be one who is on the side of the man or woman in the arena...one who helps that individual or collection of individuals succeed, learn and grow.  Doing that in a competitive environment is also a lot of fun...and if you play your cards right, you get to wear really comfortable clothing while you do it.

When I first decided to become a coach I had little or no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it. I decided to study leaders who were successful in different areas in order to develop some sort of coherent approach to my new vocation.  I included in that group a number of coaches, military leaders and politicians.  I included politicians despite G.K. Chesterton's knowing observance that “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.”

Over the years...now many years...I've read stacks of books and periodicals, attended clinics, watched instructional videos, observed practices and games, and talked with players and colleagues.  I've done all those things (as do countless other coaches) so as to better be able to aid the men and women in the arena...to inspire, love, encourage and instruct...and in turn, be inspired, loved, encouraged and instructed by those same men and women.

One of the things we hope to accomplish with this site is to highlight some of the books and people who have helped us along the way.  The first such book to be discussed is one that I chose, Talent and the Secret Life of Teams by former Nebraska volleyball coach, Terry Pettit.  Posts to follow will discuss some of the topics raised in this excellent work. I strongly recommend clicking on the link above and purchasing a copy for yourself.  It's one of the best books on coaching I've ever read...one that I re-read on a yearly basis.

I am forever grateful for the many people who have taught me and given me so much these past years...players, coaches, parents, officials, staff and administrators...at the risk of sounding maudlin, they have lent meaning and purpose to it all.  It is in that spirit that we begin this latest endeavor.

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