The Chuck Wielgus Blog: #CoachesAre Teachers
USA Swimming has designated April as “CoachesAre Month” and we’re taking the month to share stories that highlight the important role that coaches play in the lives of young athletes.
At their core, coaches are teachers. Whether their classroom is a pool, gym, or playing field, it is within these arenas that the coach as teacher provides important life lessons. It has been said that beyond parents, there is nobody who can have a greater influence in an a young person’s life than a coach.
In the early 1980s the high school basketball team I was coaching had a solid group of good players. We were winning our share of games, but I just felt we could do better. I dubbed this team with the nickname of “The Choir Boys” because of their overly nice temperament, and midway through the season I began to push them a lot harder than I normally would. We didn’t win the state championships that year, but we exceeded expectations. I had been hard on them, but I wondered if I had been too hard.
Many years later and just a few years ago, I began hearing from some of the boys – now grown men with families of their own – who were on that team. One was a school guidance counselor in Durham, N.C. Another was living in Japan with his wife and two children where he was teaching and had recently started to coach basketball.
Both mentioned specific memories from that long ago season, things I didn’t remember, but things that were obviously important to them. One even apologized for being difficult to work with, when in fact he was perhaps our best player and one of the easiest kids to coach. It’s funny how time affects the way we perceive things.
Aside from my own dad, the man who perhaps has had the most influence in my life is Ed Hockenbury. That’s not likely a name that is known to most people reading this blog, but Hockenbury’s name is very well known in the basketball circles out East. Hockenbury was an All-City basketball player in Philadelphia and went on to play at Boston College, where he captained the 1966 team coached by Boston Celtic legend, Bob Cousy.
After college Hockenbury got into coaching and served as an assistant at Georgetown, Army and Villanova. In 1976, he took the job as head basketball coach at Norwich University, a Division III private military school in Northfield, Vt.
About that time, I had recently completed my Master’s Degree and was looking for a coaching position, and I had two offers. The first was to be the full-time assistant basketball coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. The second offer was to serve as a volunteer assistant at Norwich University. It wasn’t an easy decision, but after meeting with Hockenbury I signed on to be his assistant, knowing that it was a volunteer assignment.
I was only with Coach Hockenbury for one year, and it was a tough year with a lot more losses than wins. But working under “Hock” I learned just how important it was to be a coach, how big the responsibilities were, and how much of an impact a coach can have on an athlete.
Ed Hockenbury saw the profession as an honorable calling. He loved every minute in the practice gym. Everything was about being thorough, being prepared, comporting yourself like a professional, and above all staying true to a set of values regardless of outcomes. He saw the coach as a teacher and a role model, and expected his assistants to embrace those roles as well.
Ed Hockenbury died of cancer in 1995. I still think of him often, and I know that any time I have the opportunity to meet or work with a coach in any sport, that I judge them against the principles that Ed Hockenbury lived by and taught to me. These principles of accountability, discipline, having a strong work ethic, teamwork, sportsmanship and fair play, respect for oneself and respect for others are the life lessons that a coach teaches to athletes and others. These are the stories we want to share during “CoachesAre Month.”
Chuck Wielgus can be contacted at email@example.com. All of his blogs are archived at USASwimming.org: click on “News” and then click on “Org News & Blogs”