Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (I Corinthians 9:25). Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (I Timothy 4:7-8).
I was reminded this morning that I would never be able to coach today’s young athletes the way I did 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. My teams believed that football players were kids that couldn’t cut it for distance running. On days of races, we would run the entire course and then race the other team. Up until the end of the season (When championship races were held), we would hold extra-long distance practices the day before our races, so that we would be extra sharp when we would later race with rest. That was part of the intimidation routine that those teams wanted to generate.
My job was to give them the physical background, the means to improve during the season and the ability to succeed when the pressure was on. But that was my cross-country job. My real job was to try to set an example and to lead them to lives that would make a difference–not just in their sport, but in their lives–both then and in the futrue.
So, while it might not be politically correct in today’s society, some of the best examples that changed some of my runners lives were, on the face of it, tortuous. Their was a young man, who thought it would be clever to “moon” the opposing team as our bus was leaving the school we ran against that day. Everyone went silent, as they waited to see my reaction. I just told them all, “wait until tomorrow.” Needless to say, the culprit was sweating it out for the next 24 hours until we met again for practice. So, at the start of that practice, I gave the entire team the lecture of how they were representing their school, their team and, probably most important, themselves. So, I asked him and the team to decide what sort of workout he should have to help to “remind” him to think before he acted in the future. He and the team decided on a session of repeat hills that we had practiced before. We didn’t decide on how many times he should run up that hill. We let him decide. He ended up running that hill until he literally cried. And his teammates voluntarily ran each one with him. It was a painful lesson, but one that stuck. He ended up serving as a Senior combat Medic in the US Army and as a Field Agent for the Counter terrorist Unit in both LA and NY and is a proud husband and father.
In one other brief situation, one of the male members of the team purposely did something that embarrassed one of the female members of our team. Oh, yeah,..the guys and the girls trained together everyday. That would probably be politically incorrect today, too. Just think of those poor guys who might not be able to keep up with the girls. What a terrible shock to their fragile egos. And, to expect the girls to do the same workouts as the guys was surely putting too much pressure on them to keep up. Anyway,…one of the male co-captains decided to create a weight room workout for the offending individual. We had a 10 station workout that we usually did. So, we started him with 10 reps at the same weight as the girl could do for each station. Sounds easy? Then he had to do 9 reps on each, then 8, then 7 and so on. Once again, we suddenly had a guy who appreciated all of his teammates and who showed respect to everyone.
I’m not implying that we should physically challenge a person for every indiscretion. But sometimes tough love works. And in my situation it did–more often than not. Most are now having a positive influence on their family, their job, their community and, in many cases, their church.
And, to this day, these team members are still in communication with me. And many have become my adult friends. And for that I’m thankful. And I’m thankful that I coached in an era that allowed me to influence lives in ways that lasted.