To Go To Troutbirders Nature Blog (click on above picture)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Losing Season

This is a book review. It's about author Pat Conroys book, My Losing Season. It also gets personal. It's about some of my own experiences in coaching high school athletics. I'll start with that.... Small rural school districts, like the kind I taught in for nigh 40 years, often have a hard time keeping coaches. Ther are lots of reasons for this, starting with community gripes against "losing coaches & records", and parental complaints on the "fact" that my all star son or daughter doesn't get to play enough. That's always been there but the recent trend toward scapegoating public education for all the ills of modern society hasn't helped either.
When I was a young teacher, I was determined to separate myself from the image of history and social studies teachers as "jocks." Although I loved football, basketball and tennis, I wanted to focus purely on academics. I'm not even sure where that came from. But it was there and so for twenty years that's what I did. I had even turned down higher paying jobs and promotions because I was unwilling to coach.
Then, when my sons were mostly grown up and out of high school, I was ready to do something new. Our athletic directer, unable to find male teachers to coach, asked me to consider taking football & basketball. "Well if you want somerone to install a single wing offense on the football team, (that system was big in the 30's thru the 50's) I'll consider it," I replied. He laughed. I decided to take the basket ball job, of which, I knew even less of the modern game.
My reasoning was quite simple. Athletics was also under fire especially in the era of public budget cutting in education. I knew from my own experieces and that of my sons, how valuable sports could be to young people in growing up. That is, in terms of building self confidence, character, teamwork and friendships. I also was looking for a new avenue to relate to the boys in my classes. It was perfect for that. And so, halfway through my teaching career, I decided to become a jock... well sort of. This was after most of my friends and contempories had given the trade up.
I learned the modern game, in all its complexities and got, I must say, pretty good at teaching it. More important, I knew kids, their ups and downs, their families, and their hearts from classroom experiences. I shuffled them all in and out of games ,in situations where they could be successful and be the best they could be as a team. I'm often reminded by parents of games and situations they witnessed their sons grow and learn. Like the young man, of limited ability, but was a decent free throw shooter, who was sent into a game against an arch rival with a couple of seconds left. Our team was behind ( it was always "we" not I) by a single point. We set up a play inbounds under our offensive basket. Our best player got the ball and was swarmed by two defenders. He passed the ball ( as planned) to our twelfth man standing alone in the corner. That boy broke along the baseline to shoot, as instructed, gots fouled and in the final second made two freethrows to win. To this day, his mother reminds me of this and says it was the highlight of his school days.
It was so much fun. Yes, one year we lost every game. On a couple of occasions, after foul outs we had only four players left on the floor. And yet, I have fond memories of that team. They never quit. They never complained or blamed each other. It stood them well later n life. In more recent years , with several very talented teams, we won 57 straight games. And those teams played with class and humility. Which, in my roundabout way, of thinking leads me to a book about basketball and growing up. About coaches and fathers. About a military college (The Citadel) and the "plebe system." Above discipline and love. About failure and redemption. About heart and soul. Best selling author, Pat Conroy tells it all in My Losing Season. It's told in the language of athletics but it's really about life. I"ll tell you what fascinated, stunned and even appalled me about this intruiguing book.


LoieJ said...

I didn't understand the importance of sports for kids until I helped my son's summer baseball team for 7 years. That was great. He played basketball in school, Saturdays in gradeschool, and regular school basketball and baseball 7 - 12 grade, and football in h.s. He is a very active person, loves athletics, and is talented, but very small for his age. In a large school, he would have never made the team. He did OK accedemically in hs, but better in college.

He was fortunate to have really fine men as coaches.

Now he is in grad school, getting a masters in education, only male in a group of 60. He works well with children and hopes for a grade school job. He would love to coach, which he has for various summer programs that were volunteer positions.

However, he realizes that with a wife, baby on the way, and a new position next fall, we hope, he won't have realistic time to be a coach and prepare for his teaching duties each day.

In our small schools (in N MN) we often have coaches who are not teachers.

What do you think about teachers/non-teachers being coaches? Do you think a rookie teacher can realistically be a good teacher (not just turning to the next page in the text book each day) and still spend all that time coaching? My son would get home from BB after 10:30 on game nights, etc.

troutbirder said...

Teachers or no-teachers being coaches? Good question. I think either can be good or bad but overall having a classroom teacher coach is the better situation for lots of reasons. Knowing the student in the classroom and their personal situation helps broaden perspective on them as a person, student and player. Winning at all costs is less likely to be the dominant movivation. You are still a teacher helping young people to learn and grow up. It does take a lot of time and impinges on family life. Personally I was glad to have waited to mid career to take up coaching. I think I understand kids and myself better and had a lot of fun doing it.

Janie said...

I'm already interested in reading this book after hearing your personal story and relating to it. If Pat Conroy's story is at least as good, I'll be into it.

Arkansas Patti said...

I love sports. However I have seen how bad coaches can basically ruin a child while a good one can give him sound principals to grow on.
Our emphasis on winning as the only goal is where I fault the system. I like your approach and think I will like Pat's. I'll be back for the review.