Leadership in Athletics: Teaching through Coaching

We’re all fortunate to live in a country where we as individuals get to decide what we’re going to become as we age and find a vocation. Some choose to go the route of job security – those professions that will always yield jobs. Some go the lucrative route – those careers that offer substantial salaries and potentially lavish lifestyles. And still other people, hopefully most people, enter the workforce in an industry for which they are immensely passionate. Coaching is one such industry. In honor of National Teacher’s Day, it’s only fitting to recognize some of the best teachers out there. Our coaches.

Certainly every sport has its proverbial Mount Rushmore of coaches. College football, for example, has names like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and the late greats like Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno. All of them have not only earned their place at the top for their success but have also been rewarded handsomely for their efforts. But, for the most part, coaching isn’t something you do to make a lavish living – It’s a passion project. A derivative of teaching, most coaches seek out their profession to stay close to the game or games they love and provide leadership for the young people they come in contact with.

But where does this passion come from?

Similar to teachers in a K-12 setting, coaching requires mostly long hours for mostly marginal pay. In the sport of college football, if you compared hours worked to dollars and cents earned, most people would call you crazy. And yet, if I decided to walk away from my position today, our head football coach would receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications for my job tomorrow. So again, where does this passion come from?

In my case, it most certainly comes from teachers and coaches of my youth and into my college days. My own personal Mount Rushmore has names like Fleck, Sadek and Olszewski. All are coaches that I have encountered at various stages of my life, sometimes in various sports, and all of whom have made their own impact on me and my decision to work in athletics.

To this day, I maintain that aside from my father, no man has had a greater influence on my life than my head football coach at St. Olaf, Jerry Olszewski. From the minute you meet the man, you can sense his incredible passion, both for the game of football, of course, but even more so for life, which he draws on to teach lessons that continue to apply to life beyond football, day in and day out. The greatest gift he gave me was the example of what living out your faith can look like. An honest man, Coach Olszewski would give you the butt-chewing you needed, and in the same breath, he’d send you on your way with a hug to let you know you’re still his guy.

Sometimes the things our coaches teach us extend far beyond sports. I remember the late great Bob Sadek teaching our sophomore high school baseball team about how to address police offers — in case we’d ever be pulled over for a violation. Or, the lesson he taught about the significance of signing your name, and the integrity that comes with putting your name on something.

Most coaches love the sport they’re a part of because they themselves were coached by incredible teachers of those games who displayed their passion and taught life lessons that still ring true to this day. In the world of athletics, coaches ARE teachers: the field is their classroom and the players are their students. If you’re fortunate enough to participate in athletics, you’re certain to have your own Mount Rushmore of coaches who have led their way into your life forever.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.