Friday, June 21, 2013

Coaches Gather at Fenway

On Tuesday June 18th, Fenway Park hosted the Second Annual Coffee with the Coaches, a fundraising breakfast to benefit the Boston Chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). The event featured a panel of easteemed professional and college coaches: Red Sox Manager John Farrell, Notre Dame football Head Coach Brian Kelly (who was born in Everett, raised in Chelsea, and played football at Worcester's Assumption College), Connecticut Sun Head Coach Anne Donovan (who has 4 Olympic gold medals in women's basketball as a player and 2 as a coach), and newly appointed Boston College football Head Coach Steve Addazio.

The event was hosted by WEEI's Michael Holley and Mike Salk, and raised $95,000 for PCA-Boston.

What struck me about these coaches was how different each of their situations are, and how that requires them to adjust to those different and always changing situations. The job description of a coach changes every day, every game, and every season.

Three of the coaches (Farrell, Donovan, and Addazio) are in their first seasons running their squads. Although Farrell has already been an assistant coach with the Red Sox.

There is also a vast difference in what each coach is expected to do. Kelly's Fighting Irish finished last season 12-1, runners up in the National Championship game. And at the other end of the table was Steve Addazio, who inherits a BC program that went 2-10 last year and hasn't played a bowl game since 2010. Kelly has to reload after losing talented seniors, Addazio has to rebuild a program from scratch. Kelly is expected to contend for a BCS bowl, Addazio is expected to lead the Eagles to bowl eligibility.

Anne Donovan and John Farrell are also in unique positions. Donovan's Connecticut Sun have been a competitive team, but they've yet to win a WNBA Championship. She's tasked with pushing them over the top. Farrell inherited a Red Sox team that was in utter disarray, despite high expectations and a high payroll. He's tasked with reintroducing winning baseball to Boston, and ending an era of bitter disappointment.

Despite the different situations, different styles, and different philosophies, all the coaches have a tremendous respect for the impact a coach can have on someone.

Both Donovan and Addazio reflected on coaches in their lives who pushed them to maximize their potential. For Donovan, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, she discussed a high school coach who "Would not let [her] just be tall," and challenged her to add more dimensions to her game than just sitting under a rim, rebounding, and shooting layups. Addazio spoke of a Little League baseball coach who made him a catcher, even though he wasn't especially enthusiastic about the idea, and mentored him to be a leader. Neither of these coaches would be who they are or where they are without the coaches who coached them.

The coaches also found common ground on several issues.

Addazio and Farrell had similar philosophies on how to rebuild their respective teams. Addazio is making an effort to "Squeeze selfishness out," while Farrell is working with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to change the culture of the team, to find the right "People inside the player," as he put it.

Both Farrell and Donovan agreed that athletes are all looking for direction, and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. So that even if they're getting paid millions of dollars, they still want more from the game.

When asked about concerns in high school sports, Brian Kelly, Addazio, and Farrell all spoke about social media and the effects of over confidence on young athletes in the recruitment process. Kelly mentioned the need to keep recruits humble, despite the constant praise and attention they receive. Addazio told a story about a parent who bragged about their 12-year old son being "Phenomenal." To which Addazio asked "Where do you go from phenomenal?"

Coaching is one of the most demanding and unique jobs in sports, from guys like Farrell coaching millionaire professionals to youth league volunteer coaches teaching kids the fundamentals of the game. Coaches, particularly in youth sports, can have a tremendous impact on the lives of their players. Because those coaches are uniquely positioned to push kids to be, as the PCA's motto states, better athletes and better people. There are so many lessons that can be learned through sports, and kids are eager to learn them. As PCA founder Jim Thompson put it Thursday "Youth sports leaders are among the most important leaders in this country," with the ability to affect "Hundreds of kids' lives."

And with the $95,000 raised at this breakfast, that's exactly what the Positive Coaching Alliance will strive to do in the Boston area, as well as in their expanding number of chapters across the country.

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