Coaches direct teams, development of athletes
Coaches don't "play" an important role in the lives of high school kids they jump, scream, cajole and teach their way into the thoughts and actions of their charges.
They analyze the competition and call plays. But they never get to play they're trapped on the sidelines just like other spectators.
Most people probably can picture their first coach standing on the edge of the grass or hardwood floor. It was their father or their best friend's dad or a neighbor.
But as kids grow older, mature physically and mentally, and the games grow more competitive, communities, including Tonganoxie, have developed a system of youth leagues and school-related athletic programs.
There's a series of ever-more serious coaches in the mind of any athlete who continued to compete after that first T-ball team or youth soccer league.
The expectations grow, the training becomes more specialized, and parents hand the coaching responsibilities to men and women who have made teaching sports one of the top priorities in their lives.
During the winter, Tonganoxie High School fields three varsity teams girls basketball, wrestling and boys basketball. Last week, we profiled Mike Webb and John Lee, varsity basketball coaches. This week, we've profiled Bill DeWitt, varsity wrestling coach.
After school, you can pick these and other coaches out by their uniforms: a heavy dose of school colors, T-shirts with motivational slogans, comfortable athletic shoes and a whistle (that's not to say they don't dress up for games, because they do).
But, why should anyone care about the coaches other than to occasionally check whether the team is winning?
First, coaches, like the fathers and mothers who coach younger kids, spend hours with their athletes every week. During the season, coaches sometimes see athletes more than their parents. And coaches have enormous influence on the kids playing for them.
Second, coaches sacrifice their family lives, staying late at school for practices and games when they could be at home.
Everyone acts like a coach when there is more than 15 feet separating them from the competition. Who hasn't played armchair quarterback or tried to explain the rules of the game to the referees from the stands. But it takes more than a booming voice and a mastery of sports video games or the remote control to coach a team of young people.
The best coaches are able to focus on the details of the player, game, practice and team avoiding all distractions. The best coaches are dedicated to their team and players, giving as much as they demand of the athletes competing. The best coaches are determined.
Lee observed a 2-19 season as an assistant coach. He vowed that would not happen while he was on the bench. Webb joined a program that hadn't had much success in recent years. "We're going to play .500 basketball," he said. Bill DeWitt dreams of league and state championships.
Of course, anyone can dream. It takes more to be a coach. These coaches were competitive athletes. That's not their only qualification.
They spend hours at clinics during the summer learning techniques and ways to make their players and teams better. They talk to other coaches. They study the game.
Most importantly, a coach has to have an interest in young people and their success. Lee, Webb and DeWitt all want to win. But, more importantly, they express an interest in how their kids develop into adults. They want to see their athletes return as responsible individuals who can be proud of what they've accomplished in life, not just on the court or on the mat.