WHERE IS THE LOVE?

Don't worry…I am just as much of a curmudgeon on Valentine's Day as the next guy (my girlfriend will be the first to tell you), so this blog is not about THAT type of love. But, this is a writing on love in sports, as odd as that may seem. As I have mentioned in some of my past couple blogs, I have been reading the book "Inside Out Coaching" by Joe Ehrmann. Coach Ehrmann is a former NFL star who played for the Indiannapolis Colts and coached high school football for a while. He is now dedicating his life to his Coach For America business, which is inspired by his desire to have sports be used as a way to teach life lessons to young men and women. This is the same inspiration that led me to start this website, before I had even heard of Joe Ehrmann, so I have been grateful and excited to learn from someone who has this same goal.

The other night, I was looking at his website (http://www.coachforamerica.com/) where he has some video from when he was coaching football at Gilman. The lesson that stood out to me the most came from two questions that he asked his team every day. The first question that Coach Ehrmann would ask his team was, "What is my job as a coach?". The team would reply (having learned this from him in the past), "To love us!". His second question to his team was, "What is your job as players?". They would reply, "To love each other!". I do not believe I had ever heard something more amazing and groundbreaking in the sports world before in my life!

I mean, it sounds simple right?!
Coaches should be focused on loving, caring and looking out for their players, first and foremost. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in athletics, we have lost this goal. Most coaches are focused solely on winning and their players are the pawns to help them get those wins. Coaches will yell at, verbally abuse, manipulate, overwork and push players to win at all costs, even if that means there is no real love involved in the process. You can see this occur from youth sports all the way up ladder to the professional world.

At the same time players follow this lead and the win at all costs attitude. Their drive to succeed becomes selfish in many ways and they care little for the teammates around them. They fight for starting jobs, haze younger players, form cliques and only hope for success if their name is in the paper and their highlights are on SportsCenter. A lot of times, teams will talk about "being a family" and "playing together", but do they even know what those words and phrases mean?

When I saw this video with Coach Ehrmann asking his players these two questions, it completely spun my experiences in athletics upside down. For a long time, I played to win. And for a long time after that, I coached to win. But, did I ever think about loving my teammates? Did I ever think about loving my players whom I coached? Sadly, no.

To me, these two simple goals for both coaches and players can and will change everything in sports. If coaches can learn to love their players first, then they will find that their players will have great success both on and off the field. If players can learn to love their teammates, then the wins will come, but they will discover something that is much more enduring than any championship, trophy, award or ring can ever bring them.

And it seems so easy, but why is it such a challenge? Why is The "L word" so dreaded in athletics? Although coaches and athletes can and will use almost every cuss word in the English language, don't expect to ever hear that emotionally charged word on the field or in locker rooms!  But, this is one of the greatest lessons that we can learn from athletics. This is the lesson that Coach Ehrmann describes it as, "learning how to love and be loved". If we don't ever win a single game our entire lives as an athlete, but we have learned that lesson, then we have had a successful athletic career!

So, I will continue to write more about how coaches can love their players and how players can love their teammates. This one word in our vocabulary has so many different meanings, that it is hard to put our finger on what it really means. Just to start the conversation, I would put forth for our athletic world, that it means, "to care for, have empathy for and want what's best for" your players and your teammates. If we can just learn to do this in athletics, it will make the whole experience so much more fulfilling and healing than the current paradigm that we are dealing with today.

The other day as a coach at DU, I asked my players, "What is my job as a coach?". I taught them that my job was to "love them". I then asked them what their job was as players and taught them it was to "love each other". Maybe some of them looked like I had three heads just for saying the word "love" in a locker room. I believe many of them appreciated it though. Either way, I don't really care what they think. After learning this lesson from Coach Ehrmann, I now feel that my most essential job as a coach is to love my players and their job as players is to love each other. The first step in doing this is sharing that with them and once I had, I felt more inspiration to coach and be involved in athletics than I have in my entire life! I encourage other coaches and players out there to do the same, no matter how hard it may seem.