Three days a week, I go to the gym at 5:00 a.m. I’ve begun to grow familiar with the faces who join me at the gym at that very early hour of the day. We’re a small group, us five o’clockers and clearly, we’re ambitious. After all, we could still be sleeping at that time of day, but we choose to work out instead.
Some faces I look forward to more than others. I have to admit that much of my motivation for going to the gym so early comes from knowing that my friend Erin will meet me there. We meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning unless one of us (this is usually me) gets lazy and shuts off the alarm clock. I haven’t done that for a while, though. I feel bad when I miss my gym appointment with Erin. And three miles on the treadmill goes by quickly when there’s a fun friend to chat with while clocking off each minute. I usually arrive just a few minutes before Erin does. And while I wait for Erin, I talk with another familiar face. His name is Scott.
I’ve known Scott for a few years now. He was Kacey’s volleyball coach for two years when she played during the winters after her school volleyball season was done for the year. I knew Scott then as someone who understood the game of volleyball well, who was patient with a group of teenage girls; maybe a little too patient at times. Sometimes he let the girls call the shots. Sometimes the teenage girl drama seemed overwhelming, but Scott always took it in stride. I always liked him because he was good to the girls. He taught them well and helped them improve their skills and they had fun.
That’s about all I knew about Scott until I started seeing him regularly at the gym. Over the last few months, Scott and I have developed a habit of catching up briefly on the goings-on in each other’s lives and I’ve come to know him as more than the coach he was to my daughter. He does a few minutes on the elliptical while I get started on my treadmill.
Scott always asks about Kacey and lately is always curious as to whether she’s ready to go off to college. He is always sure to tell me how highly he thinks of her and what a good kid she is. He talks a lot about going fishing with his dad and with his little boys. Sometimes he talks about the volleyball tournaments that he still plays in with his buddies. Most often, he tells me something about his kids. He has two young boys who are still in grade school, and Scott is always coaching one of their teams or another and I hear quite a few stories about these teams I’ve heard much about the little boys’ hockey teams, but right now, it’s flag football that Scott is coaching.
My normal reaction to Scott’s coaching stories is to wonder where he finds the motivation to work with kids all the time. I’m glad it’s him doing the coaching and not me. Little kids are hard work. Kids whine and complain. Kids don’t always listen to what adults want them to do. Oftentimes, the rewards of working with children come only after many trials and tribulations. I always admire Scott’s dedication to youth sports but always feel glad I’m not in his shoes. I’ve always had enough patience for my own kids, but other people’s kids? Maybe not always so much. I think Scott has way more energy and generosity than I possess.
I went to the gym this morning, even though Thursday is normally one of my off days. This morning I was feeling extra motivated and I figured even though Erin wouldn’t be there, I could get a good chunk of reading done on my current book while I walked the treadmill. And I did. But of course, I had to catch up with Scott first. And today it occurred to me that there’s more to Scott than I’d realized before. I realized Scott has a gift for working with kids. He’s ambitious and his heart is fully in it.
Scott has often mentioned how much he enjoyed coaching Kacey. He always has good things to say about her, and while I think my daughter is amazing, a part of me always assumed that he only said so many nice things because he could hardly tell me anything bad about my own child.
Today Scott was talking about the first-grade boys he coaches in flag football. He almost seemed to get lost in the stories he was telling. He just loves those kids. It’s so obvious!
“You should see this kid, Josh,” he told me. “He is so fast! And he understands the game like you wouldn’t believe! And then we have this other kid. Nothing gets by this kid. He talks a mile a minute, asking me, what’s going on and do I think we should try this, and what if we did that? I told his dad that I’d put money on the fact that he’ll grow up to be a lawyer or a brain surgeon. And when his dad asked me why I thought that, I told him that his son was unbelievably smart! You just wouldn’t believe how smart this kid is!”
I just listened as Scott went on, and his affection for these kids made me smile.
“And then one little boy had a bloody nose,” he went on. “He wasn’t even playing. I don’t know how it happened. He didn’t freak out or anything and he just came over and tapped me on the arm and said, ‘Um, I have a bloody nose.’ Just like that, he said it, like it was no big deal.”
I could tell that Scott was impressed with these kids and that he really enjoys them. You know, not everyone can deal with little kids. Not everyone even likes them. But Scott likes them. I can tell. He went on and on about the kids on his team and he told me how they hadn’t won their last game, but that they had great defense and he just knew they were going to have a fun season.
“Fun,” he said. Not “winning.” Fun.
I thought how lucky those little flag-football-playing boys were to have a coach who really enjoyed spending time with them, not just for their athletic ability, but for the person and potential he sees inside each one of them. And then something occurred to me that I’d never realized before. My daughter was one of those lucky kids. She had the privilege to be coached by a guy whose heart was really in the right place; a guy who knows how to nurture a kid and build her sense of self-confidence and ability. We’ve seen all kinds of coaches in the years our kids played their many and varied sports, and to be honest, some of those coaches set a poor example for the kids, not only about what is really important in the world of athletics but about being a quality person. Some of those coaches made my kids want to give up a sport they had once enjoyed. But not Scott. Kacey still has “Scott” stories that she loves to remember and laugh over.
Some of those other coaches could take a lesson from Scott. He is one of the good ones and he probably doesn’t even realize what it is that sets him apart from so many others. And the kids who get to play under Scott’s coaching? They’ll always look back on their time with Scott, just like my daughter does, with fun and happy memories. They might not eve realize it for a few years, but they are some really lucky kids.