Coaching: More Than a Clipboard and Whistle

Tony Dungy - Photo by ddrucki

Tony Dungy - Photo by ddrucki

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines coaching as “to train intensively (as by instruction and demonstration). Verbs that are considered synonyms include the following: tutor, train, guide, pilot, shepherd, mentor, and counsel. A coach leads their understudy/student through the various skills and drills for the purpose of helping them achieve their goal. In the sporting world, a coach plays an invaluable role in a player’s development as an athlete and helping them to fulfill their role in bringing cohesion and success to their team. A team may be able to carry on short-handed of one of its players, but not its coach.

I am wondering, though, if coaching is limited to merely the on-field work they contribute to a team. Upper management, when examining the worth of a coach and doing their performance review, may reduce everything down to the lowest common denominator based strictly on stats. You know, if the team wins we keep the guy but if they lose we show him the door. I am not saying that stats aren’t important, nor am I saying that they don’t reflect much about the capabilities of the team’s leader, but is there more? What about the so-called ‘intangibles’ that a coach brings to the players on his team? In addition to such qualities as passion, integrity, and honesty, what about the spiritual side of things? Could that be an asset that money (ie. contracts) can’t buy?

To illustrate what I’m saying here let me call to your remembrance the story of Michael Vick. Vick was a highly touted quarterback out of Virginia Tech, a perennial Top 25 Division 1 college football team. He placed 3rd in Heisman balloting and was drafted first overall in the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Vick enjoyed 6 seasons with the Falcons but in April of 2007 the wheels came off this superstar’s bus. He was caught in an illegal dog fighting ring and in August of that year was sentenced to 21 months in prison, along with an additional 2 months of house arrest. Gone were the adoring fans, the thrill of playing in front of packed stadiums, and the fame and fortune of professional football. Michael Vick had hit rock bottom.

Roll the tape forward, though, to 2009, and you will find an incredible turn of events for the former West Virginia standout. The time behind bars helped Vick reassess the priorities in his life. He got picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles and was immediately thrust back into the forefront of the media’s attention. This ‘experiment’ would determine if Michael Vick could handle the pressure and prove to a suspicious public if a change had truly taken place in his life. His playing time was limited that season but in the 2010/2011 season he became the Eagles’ primary quarterback. Anyone following Vick could see that a definite change had taken place. There was a key person invloved in that turnaround, a “life coach” who made a significant investment into Vick’s life. That man was former Indianapolis Colts’ head coach, Tony Dungy. This man knows adversity. Not only did he become the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, he also lived through the tragic death of a son. A deeply committed Christian man, Dungy came alongside Michael Vick when others had given up on him. He didn’t have Vick run the tires, hit the tackling sled, or throw passes. Instead he encouraged him to pray, attend church and look up Bible verses. He dealt gently with the wounded Vick and helped nurse his soul back to health.

In the Winter 2011 edition of Sports Spectrum magazine Vick is quoted as saying this: “I’m thankful for so many things in my life right now. I think most importantly I’m thankful that I’ve got my relationship back on track with God. It went south for a minute, and it was all my fault. He (God) just had to bring me back to reality.” Athletes get their game back on track through the careful tutelage of a coach. People get their lives back on track with God through the careful tutelage of a coach, too, a life coach. Tony Dungy is one of those people. He was renowned for his coaching ability on the playing field, and now he is scoring points with the ones the Lord has given him who need life skills.

Coaches who want to develop players to their fullest potential will need more than a clipboard and a whistle. In my opinion, by tapping into the spiritual aspects of a player’s life a more well-rounded athlete emeges from the rigours of training. Just ask Michael Vick!

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  • comment-avatar
    John S 11 years

    What better way for a disgraced athlete/politician/person to be viewed positively by the public then too claim to be a born again christian.

    • comment-avatar

      Hey, John, you make a good point here. I do not doubt that many before Vick have made such a claim. I also don’t doubt that he will have a few twists and turns along the road back. But I also know that the Lord can change a man’s heart for real. Time will tell, but Vick has certainly made a move in the right direction.

      • comment-avatar
        John S 11 years

        Where is the mention of Tiger Woods’ sticking to his buddhism?

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          I think there will always be opportunities to point fingers at those that fall down, particularly then when they point to religion as a safety net. Tiger being a prime example. Remember, people make mistakes and sin regardless of what religion they consider themselves to be a part of, sometimes to a larger degree than those who have no spiritual alliance. Michael Vick fell, and people like Tony Dungy have helped to pick him back up. If he remains a valuable member of society with morals and a caring for others, than we shouldn’t criticise. I say we leave judgement of what kindof person Vick is today to the only one capable of making such a clear judgement. Here’s a hint, it isn’t any of us commenting on this column. Personally I think we’re missing the point, the column is about Dungy’s roll, not Vick’s life accomplishments or lack therof.

          • comment-avatar
            Inquinnity 11 years

            Who is making the judgements?

            Oh you mean the judge who sentenced him?

          • comment-avatar

            Bobber, your point is excellent in that the article really is about Dungy’s role, not Vick’s life. I was wanting to emphasize the value of a good coach who also inputs spiritual principles.

  • comment-avatar

    Inquinnity, I was talking about God. Who else is to say whether or not Vick or Tiger or anyone has changed? The rest of us are just speculating.

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      Inquinnity 11 years

      Impossible, how can God judge if it was God’s plan for that to happen to Vick?

      • comment-avatar

        Inquinnity, it was never God’s plan for man to sin. Michael Vick made these poor choices to do things contrary to God’s will on his own, mistakes that many make. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What Dungy did was offer the way out for Vick, the forgiveness that God offers as shown in the Bible.

        • comment-avatar
          Diggerydoo 11 years

          What is original sin then?

          • comment-avatar
            Diggerydoo 11 years

            God wanted man to sin by setting him up. I am a god fearing man for a reason!

          • comment-avatar

            I think you’re misunderstanding the term Diggerydoo. From my understanding “original sin” refers to the first sin by Adam and the resulting sinful nature of humans following this act. Pastor can you clarify?

            Similarly the “fear” for/of God, I always thought was a positive thing, a sign of trust or respect. Again, Pastor? Clarify?

          • comment-avatar

            Ken’s answer about original sin is correct, as is his understanding of the fear of God. Due to Adam’s disobedience sin entered into the world and everyone is now born with a sin nature. Only Christ’s finished work on the cross can deliver us from this sin nature.

        • comment-avatar
          Inquinnity 11 years

          Ahh I see thanks!

  • comment-avatar
    Wally_Boy 11 years

    Paster I saw you play soccer can you please do an article about the Celtic Rangers rivarly in Scotland considering you are a pastor thanks

    • comment-avatar

      Wally_Boy, I will have to do a little research on this subject. I am guessing that the Celtic Rangers play in the Scottish Premier League.