What Makes a Good Coach

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” – popular wisdom

If you agree with that sentiment, I’ll wager that you haven’t yet experienced a great coach. Recently, I’ve taken up running again, an activity I enjoyed competitively in high school and college. It’s brought back a lot of memories of my high school girls’ cross country coach, Allan Goodman.

He was an excellent mentor despite many odds. For one thing, he was obese. He never ran with us like the boys’ cross country coach did. Instead, our co-captains lead the runs. When we did wind sprints, he drove his car behind us – one honk to go faster, two honks to slow down.

He was a bachelor, with no kids of his own, yet somehow he could not only relate to but inspire a group of awkward teenage girls. It didn’t hurt that he was a talented cook and prepared a carbo-loading feast the night before a meet.

He taught math, which generally isn’t the subject of choice for a gregarious leader. His quiet thoughtfulness and wry humor were perfect counterparts to our emerging social butterflies, eagerly seeking direction and approval.

In 1988, the Conant Cougars girls’ cross country team won the state championship. It was the first time in the team’s history that it had even qualified.  The following year, we came in second to #1 ranked Palatine. It was extraordinary.

Me & Brian after running 5K in August 2012.
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn

Since retiring my first agility dog and Dalmatian, Darby, in 2010 after earning her ADCH in USDAA, I have been unable to show regularly. My younger Dalmatian, Jolie, has suffered a series of setbacks, from lack of motivation to back surgery to heartworm treatment. My Dutch Shepherd, Ginger Peach, prefers showing off freestyle Frisbee tricks in front of a crowd than agility. Our newest pack member, Magnum the Border Collie, is only 10.5 months. He loves the game, but we’re still learning about each other. It will take time to become a team, both inside and outside the agility ring.

A trial once in a blue moon is not enough to keep in touch with my old agility friends, make new ones and experience firsthand the evolution in course designs and handling trends. Most importantly, I am not there to encourage my students. The majority are new to competition and would benefit from having someone in their corner.

At one point, I debated whether I should even be teaching a sport in which I was not actively showing. How could I best guide my students if I wasn’t out there myself, leading the way?

“Work the hill!” – Allan Goodman

As Coach Goodman proved, leading is it’s own form of doing. While initially disappointed that I did not have a teammate of my own to show, something remarkable happened. My students became my teachers, and their dogs became my teammates. Their enthusiasm and curiosity reignited my passion for this sport. The love of learning and the discipline required to practice it doesn’t require a competition-ready agility dog at my feet.

This past weekend, a group of my students attended the same trial together. They shared their collective wisdom about trial etiquette and how to remember courses. They cheered each other on during runs, celebrated Qs and the less quantifiable mini victories. They enjoyed each other’s company and friendship. Photos of happy people and dogs kept popping up on my Facebook news feed. It was extraordinary.

I think Coach Goodman would be proud.

6 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Coach

    1. Thx, Kathy! I love that the positive atmosphere I try to instill in my classes transferred to the agility trial. The friendships we make and the quality time spent with our dogs is what we’ll remember most.

  1. I have had two agility instructors/coaches who were not actively competing. Both were phenomenal! I totally agree with you that you do not have to be out there actually trialing to be an excellent teacher!!

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