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Life Lessons

Players: They’re Only Human

Yesterday David Wright of the New York Mets was hit in the helment with a 94-mph fastball from the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain. He was  taken to the hospital with a concussion.

A few years ago, Brian Kinchen was teaching Bible school when his cell phone rang. It was the New England Patriots calling to coax him out of retirement.

What do the stories have in common? They both represent the human side of players, a side that is so easy to forget.

Our sports world often reduces players to a set of stats, a name to be flashed at the bottom of a TV screen, or an entity to be either cheered or booed. We even do it on the high school and college levels, where too often players become mere pieces in the puzzle of a coach’s dreams for success.

There is more to athletes than that. Not only do athletes stand one injury from the end of their career, but they also fight intense emotional battles within themselves.

Kinchen is profiled in the book “The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for Life,” by Jeffrey Marx. Kinchen confronted doubts about his ability to do the job, long after his prime.

Wright will have to confront doubts of his own after his frightening injury. Whenever a player is hit in the head, he must step back into the batter’s box and face the fastball again. And the longer the time between the injury and the player’s return, the more doubts can come into the mind: Will I be able to stand in there? Will I flinch? Have I lost my nerve?

Every day in your gym these little emotional battles are taking place: Am I good enough? Will I fit in? Can I balance studies and sports? Years ago, when I coached in a small academy, I would occasionally stop into the chapel to mediate. There, written in an intention book, were various prayers and hopes, offered anonymously. A plea for more tranquility in the home. Concern for a classmate who is headed down the wrong path. A struggle with an eating disorder.

You can never be a great coach without being aware of this human element to your players, and doing your best to get to know them as people. You may not necessarily wind up as a confidant or friend, but you can be there anyway.


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