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Life Lessons

Two Cases of Madness

I’m reading two biographies at the moment, both of them hair-raising tales of superstar athletes who came from dysfunctional homes and found themselves with crushing addictions.

Theo Fleury tells of walking home from his youth hockey games in minus-40 weather because his father, a drinker and gambler, never thought to pick him up. Fleury also recounts sexual abuse at the hands of a coach.

Darryl Strawberry opens with the memory of his father pointing a shotgun at the family with the threat to kill them all.

You scarcely know where to begin comment. Perhaps you wonder exactly how many superstars found sports because it was a haven, a place safe from literal madness at home.

Or maybe you meditate on Father Paul, a priest who befriended Fleury and just listened to him pour out his soul. The only person in the world on whom Fleury felt he could depend, Father Paul died suddenly of a heart attack, and on the day of the funeral Fleury kept wondering, “What am I going to do?”

Put those two together — the fact that so many athletes need a haven and the fact that a coach can be that haven — and you have a perfect thought to bring into the gym every day.

If you arrive with the thought that you can be a powerful force for good, that you can instill values while creating wonderful memories and formative moments, you can be a great coach.

If you arrive thinking only of playing time and X’s and O’s, you could wind up as less than that.

Fleury’s book is called “Playing With Fire.” Strawberry’s is called “Straw.” Neither one is a literary masterpiece, nor is it meant to be. Both are searing looks at skill, sudden fame, and deep personal struggle.


2 comments for “Two Cases of Madness”

  1. Mike makes a great point about the desire to be a powerful force for good but what does that mean? I think, for a coach, that means clearly communicated that you care about the whole person of an athlete, not just their performance; that who you “put in” and when is visibly based on some system of fairness that the athletes understand; it means talking to athletes to find out their goals and obstacles to meeting them; that you scrupulously avoid showing favoritism (even though you’re human); finally, that what motivates you is not just a winning team but the beauty of the game played well. Put those together and you have something called values that will live with your athletes for ever.

    Posted by Peter Hirsch | November 25, 2009, 5:08 pm
  2. Last week someone whose child I ahd coached in hockey was with me when our kids were trying out in a higher league. She asked me if I get a lump in my throat when I see my kid doing goos. I said yes but I get a bigger lump when I see all the kids I coach doing well when I see them arounf town.

    Posted by Michael Cohen | November 25, 2009, 10:10 pm

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