Aren’t we all selfish altruists as coaches?
He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.
As the whistle blows within the lingering mist, the coach clinches his fist in satisfaction. His team has just beaten the league’s powerhouse and he knows how critical this win is in changing the mentality of an entire school. He knows that this begins to cement his reputation within the community. He knows that this is another step forward toward building a league champion. He knows the boys will follow his every word now as the season unfolds.
That is the way I felt as my humble team took home a pre-season tournament trophy. If I am honest looking back, I wanted that trophy for myself. I wanted that trophy to fill in any gaps of insecurity that I may have had as a young coach. I wanted that trophy to validate my training methodology. I wanted to win because I hated losing. This victory, I was certain, was about me and my triumph. I, I, and I.
The captain raised the trophy with the sweat dripping down his forehead. High fives, handshakes, hugs, and smiles. These teenagers earned their victory and did so against the tide of history. They knocked the ball about, were courageous in their attacks and efficient in defending. They were going to return to school on Monday with pride and with recognition for a tournament well played. They were satisfied.
Many victories and defeats after that day, I still believe that a coach’s principal mandate is to serve. But I also believe that we should not deny that we coach for selfish reasons. In my bizarre way of viewing our craft, I label coaches as selfish altruists. And I think that is OK. More than OK.
Selfish: Concerned primarily with one’s own interest and benefits.
Altruistic: Devoted to the welfare of others.
Oxymoron: Contradictory terms used in conjunction.
I know; I am not supposed to be selfish. But let’s assume that my own interest is to be better at my craft.
What if I want to learn to be more capable, more creative, and more talented? What if I want to explore the world with wonder, seeking out best practices from coaches within and beyond sport? What if I travel the world digitally and physically to be better equipped to lead effectively? Acquiring skills makes me more employable. I may be presented opportunities to work with the best in my province or country or perhaps the world. Perhaps the benefits of selfishness allow me to sustain my family: to make living as an educator and coach.
I would love more coaches to be selfish. I would love more coaches to look after their own interests by placing their own development as a high order of focus. I cannot tell you how many coaches I have met that are not selfish enough in this regard.
Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
But, let’s cross that egocentric line, please.
Staying in disequilibrium is not good. Our selfish selves grow lonely and or fail to grow at all. When we begin to coach we must come to understand this fundamental truth: Coaching is about bringing out the best in others.
If we stop at the line of selfishness, we are doomed. We must cross that line and want to do so the moment that we are charged with the health and welfare of young athletes. We must embrace our oxymoronic selves and let altruism inspire us.
Altruism is a devotion to that which is in the best interest of others. Coaching is about being an advocate for players. It is about placing winning and losing in context. It is about helping athletes set individual goals within the team dynamic. It is about engaging parents. It is about having so much fun that laughing becomes contagious. It is about sweating so hard that dedication becomes a habit.
There's no such thing as altruism. No such thing as a truly selfless act. We always get paid, one way or another.
– Haha Lung
The balanced coach will drive forward for himself knowing that doing so will serve his players. He will be a walking oxymoron. He will be selfishly altruistic.
If I find balance, the next time the whistle blows with the scoreboard to our favor I will see every child on the pitch as my player. I will feel compassion for those with fewer points. I will consider the opposing coach as an ally in a quest to promote this sport and to instill the values we share. I will sincerely thank the referee for his service to our athletes.
Selfishly, I will feel good.
Altruistically, I will watch the players feel great.
And I will return to the training ground as an oxymoron, ready to take on the next challenge in our development journey.