Throughout my athletic “career”, I’ve had the opportunity to work with all types of coaches – some good, some not so good, and one that, looking back on it, truly changed my attitude towards teamwork, sports and life.
Her name was Connie Walkwitz. She started out as my first grade gym teacher. And as early as first grade she not only taught the basic skills of fitness and health, but instilled in her pupils the importance of teamwork, the truth to the cliché phrase – “it’s not win or lose it’s how you play the game” – and the love of the sport.
Each year in grade school, Connie was my teacher and coach. I was among the youngest seventh graders to earn a spot on her Varsity Field Hockey squad and the following year became her team captain. While I was easily coachable in skill, my attitude was a bit difficult to train. My desire for perfection on the field often led to frustration, dejection and usually several divits in the ground (which, as my penance, I always had to replace before I could depart the field).
But Connie, always one to find the goodness in everyone (even a crazy, middle school perfectionist like myself) would call me into her office, sit me down, and remind me that attitude trumps everything, working together as a team is more beautiful than scoring that perfect goal, and for every setback or mistake there is an opportunity to learn. She saw me as a whole person, not just a player. And she never gave up on me.
All of her students loved her energy and enthusiasm, in addition to her coaching tactics. She smiled. She cheered. She hugged us. She was readily armed with a teaching point or two when our game was not up to par. She let us make mistakes and problem solve to correct them. She fostered a true team environment. She was vibrantly energetic. She never lost her temper because her team lost (even if I did). She was the eternal optimist, she embodied the Half Full mentality. Her positive attitude never once subsided.
And even when she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, lost all her hair and became increasingly weak, she continued to support her team from the sidelines for one simple reason.
She loved to coach.
When she passed away on October 31, 2000 after a valiant fight against breast cancer, the world suffered the painstaking loss of a wife, mother, teacher, and friend. But for me, the biggest loss was that future students would never have the opportunity learn from her as I did.
I never had another coach like Connie. And until recently, I had very little faith that a coach like her even existed anymore.
But when I met the Team Fight coaches, I saw that each of them had a little bit of Connie in them. They take time out of their busy professional, familial and athletic lives to coach Team Fighters through walks, runs, bikes and swims. But beyond the physical side – they coach attitude and confidence – two critical components of a successful athlete.
Like Connie, they cheer, they smile, they encourage, they teach. They show up at each practice, event and race for the same reason she did. They love to coach.
I have no doubt that every Team Fighter has at least a handful of stories about how the Team Fight coaches inspired them, supported them and changed them as an athlete – whether it was running/walking at Janelle and Jessica’s No Drop walk/runs (on National Pina Colada Day), receiving poolside encouragement and expertise from Coach Mike, Jelly and Adam or from the workouts Matt and Shana put together and post each week to help Team Fighters improve their swim. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and work with all of these extraordinary coaches…and even learn a thing or two from them.
To the Janelle’s, Jessica’s, Mike’s, Jelly’s, Adams, Shana’s, and Matts of the world – my faith in coaching has been restored.