Athletics have always been part of my life and have shaped much of my attitude and outlook. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a PSA Conference in Las Vegas where I had the privilege of hearing Scott Hamilton address over 500 figure skating coaches. During his address, he asked the audience to raise their hand if they could recount every coach they had ever had. When ninety five percent of the room raised their hand, myself included, I began reflecting. From the first time I tied my skates to the last few minutes of my collegiate career, I had help along the way. I guarantee I wasn’t the most coachable athlete, and I give thanks and am eternally grateful to every coach I’ve had; whether it be a good experience or bad experience on either end, I can promise you that we both learned and grew from the encounter. Scott Hamilton is a cancer survivor, father, four-time World champion, Olympic Gold medalist and most importantly, a perpetual optimist. He reminded the audience that the first thing we do in skating is learn how to fall. Like many sports, the second thing we learn, with the help of our coaches, is the most important. We learn to get back up.
We are all faced with adversity and this is one of the many lessons we can all take from sport and apply to life. How we respond to hardship is in our absolute control. People like Scott Hamilton and the many coaches I’ve had the honour of learning from embrace the fact that the only handicap in life is a bad attitude.
Coaching is, at the developmental level, a very thankless job and yet its effect on today’s youth is massive. For the first time in many children’s lives, they will have the chance to see the world through another mentor’s eyes. As today’s parents seem more protective than ever, we cannot lose focus on the importance of influence and perspective outside of the norm. Many of the environments we grow up in are embedded in tradition and an ideological outlook on life. Allowing a child to learn from someone outside of said environment may be scary and won’t always go to plan. But how often does life go the way we plan? Often times it won’t. Coaching, at its core, helps us navigate the many techniques required to “get back up.”
During my time playing under Coach Beaney at Middlebury College, I believe I learned the most important life lesson. After being cut from the varsity hockey team, I ended up on junior varsity and feeling very sorry for myself. It was so easy to point the finger at Coach and blame him for my situation. I tried to meet with him on several occasions but all I was met with was “I’m too busy” or “come back later.” I did. Many times. The answer was the same. After growing incredibly frustrated with his lack of compassion or sympathy for my situation, I recalled one of the earliest lessons he shared with me regarding “finger-pointing.” He famously says that “every-time you point the finger, there are three more pointing back at you.” I was finger pointing. I was enraged at the world and felt I had been slighted and short-changed—a memory so repulsive and rooted in entitlement it pains me to recall. It was in that moment I decided and realized that I was the only one capable of changing my situation. I could either be content with my situation or find a way to change it. Coach Beaney is a legendary hockey coach for a reason--I am honoured to have learned from him.
My father has been living with multiple sclerosis for the last twenty-eight years. He is the most inspirational person in my life. He embodies what a positive attitude is. He never feels sorry for himself and is famous for saying things like “it could always be worse” or it’s “only pain.” After my father, it is the coaches I’ve learned from that have crafted any ability I possess to process winning and losing in an honourable manner.
If you haven’t watched the movie Whiplash, you must. I won’t spoil it for you but there’s a scene revolving around the concept of “good job” that lies at the very core of any good coach’s ideology. We all have the opportunity to be great. Being great isn’t necessarily being the next Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky or Tiger Woods. Being great is producing the best version of you and constantly striving for more. The best coaches are those who help you navigate your own potential and allow you to see things within yourself you never saw before you gave them a chance to be a part of your life. Being able to realize your own potential and becoming self-aware enough to monitor and assess your own growth outside of sport is something we can all be thankful for.
Mr. Trevor Gilligan
Coach Cy Ellsworth
Coach Will Ellsworth