Who Wants to be a Coach Anyway?


By: Neil Cunningham
Head Women’s Soccer Coach

What a week I have had as a Head Coach. I have ridden the proverbial rollercoaster ride of what it means to be a college coach and have been tested on so many levels all in the space of a week. In coaching, there is never a dull moment and no two days are alike. What an adventure.

Let me give you just a brief look inside a week as a head coach at Washington and Lee.

Saturday 19th September: Its game time against the Marlins from Virginia Wesleyan, a team we have not had much success against for five long years. My six-year old son has told me of this fact all week leading up to the game. ( I preferred it when he could not read)

Jeremy Franklin for WLUR also made sure he mentioned it just a few times. I can only imagine what Division 1 football coaches go through regularly.

To cut a long story short, we won and in convincing fashion.  The score was 4-1 in front of a large, enthusiastic home crowd. The team’s record was 4-0 and we are on top of the mountain. It’s the talk of campus.  Players, parents and coaching staff are ecstatic.

Next,  we face Hollins University. Hardly the same caliber of opponent and I mean that as no disrespect to Hollins.  Their coaching staff have done a fine job, but nevertheless a potential banana skin. It is only three days since our big win over VWC so spirits are high and we are in confident mood. Our opponent is focused, fired up and ready to battle hard for every ball. It takes us 40 minutes to finally break them down and we win in rather unconvincing fashion. It’s a win, right? We are all not exactly thrilled with our performance, but we put it behind us as we prepare for the National Champions, Messiah College, three days away.

The day after our unconvincing win over Hollins, I decided that I would drive to Grantham, PA to scout our next opponent, Messiah College. A four-hour drive, one way, in driving rain is not my idea of fun. It rained during the game and all the way home.  The night was even more memorable as I was stopped for speeding in Maryland (apparently 65 in a 60 is punishable by death in Maryland). Arriving back in Lexington at 1.30am, tired and still wet, I was then followed home by the Lexington Police for apparently being out after midnight (also a crime punishable by death).

Trust me, I cannot make this stuff up!

I returned to prepare the team for a huge game against the No. 1 team in the nation.  We were all very excited although obviously a little nervous. We lost the game 5-0 (glad I drove all the way to scout the opponent) and recorded the worst loss in my tenure at Washington and Lee. To add insult to injury, our bus driver crashed into a beautiful historic bridge at Messiah. Luckily we were only going 2 mph (not sure if that is classed as speeding in PA)

So in answering my original question “Who wants to coach anyway” the answer is quite emphatically I DO. I love it. It’s a wonderful profession that leaves me everyday waiting for the next. I love going to work everyday.  I love having the opportunity to be around fine students and work for the finest of academic institutions.

I would like to leave you with a story that I share with my Coaching Philosophy class every semester. It sums up many of my sentiments in a very clear manner. I believe coaches make a difference. I apologize for not knowing the origins of this story because frankly, I have no clue.

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO tried to explain the problem with college athletics. He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to be a coach?”

He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about coaches: Those who cannot play, are those who coach. To stress the point he said to another guest, “You’re a coach, be honest, What do you make?”

Having a reputation for honesty and frankness the guest replied, “ You want to know what I make?”

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. I make kids run through 90 minutes of practice and sweat. I make kids turn dreams into reality”

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder
I make them question
I make them criticize
I make them apologize and mean it
I make them co-operate
I make them competitive and respectful

I make them understand that if you have the will to follow your dreams, should anybody try to judge you by a mistake you made, you must not pay any attention because you tried and gave it your all

I make teams from individuals who work together to build success.

He paused and continued. “ You want to know what I make?” I MAKE A DIFFERENCE; I MAKE LEADERS, I MAKE OTHER PROFESSIONS POSSIBLE

Then he asked the CEO, “ What do you make?”

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