The single most important word in the English language. “Why” facilitates learning. “Why” gives comfort and clarity that leads to confidence. “Why” is a compass that helps you navigate choppy waters. “Why” is the foundational building block that sustains you on your journey. So, as cliche as the statement, “KNOW YOUR WHY!” is, it’s imperative, as a coach, that you know and believe in your WHY.
I was 16, the first time my grandfather called me coach. We would attend my cousin’s high school games (he’s now a coach at Savannah State University) and on the way to games, during games and after games I would be coaching. At the time, I didn’t think I was coaching. I was simply supporting my cousin because I cared for him and wanted him to succeed at the thing that he loved most.
Fast forward 5 years later, in 2009 I was working in a popular soul food restaurant in my hometown of Washington, DC (Oohhs & Aahhs Soulfood, check it out if you get a chance). My daily routine consisted of working, mentoring junior high school kids and playing basketball. One night while watching Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, (epic LeBron top of the key three pointer for the win with 1.0 on the clock) the owner of the restaurant said to me, “Chris you love basketball and mentoring youth, why don’t you become a coach?” This was one of the few life-shaping questions that, I’ll never forget. My answer to that question at the time: “I never thought about it before, but now I will.”
After a few conversations and exploratory events, my “coaching career” was forged. My first stop was at Cardozo high school in DC. Waiting for me there was the true joy and fulfillment to be experienced through the process of development. Our team would not be considered world-beaters by basketball expert’s standards but in life my guys were beating the world each day they closed their eyes at night. It was there that I realized basketball provided me the opportunity to expose my guys to the world. Not in the simple since of traveling to play games, but in the introduction to poetry, books, documentaries and deep conversations. I discovered that “player development” was deeper than one dribble pull-ups and Mikan drills. Development happens more off the court than on it. It was there that I learned that, “Progress is a process.” It was there that I began to understand the amount of influence that a coach carries. (Side note: Influence is one of a coach’s greatest weapons. Handle it with care.) It was there that my WHY was nurtured by teenagers who needed my nurturing. It was there, that winning and losing games paled in comparison to teaching life lessons that were grasped and applied.
A few months after the season I was unexpectedly offered an opportunity to be a volunteer coach at a successful Division 3 program, St. Mary’s College of Maryland. More valuable lessons learned and meaningful relationships built. After 2 years, an opportunity to be a volunteer coach at a successful Junior College in Brooklyn, NY, ASA College. More valuable lessons learned and meaningful relationships built. After 3 years there, an opportunity to be a volunteer coach at a successful Division 2 program, Livingstone College. Timetable: 8 years of volunteer coaching at small, obscure schools. Volunteer coaching means a volunteer salary (Thank God I wasn’t married for the first six years).
Does coaching offer the opportunity of excellent economic earning potential? Yes, if you’re fortunate. Does coaching offer the platform to be recognizable and popular and in some cases famous. Yes, if you’re fortunate. If money and fame were my motivating factors to coach, I would’ve respectfully bowed out a long time ago. The truth is that, money and fame are fleeting. It’s a sand-sifting foundation. Your WHY has to be rooted in a firm foundation that will sustain you during a 7 game losing streak, long recruiting trips, missing out on a recruit, players not executing properly, unmet expectations and so on. Understand that, as a coach, you have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to instill and inspire valuable life skills into the next generation of husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. The responsibility of cultivating and nurturing the minds and hearts of developing leaders, teachers, coaches and whatever else they may be called to be.
Very simply, coaching in its purest form is not a transactional relationship with players. It’s about the transformation of people. It’s about coaching the person’s heart and not just the player’s talent. It’s about investing your all into a young person with no promise that you will tangibly experience a return on your investment.
As I now have the opportunity to serve the men’s basketball program at UNC Charlotte as their character coach, I am fully aware that my WHY has led me here. WHY you get started will oftentimes determine if and how you will finish. Let your WHY be the compass that you hold fast and stay true to, so that you aren’t blinded by your own competitiveness, the bright lights and seemingly dark nights. Let your WHY direct your process of daily decision making. When you feel the pressure to perform, let your WHY remind you that your purpose propelled you into this position. When you feel like you don’t have what it takes to go on, your WHY will remind you that you were chosen to be a coach long before you said yes to being one. Your WHY will remind you that you’re only doing what you’ve always done!
SO, WHAT’S YOUR WHY?
Chris Flegler currently serves as Team Chaplain for the UNC Charlotte Men’s Basketball program. As a coach the Washington DC native has assisted at Cardozo HS (DC), St Mary’s College (MD), ASA College (NY) and Livingstone College (NC).