We all grow up with our idols and role models. For many, it’s to be a ballplayer, or a fireman, or a police officer. For me, it was to be a coach. I have been blessed to be surrounded by a cadre of amazing coaches throughout my life. This past weekend, I enjoyed seeing the ninth coach I had the privilege of working with go into the Missouri Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame. I guess it was predestined for me to follow in their footsteps and be a coach.
There are all sorts of coaching styles out there. Whether it is the rah-rah coach or the yeller, the one ingredient I’ve seen represented in all consistently successful coaches is the ability to inspire. They have an innate ability to help athletes see more in themselves than they knew existed. If an athlete has the slightest spark to want to improve, a coach can pour gasoline on it, creating a raging fire of aspiration to achieve dreams. There was none better at inspiring those they touched than Coach Lew Smith.
A couple of weeks ago the coaching fraternity lost a tremendous coach and an even more amazing person with the passing of Coach Smith. Lew was the definition of what it means to be an inspiration. I often referred to him as the Zen master due to the way he could spin every workout back around and use it as a life lesson in developing the person. He had that Woodenesque quality of not only teaching the sport, but coaching the kid. Coach Smith wasn’t in coaching for the records his athletes repeatedly achieved. He wasn’t in it for the Hall of Fame induction he deservedly received a couple of years ago. To be honest, even though there was no one more passionate about the sport, he wasn’t in it for that either. He was in it to help people be more than they thought they could be.
“When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor's gift” (Maya Angelou).
Coach Smith introduced me to that quote when I was just a pup of a coach. I've tried to do right by it as a person and a coach ever since. As an athlete, as a coach, as a leader, it's easy to lose sight of what is truly important. It's not about winning or PRs. It's about setting an example on how to live life, how to be happy, and how to live with integrity. Whether we know it or not, all of us have a tremendous impact and influence on the people in our lives. Some people will remember for the rest of their lives what we do and how we act in or react to situations. We each have an amazing opportunity to be a positive influence on the lives of others, and therefore improve their futures.
In honor of Coach Smith, I implore you to be an inspiration for someone. This is the holiday season. It’s the time of miracles. There is no better time than now to step up and be that example. Someone out there looks up to you whether you believe it or not. Now is the time to make the commitment to help someone change his life for the better. Now is the time to help someone along a path she never dreamed she could conquer. The world needs more people like Coach Smith to lead and inspire. Even if it’s for only one person at a time, be that inspiration.
Tim Cary is FLEET FEET's Assistant Training Manager, coach of the FLEET FEET-sponsored Runnababez Elite team, and manager of the FLEET FEET Racing Team. Over his 20 years of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors. Click here to receive Tim's weekly article via email.