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Monday, June 3, 2013

On Coaches


Coach Finis Horne, c. 1980
Photo by Bob Stoner,
Used With Permission
I've been obsessing about my grip problem for the past day or two and reflecting on how much I miss Greg, who taught me how to grip my clubs -- "same grip, 13 clubs" -- he'd tell me softly as he rotated my left hand, yet again, and got it into the proper position, until the grip became natural to me.  As Sunday unfolded, my perspective broadened.

My thoughts began with Greg.  "Just check your knuckles," he would tell me, helping me develop a focus on the small details that have a huge impact on performance.  "If you can't see 2 of them on the top of your club, your hand isn't in the right place and you won't get a solid hit, no matter how hard you swing the club."

I hadn't learned everything Greg had to teach when his life changed and Greg moved to Charlotte.  I lost my coach.  On the last day we worked together, he ended our session with a long string of instructions that still echo in my mind:

Keep being aggressive with your irons.  You almost have that shot to the green.  Focus on accuracy.  You need to get close enough to the pin on your approach shot that you can get up and down.  Always check your grip, every time you pick up your driver or a fairway wood.  That's where your swing problems start.  You're not a long hitter.  You never will be, so the only way you're going to shave strokes off your game is with accuracy  Concentrate on what it takes to stay in the short grass and get close to the cup.

I didn't realize until that conversation had ended and I was on my way home from the course that Greg had been telling me goodbye.  As time passed his wisdom faded.  I got sloppy and lazy.  There's no other explanation.  Now I need to get back to basics and fix the problem.

Coaches can't play our games for us.  The best they can do is show us how to make sound decisions about strategy, guide us as we train our muscle memories to effectively implement those strategies, and encourage us to keep trying through those early failures until we get it right.  And we all change coaches at one point or another for various reasons.  We outgrow them.  We've learned the lessons they have to teach and we need a new set of skills and a fresh approach to our game.  We become separated in time and space by the demands of our lives.  People move and people die.

I am the person I am today because of the coaches who've walked my fairways with me for a time.  When I was 8, my father taught me to take things apart and put them back together by sitting patiently beside me while I disassembled a telephone, piece by piece, following his instructions to place the disassembled parts in a neat row so I'd remember the order in which the parts would be returned to the skeleton.  When I was 50 I called my dad up from his grave and used his guidance to dismantel, repair, and reassemble a 150-year old window in my house.  When I was 12, Peter Lazenby taught me how to time the start of a race in a sailboat by sitting beside me and counting off the seconds to the starting horn while regulating the speed at which we approached the line by dragging his foot in the water.  I learned from Peter that sometimes I must slow down in order to be ready to begin my sprint.

During my 30s, Finis Horne taught me about responsibility to and love of the community in which I live.  Although I've never played basketball -- Finis's professional and personal passion -- he showed me by example that competitive athletics can be played at a fierce level without violating personal honor, that a deep respect for myself can only come from a deep respect for the people with whom I'm playing and against whom I am competing.  His have been enduring lessons, not just for his players, or for his fans, or for his personal friends, but for an entire community.

I have had other coaches, many of them.  But at this moment, I most keenly remember Finis, and am grateful that our fairways crossed.