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June 16, 2006

A Coach's Son

Seeing as how Sunday is Father’s Day, I figured I should muse a bit here about my own father, and his contribution to my development as a runner.

My father had nothing to do with my running career. Then again, maybe he had everything to do with it. I haven’t really decided yet.

He was the classic four-sport varsity stud in high school, playing a starring role in all of the macho sports back in the day: football, basketball, baseball, and track. He played freshman football in college before giving up the team to concentrate on his studies.

Intentionally or not, his talents influenced his role as a father. Sports were the backdrop for almost all my childhood memories, and my dad was involved prominently in most of them. It’s one of those nature-vs-nurture things I’ll never figure out: if I always played sports because my father shaped my environment, or if he simply catered to the athlete he saw emerging from the boy.

Growing up, I participated in more sports and on more teams than I can count, and my father was right alongside me nearly every time. Whenever a team needed a coach, he volunteered to fill the role. He coached me on several baseball and basketball teams. Most surprising of all, for many years he coached me in soccer, a sport he knew nothing about when he first started.

Soccer became our family’s calling, as I excelled at the game through high school. My dad read coaching books and studied the game, and expanded his knowledge base while I developed my skills. When the politics and demands of competitive boys’ soccer grew tiring, my father started coaching my younger sister’s teams, and became one of the most successful girls’ coaches in the state.

All the while, he worked a full-time high-stress job, often staying up past our bedtimes to finish one task or another. Now that I have kids, I can’t imagine devoting the amount of time and effort my father did to our athletic pursuits. Years later, when I asked him why he did it, he matter-of-factly said that he just thought it was a great way for us to spend time together. Since my sister and I were going to be playing on the teams anyway, he figured he might as well get involved.

When I headed off to college, I left soccer and the other sports behind, and joined the rowing team. I participated for three years and had a fantastic experience. But then my grades started slipping, and I knew I had to quit the team before the following season started.

I was 21 years old, had participated heavily in team sports since I was 4, and suddenly had nothing to do. I missed the challenges, and the competition, and the camraderie. I missed my identity as an athlete.

That’s when I turned to running.

I’ve written essays before (like here) about how I developed into a marathon runner from square one while I was in college. Since then, I’ve had a fairly well-documented progression from novice runner to experienced racer to complete running lunatic. In nearly every regard, it’s been one of the most satisfying journeys I’ve ever embarked upon.

So now I come back to the question: Did my dad influence my running career?

The most apparent answer is no. I never ran as a kid, and never ran with my dad (with one notable exception, which will be its own post someday). I chose running on my own, well after I had moved out of the house for good. I progressed as a runner only through my own study and discipline and perseverance.

But here’s the thing: if I hadn’t grown up playing sports, if I hadn’t been hooked on the rewards of physical exertion and hard work, if I hadn’t been immersed in athletics for so long, maybe I wouldn’t have gone looking for running in the first place.

And if it weren’t for my father’s dedication to my childhood pursuits, maybe none of those things would have happened.

I’ll never know for sure. All I know for certain is that I had a satisfying childhood, and that I’ve grown into a happy, well-adjusted (well, mostly) adult. And now that I’m a dad, I realize that’s pretty much the only thing that matters.

So Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for everything.


stronger 6/16/06, 10:37 AM  

I'd say you made a choice based on the information your dad helped provide along the way about athletics. It sounds like he was a guide and he let you steer your own course- what a perfect example of a father.

Cliff 6/16/06, 11:57 AM  

Great post Donald.

My dad is a soccer fan but he never encouraged me to do any sports. In fact, I am not much of an athlete growing up. I just picked running b/c I just did it.

I do believe my dad have a lot of influence in my being a runner and triathlete. His discipline is superb. He worked 9-5 everyday and at times have to take me to the hospital. No complains no whining.

Anne 6/16/06, 4:15 PM  

What a nice tribute, Donald.

Anonymous,  6/16/06, 8:09 PM  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your father, Donald. This makes me think a great deal about the effort that I should put into my son's pursuits. Thanks for crafting another thought-provoking essay.


robtherunner 6/17/06, 6:12 AM  

Great post Donald! All though my dad never coached me in sports, or got me back into running when I was 28 he was a big influence in the reason I thought about it in the first place. He was a runner when I was growing up and I remember going to the track with him when I was between the ages of 5-10 and it was memories like that that brought me to running.

Brit 6/17/06, 10:05 AM  

I played tennis all growing up, not super strenous. But in college I joined the rowing team, something I knew nothing about and that was where I started runnign for the first time. And while I've taken two breaks, I really haven't stopped since. Hurrah for Rowers.

olga 6/18/06, 2:36 PM  

Those are nice words, you dad must be proud! So are your kids.

Mike 6/18/06, 8:13 PM  

Great post Donald- Happy Father's Day!

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