A Credit To Coach

We'll start with the khaki shorts, because every coach owns a pair. And then there's the polo shirt in school colors with the embroidered school logo on the right chest. There's the ball cap on top of the head to keep the face shielded from hours in the sun. There's the pair of worn running shoes, Nike Pegasus in this case, with crew-cut socks.

It's the typical high school coach-uniform, and for me, the man in the uniform was Andy Christie.

It's been 15 years since he held the title of my coach, but even now I still call him "Coach."

It's his first name and his last name. In the way a child calls out to their parents as "Mom" or "Dad," he's quite simply "Coach," and always will be.

And while the outdoor track season winds down and another batch of student-athletes take to the track, there will always be a Coach mentoring them to greatness.

There's a saying that not all heroes wear capes, and this is case, Coach wears khaki shorts, a polo shirt and a pair of worn running shoes.

Behind every over-stressed and perfectly trained athlete, there's a coach who got them to their physical prime. And what's often over-looked, is that just like the eager-athlete, Coach is just as nervous. Like the athletes they train to peak at the right time, their words can be just as important, and for me, Coach always knew the right thing to say, and when to say it.

It's been 15 years since the last time I spiked up for a high school track meet. And while a lot of time has passed, I'll always remember when Coach knelt beside me while I double-knotted my black Zoom Kennedy's before the 3,200 at Georgia Tech.

The night before I had come agonizingly close to one of my pre-season goals in the mile, and I was still fuming from the race.

Seeing this, he came over, stopwatch dangling from his neck and his face shaded underneath a navy blue hat, and said softly: "You look fast in those spikes."

The gesture, while appearing insignificant, was big. His reassuring words that we were on track as coach-athlete to achieving the goals we had set out was exactly what I needed at the time.

And honestly speaking, those black Zoom Kennedy's were bound to look fast on any pair of feet, but I still appreciated his words.

I went on to win that race, leading wire-to-wire to set an 18-second personal best.

The 18 year-old version of myself would say it was the spikes, but in the years I spent turning left, I know now that it was his perfectly timed words.

I was thinking about this recently - that it's in small moments that a coach's words resonate the most. More often than not I feel we overlook the impact a coach has over their athletes. Like a teacher, or even a parent, a good coach truly has the power to elevate their athletes to realms of self-discovery. Now, I'm not trying to get cheesy here, but it's true: what a coach says to an athlete can change quite a bit.

And sometimes it's the most irrational, timely said things that can really elevate an athlete's performance.

Like the time I was walking up to the starting line for the state cross-country meet my senior year at Carrollton. The trees were still a vibrant green as autumn had not yet descended on the south, and temperatures were in the mid 60s.

It was the biggest race of my life at the time, and my nerves were bubbling to the surface. I felt sluggish on the warm-up, and Coach could sense my concern.

As we walked from our tent to the starting line in a moment that only needed some intense music with strings and a beat that rips and tears, I envisioned us two men striding purposefully towards our fate on the battlefield.

Dramatics aside, he put his hand on my back and said softly: "Remember the game plan."

I nodded in agreement.

Of course I remembered the plan. We had gone over it many times in recent weeks: I'd sit back the first mile, letting someone else take the pace. Then, I'd one-step the field for the next half-mile, masking a non-move by pretending to surge, then, I'd throw the first of three Tour de France-style surges just before the two-mile marker. The idea was to run my competition into the ground through repeated surges, hard ones at that.

The plan? Of course I remembered the plan. I could even remember the dimensions of the pinecones I had set on the hill just before the two-mile marker the day before. Their markings would be the start and stop of my pre-planned surges.

He continued: "Remember, get out strong the first .1..."

Sure, sure, ok, got that. Make room, don't fall, all the usual banter for making sure you avoided disaster in the beginning of the race.

But then he said: "Then start kicking."


The curveball threw me off and I stopped to look at him. Here we were walking towards the start line of the state meet my senior year, presumably the biggest race of my life, and he tells me to kick the final three miles?

He smiled from ear to ear before letting out a laugh. He was joking. This break from the overly-serious matter of running high school races was exactly what I needed at the time - something to lighten the mood. The work was done, the plan made, now all that was needed was to have fun, and execute.

Good coaches know exactly when to say what is needed, and in such moments the race can be made or lost. Like parents yearning to shield or absorb their child's pain, a coach absorbs their athlete's nervousness, along with their own.

Now, as the final week of the outdoor season approaches, and the eyes are all on the athletes prepping for the big show, let's not forget the heroes in khaki who got them there. 

So, Thank You, Coach.