Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I Coach

I wanted to share something I wrote for one of my other blogs today. Generally, I don't cross-post, but I doubt a lot of you follow the high school football blog that I'm basically the admin of (I do produce content, but I consider myself more of an "editor" there). It came out, I think, rather well (sometimes words do that), so I wanted to share. Coaching and football are big parts of who I am, both as a person and a writer. I like to think that "team" and "family" are themes that will show up a lot in my fiction. At the very least, I think it may be illuminating to some people, and resonant to others. That alone is reason enough to share, so here we go.

Why I Coach

My name is Matt Hofferth, and I am a proud member of the Westfield High School football family. I am not a teacher, nor a paid coach. I commute each day to Kokomo, IN, where I am an Electrical Engineer for Delphi Electronics and Safety. I volunteer as a football coach in my free time because I love the sport and desire to make an impact on the lives of young people.

When I was in high school, my life was similarly impacted. My father died when I was 18. He had a disease called Neurosarcoidosis. Studies report that the disease has a prevalence of less than 4 per 100,000 people. Even in those four, the disease is rarely fatal. Even with the best doctors, however, my father appeared to be the exception.

The majority of my high school experience was marred by a medical battle, a fight for survival. Teenage years can be tough enough without the instability disease brings to the table. It's hard to remember a lot of the time fondly. Much of it was spent in and out of hospitals, breathlessly waiting on the next batch of tests to glean an understanding of our fate. I credit the sport of football, and the connections I made as part of a football family, for getting me through the difficult years. I appreciate football for giving me a bright spot to look back on.

My father, sometimes wheelchair bound, struggled to make it to my games. He was a baseball guy; he had never played a down of football in his life, yet he used the time afforded by extended sick leave to study up on the game so that he understood the rules and could support me like every other father. By the time we made it to the State Finals my junior year, he could understand many of the finer points, and certainly discuss the various swings the game took with special attention payed to my part in each. He may not have fully understood the mentality (football, it seems, requires a somewhat unique mindset), but he knew intimately what it meant to compete, to fight. He loved sports, and anything that instilled that same sense of fight in his son, he bought in to.

Injuries, setbacks, illness, these things are a part of the game as much as they are a part of life. Often, confronting mortality is a very daunting prospect, at any age. I believe football was instrumental to my understanding of life and living. We were state runners-up the year before my dad died, and the very next year we fell one game short of a return to the finals. My football career ended with loss, like most others. But adversity is one of the best teachers. Yes, I learned how to win, but I also learned what it meant to lose. And how to pick myself back up, rub some dirt on it, and play the next down. The friends and coaches I met through my involvement with football, they were my brothers, my surrogate fathers throughout my ordeal. They pushed and encouraged me, challenged me to get better, to stay strong. They drove me to the hospital. They were there when I received the call. They extended the line out the door and around the corner at my father's wake.

Recently, the sport I love has come under fire in the media. People decry the brutality of it, the negative effect it has on the human body. People question whether or not they should encourage their children to play.

One thing I have failed to see many of these articles address is the very positive effect it has on the human spirit. I am not the first, nor the last, former player that could claim that my involvement with football has taught me a lot of what I know about being an adult. Even, or perhaps especially, the little things. It's funny how many simple life lessons are overlooked until you lose a role model. For instance, I learned how to shave from my teammates; my father wasn't around to teach me (I was also, admittedly, a late bloomer in the facial hair department).

I do not have kids yet, but I plan to in the near future. Perhaps, many parents will say, I do not understand what it means to have a child, to want to protect a child. I am the oldest of four. I have two brothers that are 6 years younger than me (twins), and a sister that is 13 years younger. Anyone who has lost a parent at a young age can tell you that the eldest is often expected to step up and assist with the load of child rearing. This isn't to say my mother was not capable. She did a wonderful job (and I will thank her properly again this coming Sunday). But, like when a teammate goes down to injury on the field, there is an empty spot in the roster. The game requires a full team, and someone needs to step up and play. No one asks why in sports; this is just a truth.

I may not be a parent in name, but I know what it means to love and want to protect someone. I encouraged my brothers to play football, when the time came. I attended every game of theirs that I conceivably could. I'm exceedingly proud of the young men they've become. When I have kids of my own, I will encourage (not force) them to play as well. Football has given so much to me, why would I not want that for my children?

I have never had a concussion. The only bone I've broken is my pinky finger. I had knee surgery once, but it had nothing to do with sports (I was in an accident when I was 10). I've had many sprains and bruises, but none that really haunt me to this day, at least physically. The biggest scars that remain for me are emotional.

I coach because a secondary family is worth all the sweat, blood, and tears. I coach to make payments on a personal debt that I can never truly repay. I coach because my father would have enjoyed seeing it. I coach because I love the sport of football. More than just the scoreboards or the jerseys, the paint on the field or on the faces of fans, more than the lights on a Friday night; I coach because I love the marks that football left on me.


Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

Matt, no fair making me cry at work (at least I'm on lunch break). This is a beautiful, evocative post. I grew up in SEC country, but you made me think of how my dad and I went to all the high school football games when I was a kid, before I was "too cool" to sit with him.

You have given such a wonderful counterpoint to the negative press about football, and a beautiful tribute to your father.

Matt said...


My cousin had a similar comment about tears (on facebook)... I said... Me, writing this on break at work:

"No, no, just got something in my eye. What? Meeting? Now? Ugh..."


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