Think of the best coach you’ve ever had. How did he or she act? Was his or her coaching characterized by integrity, leadership, patience and kindness?
No matter how great those coaches were, they’ll never hold a candle to my grandfather.
The greatest coach I’ve ever played under is my grandfather Bill Lintz, or Pap Pap, as we in the family call him. He’s a former FBI agent, teacher and coach who has more friends than there are stars.
My grandfather coached my middle school basketball team, which I played in from third grade until seventh grade. Those days when my grandfather was leading our ragtag team onto the court were some of the best and most character-forming of my early life.
It was never about winning to my grandfather; I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. I don’t mean that my grandfather just wanted everyone to receive a participation award; instead, he realized there’s a lot more to life than a trophy.
Every member of the team mattered to my grandfather. Some of the guys I played with in middle school weren’t the most athletic, but they were still a part of the team.
My grandfather valued each person, allotting them time on the court. This decreased players’ laziness and apathy while increasing investment in their own performance.
Imagine that you’re a middle school student who really doesn’t want to be at your basketball game right now. If you were faced with inevitably being put in the game because your coach lets everyone play, how would you respond?
If I were in that situation — which I was multiple times during my middle school basketball career — I would strive to improve my performance on the court in order to not make a fool of myself.
I believe that, in this way, my grandfather directly encouraged apathetic kids to put their hearts into the game; it was trial by fire, and it lit a flame under our rear ends.
My grandfather has always been quick to share pearls of wisdom. His list of maxims relating to basketball or everyday life is practically inexhaustible.
One of my favorites related to basketball is: “Always aim for the one in the middle.” In essence, my grandfather was advising us, his players, to aim our shots at the square in the bottom center of the backboard.
Some coaches and players say you should aim at the rim or at the bottom of the top triangle of the net. My grandfather’s shooting theory is rare, but it makes sense in regard to his audience — small kids should aim higher than they normally would in order to prevent total airballs due to their lack of strength.
Another of my favorite quotes from my grandfather comes from a poem by Walter D. Wintle called “The Man Who Thinks He Can.” In short, the poem says, “Soon or late, the one who wins is the man who thinks he can.”
This is a message I’ve carried with me through my basketball career and into my everyday life even till now. It resonated with me so much that I made it my senior quote in high school.
There were a lot of guys on my team who lacked confidence in themselves, myself included. Lack of faith in oneself feeds into itself; if someone doesn’t believe in himself, he’ll never try, and if he never tries, he’ll never see if he’s capable of doing what he wants.
My grandfather sought to break this cycle of incapacity through the previously mentioned poem. He would remind us at practices and games that “If you think you are beaten, you are. If you think you dare not, you don’t.”
You don’t need to be the strongest or fastest, my grandfather would say; rather, one only needs to do his best in order to win the true victory of pride in himself. David may have been smaller than Goliath, but he believed in God who strengthened his hand.
My grandfather let everyone on the team know that their contributions were important and appreciated. There wasn’t a single man on the team when my grandfather was coaching who didn’t have a blast even though the physical demands were exhausting.
If someone was struggling or not putting in work, my grandfather wasn’t afraid to have tough conversations with them. Those conversations never came from prideful perfectionism; instead, they were fueled by a genuine concern for that person and a desire to see him become fully himself.
Perhaps I didn’t fully understand the messages my grandfather was imparting to me when I was a kid; however, now that I’ve grown up, I look back at those same messages and reflect on them.
My Pap Pap was and is convicted that teamwork, friendship, doing one’s best and believing in oneself are infinitely more important than winning a tournament. I’ve become convinced that those principles are just as pertinent to me now, off the court.