I’ve been working with Dove Men + Care on their #TheretoCare campaign. This blog post is a bonus (not a requirement) because I really want to share the influence Coach Ross had on me in college. The DM+C video that is currently out is about celebrating the father figures in our lives outside of our own biological fathers.
College can be a funny time. There are a lot of influences. Some of them are not positive and some may not be. Sometimes you don’t realize, or appreciate, those influences until long after you have departed campus. I’ve always known that my experience with Coach Ross was one of those important parts of my learning foundation, but I don’t think that I appreciated just how much of a positive impact he made upon me.
The entire staff was great. Coach Fitz was like my big brother and a great mentor. Coach Ross was that father figure that you needed when you were away from home. He was invested in your success, and not just on the field, but your success as a whole person.
Coach Ross always yelled the same thing to start off practice –
“HEY EVERYBODY IT’S FOUR O’CLOCK!”
I remember everyone would fall in, grab a warm-up jog, and then we would commence with the stretching. While we stretched, Coach Ross would walk around and discuss plans for practice that day, give general announcements, kudos, etc. For our track and field team this was like our daily family meeting for we were family. Through the good and bad – we were there for each other.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I sat in one of those circles, stretched out my hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, and other muscles that I used to have, yet the memories and lessons still remain.
Here’s the thing. Coach Ross plucked me off of the athletic trash heap. I had been cut from the baseball team three years in a row, was horribly depressed about it, and was needing some sort of direction as a junior in college. Coach helped me find it.
I could bore you with statistics. How the first time I threw the shot put I only hit 25 feet (against offensive linemen from William and Mary who were hitting 60+) but would eventually hit over 54 feet and find myself in the top 10 of our conference. Or how I wound up inches away from qualifying for Nationals in the javelin. We will not speak of discus or hammer because my performances dishonored the greats that came before me (but I was entertaining to watch).
None of those distances matter. That journey that I went through for two years though? Probably the highlight of my college career (other than meeting my wife).
Coach Ross taught me a lot of things – how to keep my weight back in the glide, how to finish with my chest up when throwing the javelin, how to properly execute a jerk and clean. Those were important then.
What do I still remember now as a 41 year-old man, husband, and father? There are three things specifically that stick out:
“Always target your weaknesses.” As an athlete, I had a habit of staying in my comfort zone and working on things I did well. Coach Ross challenged me to shift out of that zone and find ways to make myself better.
“Never give someone a reason to beat you.” Coach appreciated hard work, good competition, and dedication. He was not into showboating, taunting, or anything else that would give others motivation to try and beat us. More importantly, it just wasn’t the way to operate. I have coached for the better part of 15 years, and that is one of the phrases that I share with my athletes. It’s an important lesson not only for sports, but for life in general. Be yourself. Work hard. The results will follow.
The third thing I remember isn’t a quote. It’s a simple thing. I remember Coach Ross bringing his family to a few meets. To a college kid who wasn’t married, but knew he wanted to be a father some day, it was an inspiration to see a man who was dedicated not only to his job but to his family.
I did not become a professional athlete. However, those two years had a major impact on me personally. I learned how to become a leader. I learned the importance of dedication and honing a craft. I learned patience and perseverance. That guy that threw 25 feet went on to become a team captain with All Conference honors and then became a teacher and coach. Oh, and a very proud husband and father.
Coach Bill Ross, thanks for your dedication, example, and influence. I hope to pass these lessons on to my students. Thanks for being there to care.
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