Coach memorable for right reasons

I am probably the last person on earth who should be writing a sports column.

My first Little League game was an abject failure. We lost 33-0, long before mercy rules were introduced. That team did not win a single game.

Three years later, when playing in the “majors” — at least the major Little League — I had a coach who was so committed to making his son the team’s star that he had him pitch every chance he could. Unfortunately, the kid could not pitch.

He would walk batters, cry on the mound, then face the wrath of the coach for doing so. Again, we lost games. Other sports yielded similar outcomes.

Things changed when I tried out for my high school’s newly created ice hockey team as a sophomore. As with earlier experiences, the team was not very good. Fortunately, the coach was.

Rick Trimble was young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He played college hockey and knew how to shape a bunch of inexperienced pond hockey players into a cohesive unit.

We lost early, then won barely enough games to make the playoffs. The top seed laughed at our team, thinking they would crush us. They should have. Instead, off-ice drills, tough practices and disciplined position play paid off.

We beat the best team and eventually won the league championship despite limited talent. Decades later, our team’s picture still sits in a New Jersey trophy case. Ironically, Coach Trimble wasn’t in that photo, probably because he took the picture.

The next season, with targets on our backs, we struggled, but our coach remained a positive mentor, proof that a coach’s legacy is more than just a winning record.

In my senior year, we won a second championship without Coach Trimble because he briefly stepped aside to start a family. By then we were talented enough to win games without having a coach until mid-season.

How we muddled through that situation is a bizarre story.

Still, Trimble’s fair, upbeat and cerebral coaching philosophy gave us a roadmap to succeed in other areas of life and, fortunately, his focus on excellence in the classroom was just as intense.

Trimble later wrote books on coaching, teaching others how to compete with integrity. Since those days I have coached many youngsters and, win or lose, I have tried to replicate Trimble’s focus on positive personal development.

Sports have changed a lot since my youth, but some things have not.

Bad coaches still try to manipulate rosters for self-serving reasons, sometimes beating up on intentionally weaker teams after doing so, as occurred in my youth.

Some relentlessly bend the rules. I recall one coach who habitually cheated, thinking he achieved victory when he deceived umpires. In reality, the opposite occurred.

His team was repeatedly exposed to a coach with a damaged moral compass.

Win or lose, good coaches inspire, teach and unite. They often transform lives, even inspiring life-long lessons that transcend sport.

Unfortunately, bad coaches and those who support them have to live with the negative lessons they transmit, likely to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Bob Trumpbour is an assistant professor of communications at Penn State Altoona. He authored the book, “The New Cathedrals, politics and media in the history of stadium construction.”

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