The power of a positive influence

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

We all have people in our lives who have greatly influenced us. We have people who have invested in us and encouraged us when we seemed lost along the road. We have people who have pushed us to take a deeper look into our own lives and forced us to examine the hard questions of life such as who am I, and what is my purpose? Those individuals may be our parents, our grandparents. They might be a friend we had growing up or an older sibling. They might be the pastor at our church or a teacher who knew the right buttons to push.

As a former athlete, some of the most influential people in my life have been my coaches. They taught me the fundamentals of the sports I played, but they also taught me how to handle game-time situations and how to cope with the results of those contests, regardless of what the result was. But there was more to the coach-player relationship than that, and I believe that there still is. I think that coaches have the ability and the authority to be able to dramatically impact the life of athletes in more ways than producing athletic results and accomplishments. Coaches are given a platform in which to guide and mentor athletes to become better on the court or field of play, but more importantly, they have the ability to help them become better people in society.

In August 2013, I began coaching middle school girls volleyball at a charter school in East Los Angeles. At first, I thought it seemed like an excellent opportunity to engage with this new culture I had recently moved into. I knew that I didn’t have much experience coaching or playing volleyball, so I had just as much to learn about the game as they did. I quickly learned that for many of them, it wasn’t about the game or the skills they had or lacked. It was about finding a place to be accepted and where they could enjoy being with one another. Over the course of time, they began to develop and enhance their skills and transform those skills into a successful season on the court.

Not every season ends with a championship or a feel-good story. Not every coach-athlete relationship is easy. At times, coaches and players butt heads and will not always agree with a play call or a decision. I know at times, I hated my coaches. They expected me to rise up and be a leader that the rest of the team could look to. At times, I was stubborn enough to fight them because I didn’t believe that I was capable of what they were asking of me, so I didn’t give my best effort — as an athlete or as a person. I saw this in my players in L.A., and I see it in my volleyball players at Live Oak Classical School. They have so much potential and leadership capabilities. They might just not know it yet. One of the hardest lessons I learned is that no matter how hard I pushed my players or students, I may never see the fruits of my deeds.

As I have gotten older, I think I’ve gotten wiser. I still communicate with two of my former coaches from time to time, and I always make sure to thank them for the time they invested in my life, and I promise them that I will do the same with the students and athletes that I work with today. You may not be into athletics. You may be into music or literature or film. Whatever your passion is, someone has most likely come beside you at one point or another to encourage you when you needed it, to challenge you when you could do better and congratulate you on a job well done. I hope that whoever that person may be, whether a coach, teacher, friend or relative, you thank them for the investment they have made in you, and I hope that you will make that investment in someone else as well.