Happy National Coaches Week!
I’m very grateful for this opportunity to celebrate all those who have coached me at different times and in various ways throughout my life. For as long I can remember I have loved sports and music. I’ve had the privilege of participating in both at the collegiate level. My athletic career began my junior year of high school when I tried out for my high school’s track and field team. I quickly fell in love with shot put and discus, and indeed, my tall and lean frame was ideally suited for the throws. I picked up the technique pretty quickly and qualified for the state track meet in both events my first year. The next year, my senior year, I broke my high school’s record in the shot put and was the #1 shot putter in the state! One thing led to another, and I found myself a member of BYU Track and Field. I couldn’t have accomplished anything that I have in sports without the help of dedicated and persistent coaches.
Interestingly enough, though, the most memorable and inspiring examples of coaching for me lie outside the world of sports. Music has played a large role in my life. My music career also began my junior year of high school when I joined the choir. I also auditioned for the school’s competition quartet and earned a spot as the Tenor 2. My senior year I qualified to perform in the All-State Chorus and had one of the most enriching experiences up to that point in my life. I was able to enjoy many wonderful opportunities in music and improve my singing talent with the help of very loving and motivating music teachers. But when sports became a time-consuming part of my life, music took a backseat.
After a few years of track and field at BYU and two hip surgeries, my music career continued unexpectedly. I’d always wanted to enjoy a choir experience at BYU, so when I learned that my track career would conclude early I found myself in Dr. Ronald Staheli’s office. Let me tell you a little bit about this wonderful man. Dr. Staheli is the director and founder of the Brigham Young University Singers, BYU’s most elite choir and one of the nation’s most acclaimed ensembles. For the past 30 years, Dr. Staheli and the Singers have enthralled audiences in countries throughout the world, including England, the Soviet Union, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, Benin, Togo, and South Africa. I could go on and on and on about how amazing this man is and the choir he’s created, but let me abridge all of that by simply saying that in the choir world this guy is a BIG DEAL, like the LeBron James of choral directors!
You’d think that a man of his stature and renown would be unapproachable and intimidating. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He invited me into his office and with a big smile asked me to tell him about myself. He listened intently, his eyes glistening with caring interest and concern. After asking a few more questions he sighed pleasantly, turned towards his piano, and said, “Well, I’d love to hear you sing. Will you please sing for me?” I nearly fell over with surprise, completely unprepared for a personal concert. But I couldn’t resist that piercing, loving gaze. I sang a hymn for him, nothing special. He paused, his face contorted in pensive silence. After a moment, he offered me some of the most heart-felt and sincere compliments I’d ever received about my voice, as well as several pieces of advice. He gave me a few specific things to work on, recommended a voice teacher or two, and asked me to come back every few weeks or so throughout the summer to show him my progress. I’d never met this man before, and already he was demonstrating sincere interest in my growth as a musician and as an individual. I took his advice and started voice lessons, visiting him periodically to receive positive feedback and a thing or two to focus on during my lessons.
After many weeks of hard work and diligent practice I auditioned for the BYU Singers. Miraculously, I saw my name at the bottom of the list of tenors who’d qualified to sing in the choir. I can’t really describe the feeling of shock and disbelief that flooded my body when I saw my name on that list, but I can tell you that it is a miracle. Through God’s good grace and with the help of a loving, inspiring choir director I have been enjoying one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life singing in this remarkable choir. Not one rehearsal goes by that isn’t filled with Dr. Staheli’s expressions of love, confidence, encouragement, and praise. He weaves them throughout his musical instruction. He has taught me what truly effective coaching is.
Dr. Staheli has taught me that there is so much more to coaching than just helping people improve a given talent. I learned that he doesn’t always take the best, most talented voices into the Singers. He takes into account the character, the work ethic, the potential, the testimony, and the worthiness of each individual. Coaching is about nourishing the whole individual, coaching them in successful living and not just successful singing. He’s taught me that true coaching is seeing the best in people and loving it out of them. When many of my coaches in athletics yelled and screamed and disciplined to get the best effort out of their athletes, Dr. Staheli gushes love, offers encouragement, and praises every success. He certainly holds each singer accountable and constantly challenges us to rise to a higher standard of musical performance and expression but always with tenderness and love. We can’t help but want to give him our best! He reminds me of the greatest Coach the world has ever known. It was the Savior’s mission to exemplify charity and love in all that He did.
Who has been an inspiring coach in your life? What have you learned from their example about effective coaching?
As a teacher, what kind of coach will you be? How will you inspire your students to do and be their best?