The moment you first realized that you might like to make coaching part of your career.
The moment I first realized I wanted to make coaching a part of my career was in my sophomore year of college. To make a long story short, I was a player at Calvin College, a D3 school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and had an obsession with making the major leagues. Though I loved everything about Calvin, I realized that dream would be difficult to accomplish from the D3 level, so I transferred to an NAIA school for the start of my sophomore year, strictly for baseball. I was never so miserable in my life. I didn’t like much of anything there — the people, the coach, my teammates, the classes, the food — and I was struggling performance-wise. Making the decision to switch colleges and leave everything I loved only for a better chance at playing pro was a very unwise decision. I had placed my entire identity around my success in baseball, and as soon as I stepped foot onto the new school’s campus, things only went downhill. I began to feel significant burnout and thought I wanted to quit baseball forever. I couldn’t even utter the word “baseball” without feeling my stomach turn in knots. Baseball had been my entire life, my identity, for 19 years and I wanted no more of it. I transferred back to Calvin for the spring of my sophomore year, and luckily my mom was able to force me to at least play baseball for one more year before quitting forever. So I grudgingly played that spring. It took me about 30 games into the season before I finally started to have fun again playing the game. However, this was a life-changing experience for me. In going through this all, my perspective on going pro changed, I released all of the pressure off myself, and I began to put less emphasis on my performance. My mental health greatly recovered from these changes. I wish I could say I never placed my identity in baseball again, yet it came back throughout my career at Calvin. However, from that season on, I knew I wanted to coach. My goal as a coach would be this: Help kids escape from the prison of letting baseball be their identity.
Outside of mentors, talk about one way you’ve learned some aspect of coaching.
I would say that some of my most valuable lessons learned so far about coaching came through teaching people how to play other sports than baseball. Whether this was from giving my fiancé ping pong lessons, teaching my college roommate how to skateboard, or an internship with The First Tee where I gave golf clinics to groups of 5th graders, I took great knowledge from all of them. Although I am no expert on any of these activities, the act of teaching them gave me so many insights about how people respond to certain coaching techniques. I learned how to keep my practices fun from the 5th graders, how to be patient through failures with my roommate on the skateboard, and what words make people tick with my fiancé. You can apply a lot from coaching people in all areas of life to baseball.
Along with coaching other sports, I enjoy taking knowledge from playing other sports as well. If I am able to test certain coaching techniques on myself while playing intramural basketball, or test certain mental approaches on myself while on the golf course, that will only allow me to be a better coach to others. For example, recently when I am golfing, I try to release my fear of failure, as this is something I want to take away from my players. I am learning myself how to do that, and the struggles that come with it. Now I will be able to help guide them through this process because I understand what they are going through, rather than telling them once and wondering why they aren’t getting it. If you can’t experience something for yourself, how can you ever teach it to someone else?
Name one new thing you want to accomplish this year.
One new thing I want to accomplish this coming year is to truly nail down the point to my team that our identities are not found in baseball, they are found in our relationship with God. If our identity is in baseball, as mine was not very long ago, you start to find yourself feeling more pressure, more fear, and getting burnt out. Athletes very often come out of their sport feeling depressed when they’ve placed their identity in what they did. Our identity can not be placed in something that we can lose. When it comes down to it, you cannot control your performance in baseball, and I want guys who are happy after a 3 for 4 day, rather than going home kicking themselves for the last at bat where they grounded out and didn’t go 4 for 4. That was my life when my identity was in the wrong place. When I as a coach can shift their identity to what matters most in life, a few things will happen. Their fear of failing will vanish, their focus on their stats will decrease, the fun they have when they play will increase, the quality of their relationships with teammates will go up, and inevitably their performance will go up. I am not just doing this for their performance however, that is a bonus. My main goal in this is to save the kid’s love of the game, his relationships with God and others, and to save him from himself.
Best career or work advice you ever received.
The best career advice I have received came from a book called Lead… For God’s Sake! by Todd Gongwer. In this book it talks about purpose; why you do what you do. It helped me understand that why I coach is way more important than what I coach. Meaning, if I coach for my number one purpose in life, which is to love others, then I will find more success than if I were to coach with even the best mechanics in the world. Success in the personal lives of my players is way more important than any win on the field. If I can build relationships with each and every player to make them better men and children of God, that is how I will define success. Knowing this helps me as a coach not place my identity in coaching baseball as well, which is so easy to do, as wins and losses define a coach’s career in the eyes of the world. But if you can take a step back and remember why you coach, you’ll be much better off.
Your dream lunch date. One coach. Any sport. Any level. Living or dead. Who is it?
My dream lunch date with any one coach would easily be with Don Haskins from the Glory Road NCAA basketball championship team in 1966 at Texas Western. I think that what he was able to do at his school in a time period where it was an unwritten rule that you couldn’t have more than two African-American players on the floor at the same time, is truly remarkable and admirable. I would love to dive deeper with him on many topics, such as how he recruited, how he was able to maintain emotional control over his team through times of adversity, and how he revolutionized the style of college basketball being played. I would love to learn most about how he allowed his team to play with their natural style of play which was less structured than the typical style at the time. If you haven’t seen the movie, Haskins at first tries to structure his team through certain plays and giving them rigid coaching, which only made them worse. When he allowed them to play with their natural flare and unstructured style, they ended up playing more cohesively and were able to win the national championship. I am a coach that is big on giving guys freedom to be themselves on the field, so Coach Haskins would be fantastic to listen to.
Note from Coach Wolfe:
I absolutely love coaching so far, and can’t wait to see where this journey takes me. I love being able to have the relationships with my guys that I do. As I heard Jeremy Sheetinger from ABCA say, “as a coach, you should be competing for the most tickets to your funeral.” I want God to impact many lives through me as a coach. If anybody ever wants to reach out and chat about anything at all, feel free to text or call me at 517-388-3300, I’d love to connect! Thank you for having me on Top Coach!