I emerged from college more broken than I went in. I said that to my housemate last night, in a rare dinner together. I was trying to explain why coaching feels really important to me. Why should it matter if kids at an elite college get better at making small sailboats go around buoys faster than other kids at other elite colleges?
I can't explain that part very well except to tell you that I am certain that it does matter. Sailing matters, just because it's worth doing. That's so innate to me and who I am that it's like asking me how to read, or why be interested in people. I lack the vocabulary to break some things down into smaller parts. The best stab I can make at explaining sailing is that to be good at it, you have to notice invisible things. You have to get really good at tuning in to subtleties, to things that haven't happened yet: a wave that is rising and about to change, a windshift that's ahead, a puff that will change all of the forces on your boat. I really do believe that getting good at noticing makes you happier, and makes you a better person. It lets you live in the moment. It lets you use all of your senses, and many of your muscles. It lets you lose your rational mind and experience flow and response, the bodily sensation of being connected and tuned in to the world around you, water and wind and sky. I think that's fundamentally worthwhile, as an experience and as a habit.
And I know what a watershed time college is. I am not sure I have the answer to my question, but I think what college was about for me was understanding hard work. I saw and learned what it meant to work hard, at school (I didn't do much of that, but I witnessed it, pretty close up), in a sport, and in relationships with people who were different from me. I didn't always work hard but I learned the difference between working hard and not working hard, and I generally saw a payoff when I worked hard. But I limped out of college. I came out convinced I wasn't very smart, and wasn't particularly anything else, either. Anything I might have once thought I was good at, or distinctive for, I'd met people who were way more accomplished at than me. I didn't know how to feel okay about myself if I wasn't the best at anything. I scuttled off to the middle of nowhere to spend a lot of time outside and lick my wounds.
I love college students. I like watching them. They're smart, and they're open-minded, and the world is still new. They're very funny; I'm always laughing. They don't have the masks that adults have, so you can see emotions play out on their faces. And I want, fiercely, to help them feel more sure of themselves than I felt about myself when I was in college. I am not sure I can do that; I'm not sure anyone could have done that for me. But maybe I can. And that, more than anything else, is why being a coach matters to me.