Impact of Coaches – "I have come to the frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element on the court. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a coach, I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” – Haim Ginott
It was the fall of 1978 and my very first 'tackle' football season had just completed. Back then, at least at my school, you played flag football until reaching 7th grade and entering the hallowed halls of Lexington Jr. High School. It was where boys and girls started the transition to becoming young men and women and for those athletes wanting to become gladiators and play the ultimate warrior’s game, tackle football was your entrance into the Coliseum.
After successfully completing my first season of this violent yet beautiful ballet, while walking in the hallway between classes, I was stopped by Mr. John Leskovitch. Curious as to why he was stopping me, he asked a simple question. "Brett, now that football's over, is there anything you're planning to do in the winter?"
Though I was a decent athlete at that time, I was a munchkin, all of maybe five feet tall and 100 lbs soaking wet. Though I successfully competed using my love of the game over my small stature, I sure as heck was having no parts of that basketball game played by GIANTS. As a result, I didn't have anything that followed football, so I answered, “no." Not knowing he coached wrestling, he continued, "I saw you play football and think you might be good at wrestling. We have a meeting coming up next week with the Head Coach of the Jr. High and I think it would be worth your while to check it out."
He had me at "wrestling."
Mr. Leskovitch had no idea how much I loved watching Georgia Championship Wrestling aka WWF on WTBS EVERY Saturday afternoon. Now in my teens, I was too old and cool for childish cartoons so I literally couldn’t wait to see my ‘real life’ Superheroes going mano a mano every weekend. Smiling from ear to ear, I was lit the funk up with the thought that I could be the next Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka climbing up the ring ropes to stand on top and stretch my arms to the heavens before flying through the air and body smashing the sucker wobbling in the middle of the ring. To be associated with legends like Tony Atlas, Mr. Wrestling #1, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, The Iron Sheik, and The Great Kabuki…sign me up ‘yesterday’!
The next week, while anxiously waiting after school with my friends for this head coach guy to talk about ‘wrasslin’, we were already practicing our forearm shivers and atomic elbows on each other. Then, in walks this short, stout, penguin looking man that reminded me of Santa Claus. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, settle down” he commanded. “My name is Jeff Gerberick and I’m the Head Wrestling Coach of Lexington Jr. High. Wrestling is the world’s oldest, toughest and greatest sport and quite frankly, most of you won’t make it.”
WTF?! Stunned silence permeated the room and though he kept talking, I only heard, “most of you won’t make it." With my eyes narrowing and fist clenching, I had only one thought. “I’ll show you Coach Gerberick!”
Thus, began the impact of one of the most influential human beings I would ever know.
For the next six years, from 1978 – 1984, Coach Gerb as we affectionately called him; molded me into an unstoppable force of nature. From the very first practice, in which I disappointedly learned I wouldn’t be jumping from the ring ropes, to my exodus to the University of Wisconsin – Madison as a wrestling scholarship athlete; like my father, Coach Gerb became the template by which I measured men. He was then and remains today a man of steel and velvet. He was strong enough to take whatever raw material you brought to him and forge it through the immense heat, pressure, and commitment wrestling demanded; yet kind enough to be a shoulder to lean on through some of the lowest lows you may ever experience.
Today, though 42 years since I first met him and 36 years since I left his direct mentorship; his words resonate with me daily as if he were walking right next to me, twirling his whistle and bellowing his “Gerbism’s."
When life hits hard whether physically, mentally or spiritually; I hear his voice, “conditioning begins at the point of fatigue” and push beyond the pain.
When I’m scared to confront my fears; I hear, “don’t fear any man but being nervous means you’re ready. If you’re not, then you’re in trouble” and confront them courageously.
When I get tired of pouring so much into others wondering if it’s worth it; I think of him tirelessly pouring himself into us year after year and am renewed in my commitment to serve first.
When I get lazy and want to take short cuts, I think of him and the work ethic he instilled in us through his example; then stop my whining and get back to work.
And now, in the twilight of his life when I see him hunting, fishing, smoking cigars and enjoying a great libation; I think, “well done Coach Gerb. You deserve it."
The leading quote, ‘Impact of Coaches’, by Haim Ginott says it all. Though I always used to say I’d never coach, I ended up following your footsteps and have done my best to ‘show you’ while coaching both wrestlers and people to become the best version of themselves…always starting with me. Because of you, through all you taught me and I learned through wrestling, I've been blessed to pay it forward in every imaginable way. As a successful wrestling coach at every level (Club, HS, College, National, World and Olympic), as an entrepreneur building companies that have changed the world impacting millions, and most importantly as a man doing my best to be the best husband, father, friend, and family man possible.
From the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul Coach Gerb, I remembered. With nothing but sincere love and gratitude for you. Believe…