Note: This story about my favorite coach originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Teenaged Soul IV.
“You’re a half-back.”
I looked over my shoulder at the empty field behind me. “Me?” I asked, pointing to my chest.
“Yes,” the coach said again. “You’re a half-back. Yep, no doubt about it.”
The coach’s name was Super Roy. Someone told me his real name once, but it never stuck. In my mind he’ll always be Super Roy- football coach, mentor, philosopher, and role model. He was the man who made a half-back out of a scrawny, scared little fellow on his first day of pony league practice. He was a man who shaped my life.
When I got to practice that day I was a small kid with little athletic experience or skill. I wondered if I belonged there at all. When I left I was the team’s half-back and I wondered what Super Roy had seen in me that I didn’t see in myself.
“Are you sure I’m a half-back?” I asked him the next day.
“Let me see,” he said, standing back to have a good glance at me. “Yep. You’re a half-back. Might as well get used to it.”
“Ok,” I said, puzzled but beginning to accept the idea, strange as it seemed.
Later that day we started running plays. Time after time the quarterback put the ball right in my hands. Me, the nerdy fellow who had to be reminded how many points a touchdown was worth. I expected to go all season without touching the ball. I expected to be a bench warmer, and now the ball was in my hands- literally.
Super Roy had a routine he did every day. As practice wound down he would pick one of the players to step forward. The player had to recite a quote Super Roy had given him the day before. It was a very important moment in practice. No one wanted to forget their quote in front of the whole team.
After practice was over one day, Super Roy summoned me. “Your turn tomorrow,” he said. “Ready for your quote?”
“Ok,” I said, straining in deep concentration. “I’m ready.”
“Well here it is- It’s not the size of the man you play, it’s how you play the man. Got it?”
Super Roy winked at me and gave me a pat on the shoulder.
The next day my mind played like a broken record. “It’s not the size of the man you play, it’s how you play the man.” I repeated it to myself in the morning while I waited for the bus. I wrote it down time and time again during breaks in school, and all during practice I mumbled the quote to myself after each hit, just to be sure it hadn’t been knocked out of my head.
When the time came I stepped forward proudly. “It’s not the size of the man you play,” I told my teammates, “It’s how you play the man.”
Super Roy gave me another smile and a wink.
I remembered my quote, and you know- I always will.
Years later I came to understand the genius of Super Roy’s methods. He was the kind of coach who brought out the greatness in his players. He was a coach who understood what sport can do to shape character.
That year a scrawny little kid learned to believe in himself, to learn there is no problem so big he can’t handle. It was a lesson that shaped my life.
Long after my pony league days were over I became a teacher at a school for troubled boys. Super Roy’s lessons were never far from my mind, and I borrowed from him freely. Every day there was a new quote for a young man to remember, a quote made just for him. And I always looked for the good in my students they never saw in themselves.
There was a young man in my class who had a gifted mind and a superb voice for public speaking. One day he gave a great answer to a question I’d posed to the class. “Good point, Mr. President,” I told him.
After class he stopped me in the hallway. “Mr. Heisler, why did you call me Mr. President?”
“Because you are a president. It’s just a matter of time. Might as well get used to it.”
I gave him a wink and a pat on the shoulder. Super Roy would have been proud.