Put me in, Coach: Northeast Ohio Coaches who Inspire their Players

Put me in, Coach: Northeast Ohio Coaches who Inspire their Players

They spend countless hours teaching, motivating and influencing kids to respond to life with grit, resilience, self-confidence and determination. They work tirelessly to help children hone their skills so that they can seize success or, if necessary, survive and learn from failure. They influence kids during the most impressionable phase of a child’s youth. They are coaches.

Many of these men and women will become forever etched in their players’ memories as mentors who pushed them to do what they feared most. And, for some kids, their coaches will live on as legends who taught some of life’s most important lessons. How do these coaches do it? How do they push our children beyond what they think they are capable of achieving? We highlight some area coaches who share their thoughts about this role. 

 

Derrick Russell

Derrick Russell

Girls Basketball Coach, Beaumont School, Cleveland Hts.

Why do you coach?

You can’t coach for the money; it has to be a passion. I came from an inner city background and was the youngest of seven kids. We did not have a whole lot. My coaches took time to mentor me and gave me an outlet. Ultimately, their actions inspired me to help others. Coaching is my way to give back. I try to talk with my players about things outside of the basketball court. I will support them in all of their efforts, whether it’s going to see them in a play or performing with the choir. I want to give them a sincere chance to see that I care for them outside of basketball.

What value do you bring to families?

I always foster a family atmosphere with my girls. We also have a rule that when you come into the gym for practice or for a game, you leave everything else at the door, such as family issues or relationship issues. This is your time to reconnect with yourself, do something you enjoy and get some exercise. I also give them information that may be helpful down the road in life, such as what to expect in college. In the past, we raised money to take the girls to various campuses around the country. We went to Purdue University to participate in a three-day tournament. It gives the girls a chance to visit a beautiful campus at one of the top schools in the country. This year, we went to Ashland University, Tiffin University, Ursuline and John Carroll, and it gave the girls a chance to see schools in different environments: a rural, suburban and inner city environment.  

How do you keep the girls motivated?

I am constantly studying from other coaches and other educators because I also view this job as being an educator. I want to give them an opportunity to express themselves. I also want to give them fresh materials because with the cell phone and computer generation, you need to have something fresh. We don’t just have drills; instead, we offer several stations and focus on different skills with the assistant coaches. We rotate the girls every five to 10 minutes. It keeps them engaged and focused while developing their skills. I’ve got a treasure trove of drills from various coaches that I’ve developed relationships with.

What makes a good coach?

Patience. You must realize that each generation is different; therefore, you have to morph with the times and understand that the kids you are coaching today have a lot of different interests and things thrown at them, such as social media. You can’t stay stuck on ways kids were dealt with in previous times. Be able to adjust, stay flexible and listen while developing and maintaining genuine communications with the players and their parents. 

 

Bill DeBenedictis

Bill DeBenedictis

Head Coach, Squirt 2 Mentor Youth Hockey, Mentor

What makes a good coach?

You have to have good vision and insight. You have to have compassion and know when to be firm and when to be a little less firm. You have to be understanding. You have to put your whole heart and soul into it. It is not about winning, and I learned that a long time ago. If you play to win, 90 percent of the time you’re going to lose. If you just teach them how to do it when they get on the ice, how to work hard and build their self-esteem so that when the pressure is on they can arise to that situation and be bigger, then you are going to win your fair share of games. 

How do you inspire kids?

I get excited and get involved. I am an upbeat person. When something exciting happens, I raise the level in the area around me to that exciting level. The kids like that and they get excited, too. When they do something good, I am all about it. I pump them up. When they have trouble, I bark at them a little bit and I go over there and say, “Now do you understand what I want from you? Because I know you can do it.” They nod their head yes and I give them a big hug and send them on their way. 

What makes a good coach?

You have to have good vision and insight. You have to have compassion and know when to be firm and when to be a little less firm. You have to be understanding. You have to put your whole heart and soul into it. It is not about winning, and I learned that a long time ago. If you play to win, 90 percent of the time you’re going to lose. If you just teach them how to do it when they get on the ice, how to work hard and build their self-esteem so that when the pressure is on they can arise to that situation and be bigger, then you are going to win your fair share of games. 

How do you inspire kids?

I get excited and get involved. I am an upbeat person. When something exciting happens, I raise the level in the area around me to that exciting level. The kids like that and they get excited, too. When they do something good, I am all about it. I pump them up. When they have trouble, I bark at them a little bit and I go over there and say, “Now do you understand what I want from you? Because I know you can do it.” They nod their head yes and I give them a big hug and send them on their way. 

 

Adam Bilczo

Adam Bilczo

Head Coach, Sheffield Cardinals, Lorain County Hotstove 11U Travel Baseball League

What are some of your  most memorable achievements as a coach?

There were two boys on this team that have been struggling with batting this year. We began teaching them how to bunt, which is one of the most difficult things to do in the plate. Both of them went up to bat and put a bunt down in the field and scored three total runs. I think I jumped about two feet in the air. I was so happy. 

What is your coaching philosophy?

You have to surround yourself with other coaches. You need help. For every three kids on your team, you need another coach. This way, you keep the kids moving and constantly engaged. All the coaches need to be on the same page. Everybody has to have the same philosophy, the same goals and the same beliefs. You also have to be able to connect with every player personally to know what drives them, what motivates them, what works and what doesn’t work. And you need to be able to make it fun; no kid wants to do something that isn’t fun.   

How do you measure your success as a coach?

We all want to make the kids better than what they were. We look at where athletes are struggling so that we can work to those areas of weakness and turn them into strengths. Then we identify what they are strong in and make that their bread and butter. Once an athlete can develop something that (they consider) a weakness, he will enjoy it more. I tell my players that as an individual player you can’t do everything, but as a team working together you can do anything. But for a team to do anything, everybody has got to do something. “Boys, what is your something today? What are you going to do to change the game?”  

How do you inspire kids?

I get excited. I also pull kids aside and relate to them when they are not doing their best and tears are coming down. I tell them I was once a young athlete and relate what they are going through to something I’ve experienced in hopes (to get them to see) that it is not the end of the world. When they have a bad play, I encourage them to forget about it and move on because the game is still going and they can still have an impact.  

 

Bob Nance

Bob Nance

Basketball Coach, Bob Nance Basketball Academy, Cuyahoga County

What are some of the most important lessons kids learn from you?

A lot of these kids come here very shy; I want the shy kids. Everybody has gifts and a lot of them don’t know their gifts yet. Whenever they meet someone for the first time, I make them say their names and their grade point averages. When they introduce themselves, they quickly see that everybody is welcoming. My kids all respond with “thanks for coming.” I tell them to stay focused on their grade point averages because if they can jump in a gym, they should be able to spell it. Whereas many of my kids have gotten scholarships, most of them will not make a school team. I emphasize that if they want a scholarship, they can get one if they study and improve their GPA.  

Why do you coach?

I’ve been playing all my life and every team I’ve been on, I was the captain. I have always been the leader, so I wanted to lead by example. I’ve been doing this since 1985 and don’t do it for a big income. I have impacted at least 10,000 kids of all ages from all over. My focus is helping them use their athleticism to get a degree and/or develop the leadership skills needed to succeed in life, whether they play ball or not. I just love helping kids and I am going to continue doing it until the lights go out. 

How do you use basketball to prepare kids for the future?

Basketball is very challenging because it is a tough competition. It is very physical. You have to believe in yourself and have confidence in the face of adversity. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link. You will have to learn to deal with different personalities in order to get the job done. You will have to work hard and show leadership to make sure everyone can do his or her part. Sometimes, you have to do more than your share to complete the mission. I tell my kids that hard work beats talent when talent don’t work hard. And that the hard work and leadership training they show on the court will one day help them get a job and grow into an even greater leader.

 

Robert Nickol

Robert Nickol

Head Varsity Football Coach, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Akron

What made you decide to be a coach?

I’ve wanted to be a coach since I was about 15 or 16 years old. I had a JV basketball coach named Coach Walker. He was just an unbelievable leader and mentor. I played for him and got an opportunity to coach football with him at Barberton for a couple of years. He was the kind of guy that galvanized me. He was very inspirational and was really the reason why I got into not just coaching, but education. He cared so much about kids and got so much out of them. He was really my inspiration to do this. 

How do you inspire kids?

Every kid is different. It really is figuring out the type of kid I have, and figuring out what pushes his buttons. I get as much knowledge about the kids and show them that I care. Being around and doing the little things day in and day out are the ways that I build a positive relationship. I also get the best coaching staff that puts kids first, not wins and losses, because if we are doing that, then we are doing absolutely the wrong thing for these kids.

What is your coaching philosophy?

Kids thrive with discipline. Kids really want structure and discipline and if we provide that to them, they might be a little bit uneasy at first, but when they realize that we are doing it for their well-being, they are going to flourish. 

What makes a good coach?

You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice. We start practice in July and go the end of September. Having a strong partner who is willing to sacrifice along with you is key to avoiding family struggles. Also, you’ve got to be willing to always evolve. The game is changing. Kids are changing. How you dealt with kids 15 years ago is not the same today. Always be willing to grow and learn.

 

Colleen Thomas

Colleen Thomas

Figure Skating Coach, Mentor Figure Skating Club,Mentor

Why do you coach?

I love figure skating. I was a figure skater growing up. I love children. So for me, it was a great combination to teach young children what I know and be able to do what I love on a daily basis.

How do you inspire your skaters?

You build their confidence by giving them encouragement and excitement in their lessons, particularly when they achieve something that they’ve been struggling with. Sometimes you have to not be the coach and almost look at them as if they were your own child. If this was my child, what would I do if she is having a moment of sadness or crying over something that has happened today? I talk to them to revert their focus on the moment, as opposed to focusing on the competition coming during the end of the week. I ask them what they think they did well and what they think they could do better. They need both of those perspectives, not just me telling them what I think.

How do you measure your success as a coach?

Continual improvement from one lesson to the next. As long as I can look back and see improvement in the skater, then I know I am doing my job, which is to help them change and implement what they’ve learned from lesson to lesson. 

 

Julie Solis

Julie Solis

Girls Basketball Coach, Gilmour Academy, Gates Mills
Head Coach, Girls Sprints & 8th Grade Volleyball Coach, R.B. Chamberlin Middle School, Twinsburg

What life lessons do you teach your players?

Athletics is an opportunity to teach you so many important life characteristics. I try to get kids to understand the impact that athletics can have on their lives and that these life lessons will help them to be successful further on in life. I love to win, but I teach kids that winning isn’t everything — though it is important because when you win, you realize the time and effort it took to get there. I also teach them the message that you can receive from losses. You have to set goals and you have to push yourself. I’ve been fortunate to have kids receive full scholarships to school, and that was all from pushing. You can’t get there without pushing yourself to levels that you didn’t think you could get to — and so many of these kids were able to do that and good things came their way. 

Why do you coach?

I love it! My father was a girls basketball coach, so I grew up in the gym; I was a gym rat. The experiences, my coaches, and watching my father’s successes as a coach just sent me in that direction. I have been coaching for 20-plus years. I started out as middle school girls basketball coach and went on from there. 

What are some of your most memorable moments as a coach?

As a player, I always wanted to experience going to the state championship but never had the opportunity to go. Fortunately, I was able to coach some very talented ladies who helped me to reach my dream. My teams took me to the state championship four times and included a championship once.    

What is your coaching philosophy?

The kids have to work hard while knowing that I genuinely care. I really bring this mixture to any sport that I coach, pushing the kids and then finding moments to show them they are important. This isn’t just about a win for my record, but about them becoming better people and reaching their full potential.

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