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PCA Voices

We Only Had One Helmet

by Marty Mordarski


Peering out from underneath the brim of his tan safari hat, knees bent over his cleats which were dug into the yellow grass, he stared directly at you with a fire in his eyes, his arthritis-mangled fingers darting and pointing wildly to either side of him.

You've got to have good peripheral vision. I'm looking right at you, but I can see a radio tower over there...a blue car over there...a squirrel running in the woods over there.

Eccentric? Yes. A little over-the-top? You bet. But he wasn't joking. He was seeing things over a hundred yards away out of the corner of his eye that we couldn't see if we were staring straight at them.

Then there was the time while running some defensive drills during a summer camp he started reminiscing about when he was a kid, and as if some long-lost memory just suddenly popped back in his head mid-drill, he laughed and roared, "You know, back then in my neighborhood, we only had one helmet. And the kid who would carry the ball wore it. You'd think we would've caught on! But we didn't! Now, who wants a milkshake?!"

I have vivid memories of him before games in the locker room, pacing back and forth, humming and "air conducting" along to the muffled drumbeats and trumpet blasts of the distant marching band, seemingly doing everything he could to not jump out of his skin or run through the cinder block walls out onto the field himself.

By the time I had the opportunity to work with Coach Vadini, he'd already been a high school coach for decades, a state champion, and was well into his sixties. But you would've never guessed his age by the intensity, passion, and joy he exuded around a football field. Of all he taught me (and he taught me a lot) in terms of technique, studying film, reading the offense, shedding blockers, and making tackles, the thing that I will never forget is the humor, joy, and enthusiasm he brought to the field each and every day. It was inspiring. It was contagious. And it was an important life lesson.

The message wasn't overt but it was clear. If you didn't want to be there - then you didn't belong there. After all, for all the hard work, sweat, and pain you had to put yourself through, if you didn't love what you were doing, why would you want to be there?

That memory and that lesson have stuck with me, and for me, Coach Vadini's attitude is one of the best examples in my life that demonstrate what Positive Coaching Alliance(PCA) calls a Double-Goal Coach: a coach who (1) is focused on striving to win (and make no mistake, Coach Vadini wanted to win), and (2) even more importantly, teaches life lessons through sports.

A Double-Goal Coach:

• Takes a mastery approach to sport rather than a scoreboard orientation, teaching athletes to make maximum effort, continuously learn and improve, and not let themselves be stopped by mistakes or fear of mistakes.
• Fills Emotional Tanks of athletes, refusing to motivate through fear, intimidation, or shame. Recognizing that a player’s “Emotional Tank,” like the gas tank of a car, must be full in order to go anywhere, the Double-Goal Coach provides a fuel mixed of five specific, truthful praises for every specific, constructive correction.
• Honors the Game by respecting ROOTS (Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, Self).

Marty Mordarski is the former Chapter Executive Director for PCA-Cleveland and has served several years as a PCA Trainer.

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