Most of us understand coaching and its purpose because of our early experiences on athletic teams. Although few of my early coaches were especially memorable, Coach Umbach was truly amazing. He wasn't a particularly impressive guy: only about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 158 pounds. But no matter how big you were, if you ever got on a wrestling mat with him, you would never forget it.
Throughout my high school education, I had enjoyed sports but was never much good. This was frustrating because I was willing to practice and work out, but somehow my natural talents did not include ball games. My dad had been a wrestler in college and had enjoyed it, so when I got out of the Navy and went to college, he urged me to try out for the wrestling team. Since I was the only light heavyweight who tried out, I made the cut and was told to show up for practice. As we waited for the coach the next day, I got to know my teammates and it turned out that none of us had ever wrestled before. No one knew what wrestling practice involved or that coach Arnold W. "Swede" Umbach was a truly extraordinary coach.
When the coach arrived, we started with a brief warm-up and then a two-mile run, with the coach in front. Then he paired us up and had us work on a few basic holds. The coach took turns wrestling with each of us. After an hour and a half, when we were all pretty beat, we ended with another two-mile run, again with the coach in front. The workouts were so tough that the matches seemed easy. By the end of the year, several of us were undefeated, the team took the 13-state championship, and we were campus heroes. All of this from a ragtag bunch of inexperienced recruits. It was Coach Umbach who made the team.
Our coach's dedication, commitment, and energy were amazing, but what I found most inspiring was that he really cared about how each of us did. I have always remembered how he made a small band of raw recruits into a championship team and how he fostered the kind of cohesive team spirit that made losing simply unthinkable. I remember on my second match, after completing the regular three rounds, I was laying flat on my back, so exhausted that I knew I couldn't even get up for the final two tie-breaker rounds. All I could hear was Coach Umbach whispering in my ear that the other guy was every bit as beat as I was. All I had to do was get in there and "explode." To this day, I don't know how I did it, but I did, and I won.
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