The Wisdom of Coaches

Top local coaches—from Ozzie Guillen and Tom Thibodeau to Oliver Purnell and Kelly Amonte Hiller—reveal sacred truths about perseverance, motivation, the importance of hard work, the value of failure, and more

(page 8 of 11)


Mark Onstott of New Trier High SchoolMARK ONSTOTT

POSITION Head coach, boys’ swimming and diving, New Trier Township High School
STATS Team state titles in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011; boys’ swimming national coach of the year in 2005 and 2010; team awarded a national championship by Swimming World magazine in 2007

Hard work pays off; it just doesn’t always pay off when you want it to. Sometimes what the kids get out of swimming is learning how to deal with disappointment. One of my favorite sayings is “Disappointment is the fuel of accomplishment.”

When I was swimming and the coach said, “We’re practicing on Thanksgiving Day,” my dad said, “What time?” In my day, the parent backed up the coach. Nowadays it’s all about Johnny, so I think you have to try to be as clear as you can with the kids so they understand what you’re doing, so they don’t go home and say, “We ran 40 flights of stairs at practice, and I don’t understand what’s going on.” That doesn’t mean the parents are going to understand it better, but I think it gives you a better shot.

You can’t assume you’re going to beat someone just because your time coming in is better. You’ve got to swim the meet.

You swim fast when you want to. If you are tired or swimming against someone who is supposedly faster than you, you focus on that. If you emphasize the race and really beating people, the rest will take care of itself.

It’s not wishing and hoping. There’s a direct connection between hard work and outcome.

“Sorry” don’t buy me no bananas.


Photograph: Courtesy of Mark Onstott



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