What My Athletic Director Taught Me About Coaching, Teaching and Life

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I recently delivered the following “goodbye remarks” to Jake von Scherrer, my athletic director of six years who just moved on to another school. Jake and his better half Jan have had a profound influence on me, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. 

I’ve been hugely fortunate to have many terrific mentors over the years, and on no uncertain terms, I wouldn’t be the educator or person I am today without them. But in thinking about my development at Palmer Trinity, few have taken me under their wing like Jake von Scherrer, among the most consummate professionals I know.

Over the years, Coach von Scherrer has played a critical role beyond his job description as “Athletic Director.” As just one of many examples, he played a major role in the launching and development of The Falconer, the online student news site of Palmer Trinity School. In large part due to his selfless efforts, The Falconer now offers live-streaming coverage of major sporting events and school functions. 

Words alone cannot express how grateful I am, and always will be, for the lessons Coach von Scherrer has taught not only me, but also countless students and fellow coaches as well. Though mere words won’t due him justice, at the risk of embarrassing my mentor even further, I very much want to highlight just a few of those lessons now.

  1. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” When Coach von Scherrer does something, he gives it his all. Whether he’s setting up the cross country course in the hot, humid afternoon hours, announcing a game, hosting an awards ceremony, or helping student-athletes and coaches in any of his many capacities, he takes tremendous pride in all that he does, inspiring others to do the same. The same is true of his better half, Jan, from whom I’ve learned so much over the years about long-distance running, staying healthy, and coaching successful student-athletes.
  2. “Follow through on your commitments.” Coach von Scherrer is a big believer in staying true to one’s word, and I will be forever grateful for how he has helped instill in me and my cross country runners that most precious attribute. As teachers (and Coach von Scherrer is also one of the best teachers I know), one or our greatest responsibilities is to help students learn responsibility. On the field or on the court, students have a responsibility not only to themselves, but also to their fellow players, their coaches, and their School at large. 
  3. “Nourish your mind as well as your body.” Coach von Scherrer is in terrific physical shape, but his mind is truly remarkable. In fact, he is one of the most interested, well-read teachers I know, and he could easily offer a plethora of popular history and English courses. If you’ve ever heard Coach von Scherrer speak, as I’m sure almost all of you have, he often says something along the lines of . . . while academics is first, athletics is far from last. On this point, I would respectfully disagree with my mentor. Both are equally important, and because of Coach von Scherrer’s actions, accomplishments, and all the other ways he has made such an important impact on my life, as well as the the lives of my student-athletes, I have him to thank for helping me conclude that academics and athletics matter equally. 
  4. I wanted to save the best for last. “The playing field is an extension of the classroom.” I became a great teacher only when I became a great coach. Certainly, Coach von Scherrer taught me about organizing effective workouts and how to motivate, and for those lessons I will always be grateful. But much more importantly, he taught me how to teach and speak to student-athletes about success, failure, disappointment, uncertainty, adversity, and overcoming obstacles. Along the way, I grew terrifically in confidence, which has played an essential role in all aspects of my success.

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t say that Jan Murphy epitomizes all these virtues equally well. Much of what I am today, and why I believe so heavily in caring for the mind and body, derives from countless hours of discussion and learning from this remarkable individual. Her knowledge of long-distance running, cross country, and track and field is truly astounding, and I consider myself hugely honored to have learned from such a knowledgeable and accomplished professional. For whatever good and success may come in all of my future years of coaching, Coach Murphy should consider herself just as responsible. 

Coach von Scherrer, Palmer Trinity’s loss is Turlock Christian’s gain. Thank you for your dedicated service. I will miss you. Your students will miss you. Please, stay in touch.

 



As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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