I am very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to write the foreword to a fantastic book written by Jordan Fliegel called “Coaching UP! Inspiring Peak Performance When It Matters Most.” The Coaching UP! model extends far beyond sports and can be used to positively impact relationships in everyday life. I encourage you to read more about it and get your own copy here! I want to share that foreword with you here in a series of posts on the impact of effective coaching.
Here is Part I of the series, focusing on the best coach I ever had: my father, Big Ed Battier.
The fact is, I am passionate about coaching. To me, coaching means having the ability to move people from point A to point B – taking them one step closer to maximizing who they are and becoming whoever they want to be. It’s an undervalued skill in our society. People who serve as that kind of catalyst for others are truly exceptional.
I have a deeply personal reason for appreciating the impact coaching can have: coaching made me who I am. I literally wouldn’t be where I am in my life without the people who coached me along the way. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have worked with some of the greatest coaches of all time. Each of them has challenged me, pushed me, and helped me along on my journey. In fact they personified, each in his own way, the three core elements of the Coaching Up Model you’ll find presented in this book: building an authentic connection, providing genuine support, and offering concise direction – along with a whole lot more. They made me a better player, a better team member, and a better man.
In the end, my legacy as an athlete isn’t how many points I scored or how many charges I took. Looking over my career, I see two seminal achievements: the fact that I was a multiple champion at every level, from Little League to two NBA championships, and the fact that I was always one of my teammates’ favorite teammates. Both of those achievements stemmed directly from the brilliant coaching I received along the way.
But before I get into a few of the most valuable ways my coaches connected with me, supported me, and offered me direction, let me tell you a little bit about how my journey began.
In the Beginning…
The greatest coach I ever played for, hands down, was my dad, Ed Battier, known to one and all as Big Ed. I grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, in a very sports-oriented family. Sports were just always present; in fact I learned to read from the sports pages of the newspaper. My younger brother, Jeremy, and my dad and I spent a lot of time together watching sports and playing them.
I was so lucky to have a dad who was a part of my journey every step of the way, from an early age. He was my baseball coach every single year, he was my football coach every single year, but he was never my basketball coach. And that’s ironic, because he had a storied career playing for his Army base’s basketball team in Mannheim, Germany, where he was stationed. His claim to fame, which he never let me forget, was that he once scored 50 points in a game. I never scored 50 points in any game, so Big Ed’s got one up on me.
But no matter which sports I was playing, and which teams he was coaching, the personal coaching I got from my dad in the front yard never centered around technique. It was never about “You need to hold your elbow at this angle, or you need to have a high knee kick.” Instead, what he taught me – what he showed me – was enthusiasm, dedication, and discipline. He was just always present and unfailingly willing to practice. Whenever I said, “Dad, let’s play catch,” he would always grab his glove and say, “let’s go.”
My dad worked at a steel transportation company for 40 years. He hauled steel, warehoused steel. It was the blue-collar mentality, the assembly-line mentality: every day you show up, you punch in, you do what you do; at the end of the day you punch out, you go and have a beer, and you go home to your family. And the next day you get up and do it again.
That’s what I call toughness, and discipline, and living a principled life. Today, being a dad myself, I realize how tired he must have been, coming home at the end of the day. But I never once heard him complain about having to go to baseball practice or having to coach the football team, let alone tossing a ball with me. He really was – and still is – an amazing man in that regard.
He was also a very impressive man generally. For one thing, he was the only black guy in the whole town of Birmingham, Michigan. For another, he was huge: big biceps and a hulking presence. Growing up, I thought he was the strongest dad in the world. So he commanded attention immediately. No one ever messed with Big Ed. Every team I was on that he coached always gave him immense respect.
In his team coaching and also in our casual games and practices at home, he taught me several key lessons that were seminal to my development as an athlete and as a man. Those lessons, which he harped on every day, were the same ones I took with me to the NBA finals in 2013. He constantly talked about, and demanded, hustle, sportsmanship, attitude, communication (also known as chatter}, and looking sharp.
Here, in brief, is Big Ed on those five key lessons:
- Hustle: He would never outright yell at his teams to hustle. If he felt that we were loafing, he would shout, “Hey, hey, hey, let’s go!” in a booming voice that told everyone to put some pep in their step. It always worked.
- Sportsmanship: If you focused on Big Ed right at the end of a game, you would not know if we won or lost because his reaction was always the same: he would hustle over to the opposing coaches and offer a huge smile, a handshake and big compliments on the completed game. We learned to always respect our opponent regardless of the outcome.
- Attitude: One of the rare times my dad would raise his voice was when he saw somebody down on a teammate or, even worse, down on himself. He would say “Come on, Shane, you can do it! Now act like it! You have to believe! Change your attitude.” There was no room for negativity on our teams.
- Communication/chatter: If you were out in the outfield and you weren’t verbally supporting your pitcher and your teammates, if you weren’t engaging in chatter on the field, you were going to hear it from Big Ed – and no one wanted to hear it from Big Ed. You always supported each teammate verbally and let him know you had his back. Sports were not a silent activity.
- Looking sharp: If you looked sharp, with your shirt tucked in, you were going to play sharp. If you practiced sharp and took batting practice or fielding sharp, you were going to play a sharp game. Everything was about game speed and game focus – amazing habits to build.
These are invaluable lessons that I have carried with me every step of the way.
But the single most important lesson I learned from Big Ed was this: When you’re playing a team sport, the team comes first. With him, it was never about individual success. My dad never praised me individually for how many runs I scored or whatever – it was always WOW, how great was our team tonight!
He’s not a man of many words. He never said, “I’m going to teach you the lessons of how to be a great teammate or how to be a champion.” But that’s exactly what he did teach me. I’ve learned so much just from being around him, from how he carries himself.
He’s the reason I have the legacy I have today, no question about it. Because of his coaching, my aim was always to make every teammate better, from the best players to the 13th man on the team, the guy who couldn’t hit at all. My dad always taught me that every team member deserves your respect and your support. So that was how I related to my teammates.
When I talk with my childhood buddies who also played with Big Ed, we all marvel at the way he had with all of us. The only time he raised his voice was when one of us was not being a great teammate. That was it. There was never a tirade, ever. There was never a dressing down. Of course, if you didn’t hustle up the field, you were going to hear his deep booming voice – “HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY! LET’S GO!” – which scared the living hell out of you.
But it was done respectfully, and with love. I know that, to this day, all my teammates I grew up playing Little League with would say that Coach Battier – Big Ed – coached with love.