A Father is a Child’s Greatest Coach
By Tom Coughlin
According to a 2014 article in Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, “Three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport — a total of about 45 million kids.”
The lessons a child learns on the field of play will one day be practiced off the field. Some may be more difficult than others. It is important to learn it is about working hard, preparing, and earning the right to win. It’s not about any one individual, it’s about helping the team, the family, the community. It’s learning it is about something more than self. A good coach will live this out in his own daily life; a great coach will expect his team to do the same.
Everything I’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish, in life as well as football, has been built upon the foundation of virtues my father and mother expected me to practice in my daily life. They are the same virtues I hope I demand and live on and off the field.
I’ll never forget my sophomore year of high school. I played varsity football, and one afternoon when I came home after our team was badly beaten, my father was waiting for me at the front door. It looked like he had been there for a while. All he said to me was, “If that’s the effort you’re going to give, you probably ought to find something else to do with your time.” That was devastating for me to hear. His message was clear: if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability — or don’t waste your time. It never happened again.
Hard work, preparation, sacrifice, helping the family — these are what a father does, and it is by his example his children will do the same. A team is very much like a family. If a member of the family needs help, the team comes together to help.
One of the greatest examples of this happened when I was head coach at Boston College. Our sophomore safety, Jay McGillis, was diagnosed with Leukemia during the fall of 1991. People dropped everything for Jay; they quit their jobs to be with him, day in and day out. His parents, Pat and John McGillis tried to keep a stiff upper lip and be courageous as their family fought their battle. Our team created a lift-a-thon. Our players secured pledges from friends and family based on the maximum weight they could lift. We raised $50,000 during that first fundraiser. Being able to witness all the love and support the Boston College community provided Jay and his family touched me in a very profound way.
Nearly twenty-five years ago on July 3, 1992, we lost Jay, but not his spirit. In 1996 we started the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation to honor Jay and help families tackling childhood cancer. My own kids, particularly my daughter Keli, quickly rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Today, the Jay Fund has helped over 4,000 families and provided over $8 million in financial assistance to families facing the unthinkable. Our mission is to BE THERE for them so they can BE THERE for their sick child and family.
I am grateful for all the support the players I’ve coached over the years have given to my foundation and to these families facing the unthinkable. Whether it was Eli Manning coming back to the training facility to spend a little time with a sick child or Mark Herzlich visiting with cancer patients and inspiring them with his story, or any of the other of the countless players who have made the journey for these families just a little bit lighter, each has been a model human being on and off the field, and that’s what a coach hopes for; it’s what a father hopes for.
The great basketball coach, John Wooden said, “The most important thing in the world is family and love.” Whether that family be the one you were born into or the one you join on the field, its success hinges on the commitment, love, dedication, and values of the father. A father is the greatest coach a child will ever have.
Tom Coughlin is a two time Super Bowl winning head coach, founder of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, and the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars.