Understanding the word Coach

     The coaching profession has evolved in a rapid manner over the last century. Like many other professions in our day success has been reduced to a quantitative assessment. Often times leadership value is evaluated through the lense of a measurable standard. In the business world, it’s the financial bottom line, in the sports world the standard has been reduced to a win/loss record. Unfortunately, that standard now defines "success" in the coaching profession. As the culture finds itself gladly reinforcing this misguided expectation, the coaching community continues to wander aimlessly from its understanding of its core purpose.
     It wasn’t always that way.
     Let me share with you how the “coaching" concept came into being and how it has evolved since.
     I know the term "etymology" may be a bit overwhelming, but bear with me, because an etymological study of the word “coach” reveals some interesting information, information that will contribute greatly to our understanding. The term "coach" is traced back to the 16th century and the country of Hungary. The Hungarian word “kocsi” is the original term that came to define the “coach” concept. “Kocsi” originally referred to a “carriage of Kocs,” the village where the popular horse-drawn carriage was constructed. As the popularity of this particular carriage spread across Europe and its name was translated into a number of different languages, the term “coach” emerged, coming to identify the carriage itself. The word literally came to represent a vehicle that transported people from one place to another.
     By the 1800’s the word had grown in its cultural application and was being used as a slang term in academic circles to identify an instructor or tutor who “carried” a student through an exam. By the 1860’s the British began applying the term to the athletic realm. As a result, the word “coach” was used to designate someone who trained an athlete, “carrying” that person from one point of athletic maturity to another.
     As athletics grew in influence and popularity so did the application of the term. With the proliferation of sports teams and their subsequent activities the title came to identify those who led and developed athletes in the sports world. Unfortunately this concept of "carrying" (developing) has been lost over the last half century as coaches have embraced a new set of ideals which have distorted the coaching community's primary purpose.
     Though the weight that the title “coach” carries is evident within the culture-at-large it is clear that the community has lost its way. A reevaluation of the role the coach plays in their environment needs to take place. When and how that is done is unknown, but what remains clear is that a new lense for understanding is needed. How the coaching community reacts to this reality will determine the value it offers to the athletic community, both now and into the future.
*Understanding the etymology of "coach" assists in better appreciating the original role and evolving influence an athletic coach maintains. How that role developed serves as an education for future athletic leaders. How coaches continue to progress will not only influence the next generation of athletes, but may very well shape what the future holds.

Steven D Wright, DMin