I took a hiatus from writing this column for a month because I have had no time to write between my regular job and my seasonal cross country coaching at Holy Names Academy. To write this column, I’m on a self-imposed detention at the hockey rink on a Friday night where my son will be on and off the ice for about three and half hours of practice. It will be “miracle off ice” if I can actually finish this by the time my son finishes.
This is by far the most time consuming cross country season out of 12 years. The team started with 66 girls, my largest team ever. Injuries and typical challenges that face high school girls reduced the team to 53 who would actually run in championship races. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a team qualify for State Championships, but I have high hopes for this year’s team.
I’m accustomed to people being surprised when they first hear I coach. They are usually more surprised that I coach for one or more of the following reasons: I coach the non-glamorous sport of cross country running; been head coach for 12 seasons at an all-girls high school; coach my 15 year-old daughter; have won two Metro League titles and qualified several individuals/teams to State Championships; and have one of the largest teams in the Washington.
People are often curious about how I became a cross country coach. Many times the real question is: “How did an Asian male end up being a head coach of a non-Asian sport?” The simple answer is; I had a great coach in high school. The more interesting answer is a father’s love for his daughter.
But let me start at how I was reminded of the chain of events that led to coaching. About four weeks ago, I watched the television series premiere of “Hawaii Five-O”. Watching the new series has sentimental value because I recall watching the original series as a kid and it being one of my father’s favorite shows. Catching my attention was the actor playing the role of Detective Danny Williams, Scott Caan. Scott is the eldest son of James Caan, the Academy Award nominated actor.
Realizing it was James Caans’ son, I recalled the article I clipped from the September 1999 issue of Worth Magazine, “24 Thing To Do Before You Die.” As one of the 24 contributors to the piece, James Caan’s one thing to do – “Become a Coach”. In the middle of his career, Caan took six years off from acting to coach his sons and other children, starting with his eldest son, Scott. James Caan recalls coaching as the best time of his life.
“Become a Coach” resonated with me. I attended De La Salle in California, the well-known football high school which owns the national record for consecutive wins. Less well-known is the legendary cross country and track coach, Joe Stocking, who provided the direct inspiration to coach.
When my daughter was born, a latent Chinese gene from my parents came to the forefront. You know, that gene that programs you to put your daughter in the best all-girls private school. I researched the best all-girl high schools in Seattle and put Holy Names Academy in the back of my mind for future reference. My daughter was 4 years-old at the time when I read “24 Things To Do Before You Die” and looking for new things to do. I was browsing through the want ads in the newspaper and came upon the advertisement for a Head Cross Country Coach at Holy Names. The latent gene was thus activated. Coach 10 years at Holy Names = my daughter attending the best private high school in Seattle.
Without knowing a thing about coaching high school girls in cross country running, I found myself answering the ad and interviewing for the position. Within a month I was coaching my first team of 8 girls at Holy Names in the fall of 1999.
Long ago I learned the easy part of coaching is the technical side. The hard part is coaching with vast amounts of patience, tough love and humor. What started as a practical choice for the future of my daughter became a labor of love for her and all the girls. This is the best time of my life. Become a coach, you’ll never regret it.