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Bruce Hamilton

Lean

Tribute to a Coach

The good ones inspire you to reach higher

Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 - 12:01

Football is a tough sport, tougher than most who play it. Almost everyone who plays will eventually sustain at least a minor injury. It certainly took a toll on my body. At 15, I broke my leg in two places during a scrimmage and was out for the season. Then, another season passed me by when, as a sophomore, I broke my shoulder on a tackling machine after just a couple days of summer practice. But in 1964, the summer of my junior year, I decided to give it one more try.

Twice-daily August practices in full gear in the Pennsylvania heat and humidity were brutally draining, even for a 16-year-old. But the toughest struggle of all for me was the testosterone-laced, macho-intimidating competition from my fellow players. There is a point early in the season when many players are vying for just a few positions, where it’s every kid for himself. Although finesse, precision, and teamwork are ultimately essential to win football games, in the heat of summer practices, the emphasis was mainly on toughness. For a 16-year-old boy who had already been beaten down in two previous seasons and was now singled out as someone who couldn’t take the toughness, the August drills were a test, both physically and psychologically, like I’d never experienced before or perhaps since.

Notwithstanding the brutality of the sport, there are considerable football skills to be learned and internalized. By the end of the summer sessions, I was fighting harder than ever to show my skills and make the September cut. After an especially hot Friday practice, I showered and headed for home. Trudging along a sidewalk that ran parallel to the practice field, I wondered if all the effort would pay off. Was my playing OK? Would I make the team? In the heat of battle, it’s hard to know who’s winning. Suddenly a car approached from behind, and a reassuring voice called out, “Would you like a ride, Bruce?” It was my coach, Bill Mackrides. I was happy he even knew my name. “Sure,” I said and climbed into the car.

“I know the seniors are being pretty rough on you, but you’re doing fine,” coach Mackrides said. The words hit me like a shot of adrenaline. He’d noticed my play on the field. “You’re making a good effort,” he continued. “If you stick with it, you could be a starter.” The word “starter” burned into my mind. But the coach’s encouraging tone, in sharp contrast to the daily barbs I got from my juvenile teammates, was far more significant to me. His behavior informed mine. In that moment, my doubt and uncertainty were transformed to resolve.

There is a no doubt that coach Mackrides’ game knowledge on the practice field enabled me and others to venture beyond our technical comfort zones. He knew the science of football, and he led from personal experience—leading passer in college football and former member of the Philadelphia Eagles—two facts that never came up while he was my coach. He was all about the team, which did win a few games in a tough Pennsylvania league. Yes, William Mackrides had a superior understanding of the technical part of football, which he selflessly shared; but far more memorable, he had the ability to inspire and enable kids like me to reach higher.

The aches from long-ago breaks and bruises are now amplified by time, causing me periodically to wonder if perhaps there might have been some less corporal way to spend my youth. Football is, after all, a sport where the players intentionally run into each other at full speed. Nah! No way I would have missed the chance to play for coach Mackrides.

Can you think of a coach in your past who caused you to reach higher? Please share a story.

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About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.