A Letter to Jerry

February 1, 2012 9:27 pm Published by

As you may know, cows have an unusual way of digesting what they have ingested. The technical description of the process – besides being beyond my area of expertise – is irrelevant to this article. However, essentially cows swallow now and chew later, thus deriving the benefit from what they have ingested at a later time.  Humans, on the other hand, get immediate benefit from what they have ingested (at least when it comes to food).  Our minds, however, bear more resemblance to a cow’s digestive system in that what we ingest now may not be fully digested until a later date.

When I was eighteen, I played for a hockey team coached by a guy named Jerry Harrigan. Jerry’s resume in hockey, both before and after that season, was considerably more impressive than mine.  At the time, however, for some reason I thought I knew better; that is, I wasn’t buying what Jerry was selling and he knew it. When we parted ways, I took with me bits of conversation – pleadings, really – that Jerry had shared with me. While they fell on deaf ears at the time, nonetheless I took them with me.
What Jerry wouldn’t know is how many times in the years that followed I rehashed those conversations in my mind.  While he was speaking them in the hopes of making me a better hockey player on any particular night, they stayed with me like seeds that took a painfully long time to germinate.  That they eventually did sprout is proof that the truth can penetrate even the thickest head (given enough time). The ability of organized sports to teach life skills is too often dismissed. Lessons including ‘look after the little things and the big things will look after themselves’, ‘focus on the process; not the result’, and ‘don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do’ transcend both life and sport.
Words that we speak stay with the recipient much longer than we may like to think. In the case of Jerry and myself, this is fortunate. For whatever the nature of our relationship at the time, I was never in doubt that he wanted the best for me. He was demanding, gruff but consistent and fair. In the ensuing years, I have allowed myself to believe that his words were true – albeit twenty years later than Jerry may have wished! Had his words been belittling or demeaning, I may still be trying to convince myself they were untrue. The words of authority figures – including coaches, parents or teachers – are seeds that eventually germinate in their students’ minds. That’s a powerful responsibility, but also makes me hope that I haven’t been planting too many weeds.
I used to say that Jerry was the best coach I never listened to, but really that’s not quite true.  I’m just a slow chewer, Jerry, but I’ll get there eventually.



Thanks for reading,


Jeff Neumann

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