Former University of Southern California (USC) Head Football Coach Steve Sarkisian and APU Head Football Coach Victor Santa Cruz have the same job.
However, Sarkisian is paid over $4 million per year to do it, Santa Cruz far less. Sarkisian coaches in front of nearly 94,000 people at his home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and at least 50,000 opposing fans when the Trojans are on the road.
Santa Cruz usually does the same thing in front of about 5,000 people.
The job they share isn’t coaching football; it’s leading and mentoring young men.
That’s the job of a coach in amateur athletics. From six-year-old children chasing a soccer ball and learning teamwork for the first time to high school coaches helping young people navigate the difficulties of ‘growing up,’ sports has long been considered a vehicle for character development, with coaches as the drivers.
“The game itself teaches so much about fortitude, resilience, perseverance, discipline, self-sacrifice—it’s about learning how to put others first and making yourself second,” APU Director of Athletics Gary Pine said. “It’s about giving the student athletes the tools to deal with the realities of life once they leave.”
The character development provided by sports is why athletics and education have become so entwined in the U.S. Sports are viewed as a way to develop the qualities that society considers valuable.
“Sports teach us about teamwork, hard work and what it takes to succeed, not just on the field but in life,” stated President Barack Obama at the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit in 2014. “I learned so many lessons playing sports that I carry on to this day, even to the presidency.”
Of course, all the lessons can be lost if the men and women leading the athletes lack the character that they’re supposed to instill. USC fired Sarkisian after a string of incidents involving alcohol use boiled over when he arrived late to a practice on Oct. 11 in “no condition to work,” according to a source reported by ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.
This does not imply that Sarkisian never sought to instill character in players, or that Santa Cruz or anyone at APU is perfect. However, when a coach doesn’t live out the values he or she tries to instill in his or her athletes, they’re fundamentally letting down the core of their task.
“We’re going to work with the players athletically and academically, but my goal as a coach is that they leave here understanding who they are in Christ and they leave a better person,” said Azusa Pacific Head Softball Coach Carrie Webber.
Character matters, because the people the athletes become are far more important than any trophy they win. Character matters, because trophies are more significant when they are won the right way.
Character matters, because there are parents who have sat down with a USC coach on a recruiting visit, who were told thst they could trust the staff and the program to develop the character that would define their child for life. These parents are now left, at a minimum, underwhelmed with the leadership.
Character matters, because coaches are the example that athletes follow.
“These young people [are] looking for mentors and role models to help guide them through life,” Santa Cruz said. “Character and mental toughness… They go hand-in-hand.”
There’s a reason that parents tell children they can trust their coaches. They set an example. They are role models. They shape and mold young people.
“Being a male coach with female athletes, we can be an example of how to lead a family, how to have a healthy relationship with your wife… and we want our athletes to be well-rounded,” APU Head Volleyball Coach Chris Keife said.
Both on and off the field or court, coaches set examples for the young men and women they lead.
How coaches do it matters.