High School Series: Coaches

This week, Noah and Bjorn spoke with Reuben Owens, Mike Sorrentino and Larry Jones; all of whom are high school coaches in western New York. 

Reuben was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, but ended up unexpectedly attending Fredonia State for his final two years of college. He has been a basketball coach for the previous 19 years, having coached at both the high school and collegiate level. He is currently the head coach of Amherst Central High School’s JV boys team. 

Mike has been working in the city of Buffalo as a physical education teacher and coach for the past 37 years, over which time he has coached over 100 different sports teams. For the past 20 years, he has been teaching and coaching at McKinley High School. He currently coaches soccer, swim and tennis, but has also coached baseball and basketball in his time there. 

Larry has been a coach almost his whole adult life, landing his first coaching job at age 22. He has been coaching boys basketball at Depew High School since 1991. He spent his first few years there coaching JV, before eventually becoming the varsity coach. Larry is also the Section 6 representative for the Basketball Coaches Association of New York. 

What Has Coaching Taught Reuben? 

“Keep the faith. You have to have faith in your coaching staff, you have to have faith in your players … and you have to have faith in the parents” - Reuben Owens 

One thing coaching has taught Reuben is that he needs to be faithful.  

While Reuben can try his best to teach his players as much as he can about skill and strategy, there is only so much he can do himself.  

He has realized that he needs to have faith in his assistant coaches to provide their own feedback to players, as well as reinforce what he is teaching. He also needs to have faith in his players to execute what they were taught during a game. Along with this, he needs to trust the parents of his athletes to make sure that their kids are brought to practice on time.  

These are all things that are out of Reuben’s control. 

Reuben has also seen that he needs to have faith in God. He needs to trust God to watch out over the health and well-being of his players and coaches, as well as the well-being of the basketball program as a whole.  

Reuben has been able to apply the faith required as a coach to his own relationship with God.  

Coaching has served as a model for how his relationship with God should be in his own life. While he can do his best to control certain aspects of his life, he needs to have faith in God to control things he might not be able to and to ensure his well-being.  

Reuben has also learned how to be an engaged listener. To him, this is one of the most important aspects of being a good leader. 

In order to reach your desired goal as a coach, you need to have a strategic approach for each player in order to get them to the level you would like.  

A coach also needs to be able to listen to and accept both positive and negative feedback from other coaches, from the administration, and from players.  

In order to be successful in all of these things, you have to be an engaged listener when those around you are talking.  

Being an engaged listener is something Reuben talks about developing as he was growing up, but he explains how coaching helped him become more successful at this.  

What Does Mike Feel Is Unique About Coaching? 

“Coaching and teaching is one of the few professions where you get an in-depth relationship with kids on a regular basis”-Mike Sorrentino 

Mike believes that coaching is one of the most valuable professions when it comes to reaching the next generation, because it is one of the few jobs where you get to form an in-depth relationship with kids on a regular basis.  

When Mike is coaching a team, he is with them on an almost day-to-day basis. During this time, he tries his best to find out what each particular athlete’s life is like, what their family is like, and other things of this nature.  

He feels this time together helps him and his athletes to develop a genuinely close relationship.  

There are a lot of emotions shared between a coach and their athletes. They celebrate wins and championships together, as well as suffer losses together. These experiences and the emotions that come along with them are lifelong memories for a lot of people.  

Mike says that when he sees former players at reunions, they often talk about specific plays and specific games from high school as if they happened yesterday. These memories can hold relationships together over the course of several years or a lifetime.  

Mike talks about a recent event that brought him and half a dozen of his former players together and how sports helped them to reconnect. 

Mike tries to use the close relationship that is formed with his players to guide them in the right direction. He will offer advice, and even if he cannot openly talk with his players about his faith, he tries to start them off on a path where they can discover their faith on their own and make choices that will be beneficial in their life.  

How Has Larry Seen God in His Time Coaching? 

“The Lord knows where you should be and how you should be there. You don’t know that when you’re put there, but you find out”- Larry Jones 

Similar to Mike, Larry places a high emphasis on fellowship. One of his favorite parts of coaching is getting to interact with his athletes and forming close relationships with them. 

He talks about several former players that are still a big part of his life because of the relationship that was formed with them when he was their coach.  

Just as Mike does, Larry tries to use this connection to lead his athletes in the right direction and get them to a point where they develop a relationship with Christ.  

The close relationships he’s formed with his athletes are why Larry feels fortunate that God ended up placing him in Depew after several years of bouncing around different areas of the country, which he talks about in the episode.  

Larry feels that he embodies a blue collar, hardworking style in both his coaching and his life. This is something that aligns with the atmosphere and the background of many of his athletes at Depew.  

If he coached somewhere else that didn’t have this same background, Larry isn’t sure that he would be in a position to form the kinds of relationships that he has at Depew.  

While he didn’t see it at first, Larry says that he eventually came to realize this and feels blessed that God placed him somewhere where he can form close connections in order to hopefully make a difference in the lives of his players.  

What is God Teaching You? 

There are a lot of good lessons that we can learn based on what Reuben, Mike and Larry discussed during this week’s episode.  

As it relates to what Reuben discusses, having faith in God is an important aspect of our walk with Christ. Just as we need to have faith in our teammates or our athletes, we also need to have faith in God.  

It can be easy to say that you have faith in God, but actually doing so is different.  

It is up to us to do all we can in our sport and it is also up to us to do all we can in our life and our faith. However, there comes a time when you need to stop, let go of some control, and have faith. 

It does us no good to spend time constantly worrying about what our teammates are going to do, just as it does us no good to spend time worrying about and doubting what God is doing.  

When we take care of what we can control and trust in God to control the rest is when we will see our life and our relationship with God flourish.  

Being an engaged listener is also important.  

By listening closely to those around us and taking in what they say, we will find areas in our life where we can improve. Along with this, if we truly listen to what people are saying we can find opportunities where we can offer feedback and assistance to them to help them meet their goals and fulfill their needs.  

Further, we need to be an engaged listener when it comes to what God is telling us. When reading scripture, we need to keep an open eye and an open heart in order to receive what God is trying to teach us. The same can be applied to prayer.  

If we are an engaged listener, we can start to focus on and learn what God is really telling us, instead of hearing what we want to.  

Fellowship is also extremely important when it comes to our relationships in sports, in life, and in faith.  

Having close relationships with those around us can help us develop chemistry and succeed as a team, as we won’t want to only succeed for personal reasons, but also because we won’t want to let those around us down.  

As it relates to our faith, when we have these close relationships with those around us it can also help us succeed. We will have people in our life with whom we can share and receive advice, as well as people who will hold us accountable when they see us slipping.  

Going back to faithfulness, we also need to trust and realize that God is going to put us in situations where we can best put our gifts to use.  

We might not realize this right away, just like Larry didn’t. However, if we take time to reflect on those around us and what our gifts are, we will see that God put us in a perfect situation to take advantage of the talents he provided us with in order to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Are you taking advantage of your situation in order to impact the lives of those around you? 

Are you being an engaged listener? Are you listening to what God is really trying to tell you, or are you hearing what you want to hear? 

Reading Suggestions 

  • Proverbs 3:5-6 (One of Mike’s favorite Scriptures) 

  • Matthew 21:21-22 

  • James 2:14-19 

  • Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 

  • Mark 4:24 

  • James 1:22 

  • Proverbs 19:27 

To hear the discussion that Noah and Bjorn had with Reuben, Mike and Larry about their experiences coaching, the relationships they’ve formed with their athletes, and what coaching has taught them about their faith, about leadership, and about themselves, check out “The Sweat Room: Sports and Faith” episode 32.