Passionate Pursuit: Win or Lose, Teaching Life Lessons through Lacrosse
By Mike Lesczinski, Excelsior Life News Staff—
Mark Michalisin, executive director for Business Development in the Center for Educational Measurement at Excelsior College, spends his days working to increase degree completion in the United States through credit by examination.
By night (and weekend) though, you’ll have a better chance finding the loving father of two on the field coaching youth lacrosse - working to not only make the youngsters better players today, but better men tomorrow.
Growing up Michalisin was a hockey and football player, so when his boys took up lacrosse it was a bit out of his comfort zone. But he did what most dedicated fathers would do – he took up the sport as well, volunteering as a coach and learning side by side with kids who looked up to him. Today, five years later, Michalisin continues to coach a recreational team while accepting the additional responsibility of directing the Boys Lacrosse Program for the Niskayuna (New York) Lacrosse Club.
Without playing lacrosse yourself growing up, what did you have to do to prepare to coach the sport?
Our local high school coach and modified coach have been great supporters of the club, and I have learned the game from them as well as from my oldest son who plays for their modified team. I am also thankful for my assistant coach who was an All American lax player in high school and went on to play at LeMoyne College. Lacrosse is very similar to hockey, so I was able to pick it up fairly quickly, but my two boys constantly remind me what I need to do.
Has anything ever happened that perhaps you weren't expecting and were unsure how to deal with it?
This past season, I had a player who was being bullied by a teammate in school, and he was afraid to come to practice because of this boy. After speaking with the parents, I had a decision to make. I will not tolerate bullies and I think a bully is a coward. I talked to the high school coach about this to get his thoughts and I made the decision to suspend the bully for a week. It was the right call and I held a team meeting for both players and parents to discuss my policy towards bullying, and was overwhelmed by the support I received from the parents, including the offending child's parents. At the end of the season, the boy who was being bullied thanked me for helping him out and at that point, I knew coaching was what I wanted to keep doing.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Besides coaching my son, which is by far the most challenging because you can't show favoritism and he has to listen to me long after the game is over, I think the biggest challenge is the balance between winning and teaching the kids how to lose with dignity and that if you want to be the best, you need to work hard in practice. The other challenge is dealing with parents of both your kids’ and the opposing team's parents. Parents can be extremely hard on kids and even harsher to an opposing team’s kid during a game, and I find myself reminding everyone that this is a kid's game, and it is for fun.
As a youth coach what is your most important responsibility?
To not only make sure the kids have fun on the field but also to learn to play the game the right way with sportsmanship and respect.
Sports are a great way to teach children a variety of life lessons: the importance of commitment; overcoming obstacles to achieve something greater; to be gracious in defeat does. What do you think lacrosse in particular can teach a young person?
The importance of teamwork, the ability to work with others towards a common goal, and to respect your coaches, teammates, opponents. I also try to make sure they become better young men both on and off the field.
What have you learned about yourself in the process?
It is an honor and privilege that these parents allow me to coach their kids. It is the most rewarding time for me to be on the field teaching these kids the right way to play as well as preparing them to act accordingly on and off the field as well. I stress that the lessons learned on the field carry over to the classroom as well as home. To see a kid's face when they score their first goal is priceless. I learned that I enjoy teaching and coaching and win or lose, I feel I am making a difference in their lives and they in mine.