Today I got the news that my high school football coach Rob Martell had passed away. I do not think it has fully sunk in, but my day has been filled with memories. I remember grade 12 fairly well. I thought, at the time, that Coach Martell was an angry old fart. He was hilarious and kind of a jerk. I loved it. I still do. I remember the crazy dress up days and how frustrated he was when i showed up in spandex. He chirped me all practice…. but i looked great. He was speechless the next week when I stole Jenny Zwickers (we had a girl on our provincial championship team) clothes and wore them to practice.
I remember when I ran a 70 yard touchdown, up the middle of the field, as a fullback. I was pumped, I actually scored 5 touchdowns that game. I got back to the bench after what would end up being the longest touchdown run of my career and all my coach said was “”that was the slowest run I have ever seen. You ate up the entire quarter”… what a turd.
I remember he used to throw a tackling dummy at me when I was running the ball in practice. it weighed 50 lbs or more. I am actually fairly certain it was a punching bag. This eventually evolved into what became known as “Kill Nathan Day”. Two practices a week were dedicated to the starting defense. I would line up with the backup offense with instructions from my coach to “Run through everyone as hard as you can because they are going to beat the hell out of you, and I want them to do it”. after sharing these three stories, I am not certain if Coach liked me or not. But he knew what I needed.
he knew I needed to be pushed. That in order to achieve greatness on the football field I needed to be run through the dirty, beat up and hammered daily, verbally and physically in order to be able to rise to any occasion.
I have no natural athletic talent. I have short legs, small hands and I have had a beer gut since before I knew what beer was. I couldn’t catch a pass or sprint to save my own life. My coach used to make me catch 25 passes before every game just to make sure I wouldn’t screw up when the time came to do it in a game (because i dropped every pass that came at me in practice).
My coach always yelled the words “Mental Toughness” through every single practice. His greatest lesson was about the power of will. Rocky said “It’s not about how hard you can hit. Its about how hard you can get hit and keep on going”. Rob wasn’t a movie star. He spat everywhere when he spoke (he mostly yelled), but he spent a large part of his life teaching, mentoring and working with youth so that they had the opportunity to learn this valuable lesson.
At the time I thought this lesson was about being tougher than your opponent. Taking all the hits they throw at you and rumbling on anyway. I was good at that, I built a reputation on it. But now that I am older I can appreciate the real lesson my coach was teaching. He wanted us to know that life was Fredericton High School. Life wants to ruin your day. There are people who want to tear you down. You wont always get what you want. You will fail to meet expectations. You will fail. these are harsh realities.
You can’t avoid hardship, hurt and sorrow. Successful people are mentally tough though. they get back up, they hit back. The get over it and rumble over, through or by whatever just knocked them down.
My coach taught me to win. He taught me to take a hit and give one. He taught the slowest most useless athlete on the team that toughness not only had its place, but could score 13 touchdowns… one of which was through the air. He gave me a role and mentored me to the point where I could look back at my football career and be proud.
He was my coach.