Coaching the Game of Life

El Vaquero Staff Writer

A game of baseball by the neighborhood kids on the street began with laughter and the innocence of childhood. Seemingly, the worst that could happen was a dropped ball or a scraped knee. In an instant, that game became the grim scene of a drunk driving accident, with the driver barreling into a 6-year-old boy, literally crushing his childhood.

Glendale Tennis Head Coach Bob MacKay recalls the incident from his chilhood as if it happened the night before.

“It was a pretty bad situation and all I kept wondering was if I would ever walk again,” MacKay recalls. “I was in a body cast for months, nearly every part of my body was broken.”

His family was dealt an addtional blow at the time. As MacKay was rushed to the emergency room, his mother was one floor above him tending to his father, a great athlete, who had just lost four fingers on his left hand in a mechanical accident. “It was a very tough time for the whole family,” MacKay says. In that very moment the very thing that both men loved was taken away from them; their ability to play sports.

The MacKay clan would overcome their setbacks and continue with a renewed outlook on life.

“You learn to live for the moment and not for the next day,” MacKay explains. “Everything that was important as a kid suddenly became unimportant.” MacKay healed and went on to play a wide range of sports, baseball being his favorite. He attended Glendale College from 1965 to 1966 and earned an Associates Degree in public service administration, which segued into a career as the Glendale Park and Recreation Manager, a position he still holds dear after nearly 40 years. MacKay, in his second year coaching, enjoys molding the raw talent of the players into skilled and smart athletes.

MacKay likes to serve as an adviser to his players rather than get in their face. He compares his coaching style to that of Phil Jackson, letting his players “figure things out on the court.”

MacKay talks to his players more about life than backhands and volleys and his players appreciate him for it. “He doesn’t baby-sit us,” Team Captain Gevork Kirakosyan said. “He helps you get ready for the matches mentally.”

It is always about the mental game to MacKay.

“Real tennis is played below the waist and above the eyebrows,” MacKay explains, referring to quick feet and a quick mind.

First-year tennis player Kevin White will attest to MacKay’s laissez-faire coaching style, “He’s better at teaching us about life than anything on the tennis court.”

It’s not that MacKay does not stress the fundamentals of the game or that he does not make his players better at tennis, he would rather just teach them about life. “These athletes forget to understand that they are student-athletes not athlete-students,” MacKay says. “My job is to make these players realize it’s just a game and nothing more.”
His family helped put things into perspective for MacKay, or at least remind him of the importance of humor and patience.

“When my brother and I were young and we would get into arguments, we would go put on boxing gloves. I would get on my knees so we would be even and beat the hell out of each other,” McMurray says with a chuckle.

Rick MacKay, the receiver of most of those punches, attributes many desirable traits to his older brother. “I have learned patience from him, he just has this settling affect on people.”

MacKay does not talk big and live small. Instead, he practices what he preaches. He squeezes the last drop out of life.

“I try to live for the moment, not for the next day,” MacKay says. “I just always try to leave the glass half full.”

Both the accident and growing up in the post-Depression era, MacKay’s most memorable childhood experience was simple yet vital.

At a little league banquet, when his strength was slowly coming back from the accident, MacKay, then 9, won a lottery for a free baseball glove and the spirit of a child was enflamed once again. After all, hope was gone. Mackay treated the glove like a sign from the heavens that he cannot stop now. MacKay recalls the condition of his post-Depression life and how new things were rare, so to win a brand-new glove was like finding the fountain of youth.

“I took that glove with me everywhere and slept with it under my pillow everynight,” MacKay recalls. “Here I was in a position of not really having anything and borrowing gloves from people and to win that glove seemed like a sign that I needed to work harder and be greatful for what I did have.”

MacKay, in that instance, went from looking back to when he “had to use coat hangers to scratch myself and being in incredible pain,” to looking forward to more neighborhood baseball games, but with a new glove and outlook on life.

The memory of winning that glove is etched in his memory and keeps things in perspective, and that is how he likes it.

MacKay does not know how long he will continue his tenure as a coach, but he will enjoy every moment he can. “The sport is secondary; they (his players) are first,” he says. “I still have (physical) problems from the accident, but it wont stop me; it never has.”