Jim Day graduated from CCSU and began his career at Berlin High as a special education teacher. In 1981 he became the head wrestling coach. In 1986 his team won the first of nine state titles. During the years 1985-1994 his teams finished either 1st or 2nd in the state. From 1999-2003 his team won four straight state championships. Coach Day’s teams won state titles in the Class S, M, and L divisions. He coached 19 conference championship teams, 4 New England champions, including the first from Connecticut, Rocky Urso, and 8 New England place finishers. He had nearly 450 victories in his 26 year coaching career at the helm of Berlin Wrestling. Many of his former wrestlers have gone on to become successful coaches thanks to the skills he was able to instill in them.
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
I was very fortunate in that I had a very positive experience working with challenged students while I was in high school. I had always known I wanted to teach but that experience led me to the field of Special Education. I was once again very lucky when I first started teaching; I was hired as a freshman football coach at Berlin High School. That allowed me to learn from a great educator-coach, Al Pelligrinelli. Al was a tremendous mentor, he gave me the blue print for how to coach high school athletics with integrity and passion.
2. How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
Coach Pelligrinelli taught me how to handle adversity, he always stayed focused on the student-athletes and what was best for the team. He would always be positive, if you passed him in the hallway at school and asked how it was going he would respond ‘terrific’. That kind of mentality and attitude is contagious, and I learned that “Mental Toughness” is in large part being able to stay positive and focused when things are not going well. Now when something happens that could have a negative impact on the team I just deal with the issue at hand and focus on the goals I have laid out for the team in a positive manner.
3. I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute to your success.
First of all it is OUR success, without everyone being committed to the goal of the team being successful it is difficult to achieve “success”. Everyone from the Assistant Coaches, the wrestlers, the manager and the parents need to buy into the program’s expectations. It is harder that you might think to get everyone to have the same vision. At times anyone of those shareholders might envision a different path or different goal and getting them to buy in can be challenging. Parents tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to their child and may not agree with decisions that are made that are for the good of the team. Wrestlers might not really understand what it takes to be outstanding or are just not willing to work at the level it takes to be great. When you are successful in getting everyone to buy in magic can happen and a team can achieve at a level that is wonderful.
Part of that process is defining success, for us it is competing as hard and smart as we can. Competing with class and integrity, doing things the right way. If we prepare with all our ability, support each other and compete to the best of our ability we are successful no matter what the outcome is. A perfect demonstration of this is when a wrestler you have is competing against someone who is more skilled and physically more mature, yet they keep competing and don’t get pinned. That is what I love about wrestling; you don’t need to “WIN” to be a winner.
4. Coach, what do teens need today more than anything else?
This answer to this question is enormous; in my small part in their lives I believe it is creating an atmosphere where the BAR is held high. In so many areas of life now our student-athletes get the message the mediocrity is OK. The media sends messages that it is OK to use inappropriate language; it is OK to try to skate by. Parents are guilty of exerting a gravity that pulls the BAR down so their child can be viewed as being successful. They are looking for awards for their children when the child has not meet a standard of excellence, hence we have everyone getting a trophy, or parents belittling a teacher in order to increase their child’s grade. Each school day we have students cut school and/or practice and rather than let their child suffer the consequences they write their child a note excusing the absence. What lesson is being taught when that occurs? I love wrestling because there are no modifications, no alterations, the student-athlete has either prepared, competed to the best of their ability or they have not. In order to prepare our athletes at Berlin we try to create an atmosphere were the wrestlers are made to feel uncomfortable each and every day at practice. Growth comes from challenge, from being uncomfortable whether it be physical, mental or emotional growth. With that being said, the environment must feel safe for the athlete. No one is going to risk failure if they know that when they struggle they will be ridiculed. They have to know that the effort to stretch their boundaries will be supported and that losing is part of the process of growing.
5. What would you tell a teen that is struggling?
I would tell them to reexamine the way they are approaching the issue, is their some different way they can approach the problem. I would tell them that if they truly were to succeed they must be willing to change their approach and be willing to work harder. Hard work cures a lot of problems. I would tell them to seek the guidance of those who have succeeded in what they are trying to accomplish. I would ask them to honestly evaluate their commitment to achieve what they want and change anything in their environment that is holding them back. Finally, I would tell them to call me anytime they need support.
6.What else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
I’m at the stage of life were I’m doing what I want; I just want to get better at what I do. I just love coaching and I hope I can be an effective coach for at least a few more years.
If any one would like to contact me the can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for this opportunity Dan. Jim
Thanks for your time Mike and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!
Author and Speaker of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series.
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