Faith in Action

The Coach Speaks

thecoachspeaks_insCoach Carnell Suttles has been coming to The Salvation Army’s Boston South End Corps Community Center since he was five. That was 53 years ago. He has worked for the Army for 32 years. He shares an early history of the South End Corps and the advice he gives his players—on and off the court.

When I first walked in, this building was called the South End Boys Club. People from the area my age still remember it by that name. The Salvation Army owned the building and it was run by employees and overseen by divisional headquarters. In the 1980s, the Army assigned an officer to the building.

I played every sport they had here: Gymnastics, baseball, football, and basketball. I even made the drill team. When I ran out of sports to try, I took the cooking classes, and loved every minute of it. Throughout the years, my sister and cousins worked for the South End Corps. My mother retired from here. She ran the after–school program, which is the program I run today.

We knew the Army was working behind the scenes of the Boys Club, but back then, none of the shirts or sports uniforms had any sign of The Salvation Army. No logo and no red shield. I think some people saw it as a sign of being poor, and kids would get teased if they were seen wearing it. What a difference today, where we have children in the corps who ask us for shirts with The Salvation Army shield as big and as bold as we can make it. They wear it like it’s fashion, or a badge of honor.

God is first in my life. Without Him, none of this is possible. Every morning, I give Him thanks for just allowing me to open my eyes and see another day. Every day, I ask for guidance to do the work I love. He allows me to do this and has put me in the right place to do it.

I’ve worked with kids all my life. I love being their teacher as well as their coach. If I have something to teach, or a lesson to pass down, I always want to be able to say I tried to share it. I don’t look for anything in return, but when I see kids who I run across decades later, and they say ‘thank you’ for helping them improve their game, that feels good. Those two little words—‘thank you’—go a long way for me.

If you want to learn how to play basketball, watch college games. Don’t watch professional basketball. In the pros, there’s a lot of stuff they do outside of the rules. Officials let it slide for entertainment. Instead, catch a game from UConn or Rutgers, especially a women’s game. That’s where you find pure basketball. Rather than dunking or showboating, they demonstrate just skill, focus, and above all, teamwork.

A good defensive player is like a soldier. Anyone can make points, but only a select few can play solid defense. I will happily keep a player who can’t score in the game if he covers an opponent when I ask him to. If they can do that, then any point they score is simply a bonus.

The best lesson a coach can give a player is to not give up. I never want to hear anyone say, “I can’t.” Those two words don’t exist to me.

The key to opening doors in life is not your talent on the court; it’s your education. I have had players who have gone on to the pros, Division 1 colleges, and their own coaching jobs. But I stress to each of them to focus on academics before anything else. I always want to see their report card before they pick up a basketball. An academic scholarship will always beat a sports scholarship. You can try your best to keep a healthy body, but if you tear something, they might take away part or all of the sports scholarship. Keep a healthy brain and you will never lose an academic scholarship.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a great quote: “You can’t win unless you know how to lose.” A lot of kids just don’t know how to lose properly. It’s easy to enjoy a win, but it’s harder to learn from a loss. Are you able to bounce back? In both sports and in life you need to be a good loser to be a great winner.

No matter where I go, I always seem to return to The Salvation Army. I take a lot of side coaching jobs, but I always make sure they don’t interfere with my time at the South End Corps Community Center. If they do, I’ll say, “Just send the kids you think need help to me at the Army. I’ll work with them.” I’m always happy to do so.

interview by Hugo Bravo