Dynamite delivery

By Dan Bauer

“Dynamite comes in small packages.” Five little words that made a world of difference in my life.

That fragment was delivered to me inscribed on a small medallion by my middle school basketball coach, Steve Christman. His words remain as clear as the water of Lake Superior and their impact on me as great as the majesty of that aptly named Great Lake. Decades have passed and with them the tight shorts we wore and the salt tablets we consumed, but the power of his words on a young athlete remain as strong as ever.

I never took the time to tell him – because it wasn’t until I had become a husband, father and head coach that I realized what he had so imperceptibly done for me. He may have told that to every 4-foot-9 guard he coached, but in my heart it was meant just for me. Never again would I let my lack of size get in the way of my athletic dreams. Real confidence is a wonderful thing for a 13 year-old. 

Far different from the “feel good” confidence we pour over kids today like syrup on a stack of pancakes. False praise breeds false confidence.

Coach Christman actually required you to be good at things. And when you weren’t, you felt like you were letting him down. He taught us how to be better and instilled real confidence. Enough confidence for a diminutive guard to dribble the ball into traffic, turn it over and cost us one of only two games we lost in two years. Seed planted – don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but learn from them. Pistol Pete Maravich’s dribbling drills became an after supper ritual following that game.

My wife is always talking about the seeds she believes are planted by good coaches. One of the conundrums of coaching is that you don’t always get to see those seeds grow. 

I didn’t realize back then that the small packages of dynamite Coach Christman was talking about could easily have been the seeds of character. Seeds we all have the opportunity to plant. It just takes a few well-spoken words of sincere encouragement to make a monumental difference in the life of a young athlete. 

From the first shot in any game until the last, you never know which might be the game-winner, so you keep shooting. In coaching you never know which words will strike that chord of confidence, so you keep searching for the positive and reinforcing it. Sometimes what we all need more than anything is someone to believe in us. 

Too many of us are infinitely better at selling false confidence and criticizing then providing meaningful support. One parent, who I believe sees the big picture, gave me this advice on coaching, “You will know exactly how many things you have done wrong to a few kids. You will almost never know how many things you have done right for all of them.”

I recently had a past player, who I had not seen for probably 10 years take the time to tell me just what an important impact I had on his life. There is no victory that could rival the significance of the message he delivered to me. I am still coaching today because of players and moments like that.       

This week I reached out to Coach Christman, now in his 60s, to let him know exactly what his words meant to me. Before I could finish explaining who I was, and that I was sure he wouldn’t remember me, he calmly interrupted, “Dan Bauer, one of the best point guards I ever coached, sure I remember you.” 

Forty years later he is still building confidence – I had a sudden urge to find a pick-up basketball game. 

As I hung up the phone, I was overcome by a feeling of gratification that words can’t adequately describe. Like the anticipation of watching someone open a great Christmas present, I was filled with joy. The seeds of character that Coach Christman had planted so many years ago were finally in full bloom and we were both able to enjoy their magnitude.

All of us had a Coach Christman in our life. When the seeds they planted start to grow, reach out to those that have made a difference in your life – before it is too late. 

Coach Christman was right, dynamite does come in small packages. 

Turns out he wasn’t just taking about me.

Dan Bauer is the head hockey coach at Wausau East High School. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..