Josef’s letter was filled with his customary criticisms. Without ever having seen any Bark Bay fencers in action, Dan’s former coach was convinced none were living up to their potential, a failure he attributed directly to their coach, who did not expect enough from them.
Coach Dan shook his head as he read through the letter, knew there was no way to explain to Josef that their coaching environments were entirely different. Fencing at Bark Bay wasn’t a varsity sport, was officially designated a club, with no funding. Our equipment is second-hand, he wanted to explain, we practice in the cafeteria. We’re lucky to even exist.
It had been different when Miles had been with him the past few years, but that was mostly beause Miles was a special athlete, gifted not only in strength and speed but in desire, his adaptability, his brilliantly tactical mind. He hadn’t needed to push Miles because Miles pushed himself.
But Miles was gone now, graduated, off to college, to State. There was still some talent on the team, but Coach Dan knew that pushing them would not produce the results that Josef took for granted. If he did challenge them, Double-J would flip him off, Annie retreat, Rex disentegrate, Bernie implode. Butch, Kassie — they were too new, Dan did not have a feel for how they’d respond to pressure.
Josef urged him to grab control of the team, bend it to his will, but Coach Dan knew he could not adopt his teacher’s ways to the Bark Bay fencing team. It wasn’t a foil, a rigid piece of steel that needed to be mastered, forged into a weapon of victory. Coach Dan’s team was more a delicate flower — if he applied too much pressure he would crush, extinguish its life force.
And yet he also knew that Josef was partly right — if he didn’t apply enough pressure, this delicate flower would float away from him on a breeze, lost and alone.