Past Newsworthy Dads

Coaching Boys,
Forming Men

As track and cross-country coach at Xavier High School in New York City, Patrick Dormer forms young men in the Jesuit tradition: “a man for others.” He talked with Fathers for Good about the role of sports and the legacy of Vince Lombardi at his alma mater, Fordham University. Dormer is married for 13 years and has three children.

Fathers for Good: How long have you been a teacher and coach at Xavier?


Patrick Dormer, far right, stands with his winning freshmen indoor track squad.

Dormer: In September I begin my 17th year at Xavier as a history teacher and coach. I started coaching as a sophomore in college, so I have 22 years in as a coach of track and cross-country in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA).

FFG: Do you consider yourself a Catholic coach, or a coach at a Catholic school

Dormer: I consider myself a Catholic coach who coaches at a Catholic school. I pray with the team before every cross-country race (just as my high school coach did with me) and before most of the track meets. The team members are well aware of how important my faith is to me. Since Xavier has such a great tradition in service to others, I encourage all the members of the team to volunteer for the service trips.

FFG: How can high school sports build bodies and character?

Dormer: I truly believe that sports are an essential part of the educational experience. It teaches students time management skills, the idea that hard work and dedication truly mean something in this world, that sometimes you have to trust your teammates to get the job done, and it enables them to rise to new challenges that face them every time they take the field.

For this to work, the coaches have to be committed to developing the athletes as adults-to-be, not just as athletes. We must lead by example. If the coach does this, the team will take on his personality. If the coach cuts corners to win, the team will do the same – not only in the game but in life as well.

Unfortunately it seems that most of the colleges in the country have forgotten the simple fact that coaches are supposed to be teachers and role models.

FFG: How do you build a strong body and a strong mind?

Dormer: I start every year the same way; I try to get as many young men to join the team as possible. Many of the kids who join cross-country have never run before so just getting them to be able to run a mile can often be a huge accomplishment. I often tell the young men who join that they will feel some pain for three weeks until they get in shape, after that it will get easier.

I then have the upperclassmen help the new kids. This way when a new runner wants to stop, there is someone there to encourage him; he learns how to deal with the pain of getting into shape. This begins to make them mentally tough.

While the freshmen are getting into shape, it is the upperclassmen that are growing mentally. They remember what it was like as a freshman and they are able to encourage the newest team members to push themselves. As a result, the things that are important to the team, like hard work, dedication and time management, are passed on by the kids, rather than a grumpy old man. By presenting the athletes with different challenges every day, they grow in both mind and spirit.

FFG: Does faith play a part in preparation?

Dormer: For many of the athletes today, faith can be an abstract thing. I feel that faith is essential for all things that we do. In order to be successful on a team you need to have faith in your teammates, your coach and yourself. All of this comes from having faith in Jesus. It is that simple.

FFG: Can you argue with the late, great Vince Lombardi, who said winning is the only thing?

Dormer: First I would never argue with a fellow Fordham alum. I think the quote is “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” This distinction is very important. If you want to win, you will work hard and dedicate yourself to your purpose. Lombardi also said “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

My father said it a little differently. It is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up. I think sports allow the student athletes the chance to deal with losing a game, but committing themselves to trying harder the next time.

FFG: Is our society too obsessed with sports?

Dormer: Many people think that their kid will be the next great athlete. They want the best for their kid, but most of them are trying to live their own dreams through their children.

As a result you rarely see a pick-up game of any kind in the streets anymore. The parents have made leagues for everything. It is taking the joy out of sports for kids.

It is different when a student gets to high school; those sports are meant to be more competitive. The way people are pushing year round travel team sports it is not very healthy. Sports, on all levels, should be fun.