Face of Defense: Marine Coaches Youth Wrestlers
By Marine Corps Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso
Marine Forces Pacific
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, Apr. 20, 2011 When people look at Master Sgt. Timothy D. Greenleaf, they see a 6-foot, bulky, tattooed Marine. What isn’t so obvious is he’s enjoyed working with children for more than 18 years.
Marine Corps Master Sgt. Timothy D. Greenleaf gathers the Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s youth wrestling team in a huddle after a two-hour practice in preparation for their upcoming meet, April 11, 2011. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Greenleaf, war reserve chief for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific logistics, devotes a large amount of his off-duty time to being the head wrestling coach for Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Marine Corps Community Services youth wrestling team.
Although his coaching ambitions are centered on nurturing the athletic talents of his three children, Greenleaf said, coaching also gives him the opportunity to be there for the children of his fellow service members.
“A lot of these kids have parents who are either deployed or getting ready to deploy,” he said. “If I can, I’d like to fill the gap and provide them with a strong male mentor figure. My children have gone through the same thing, so this is my way of catching up.”
Greenleaf began his coaching career in 1993 while stationed at Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, Fla., when he became head coach for his oldest son’s Little League baseball team.
“The main reason I started coaching was because my [oldest] son was deaf, and I had to be at every practice and game to translate for him,” Greenleaf said. “So I figured if I’m going to be there anyway, why not coach?”
In addition to coaching children, Greenleaf, who says he’s always had a passion for physical fitness, began to coach his unit’s tackle football team.
“I just knew how to organize a practice,” Greenleaf said. “I took a lot of the methodologies we use in the Marine Corps and applied it to my coaching style –- warm-ups, drilling, practicing situation-based strategies -- and I really enjoyed it.”
As a father, Greenleaf said, he could relate to the concerns of his young athletes’ parents, a trait that has allowed him to teach the necessary discipline for sports and also maintain a good relationship with the parents.
“A parent wants a child to be cared for in a certain way, and I always keep that in mind when I’m coaching,” he said. “But when you’re teaching someone discipline, it sometimes takes a little tough love, which is fine as long as I let the parents know what’s going on.”
In 1998, he transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he continued his coaching career as the base’s flag football coach and dabbled as a youth sports referee.
“For me, it’s been another form of mentoring,” Greenleaf said. “The more that I defined myself as a coach, the better I got at refining my coaching style. It’s about getting down to the basics -- working on quickness, agility, strength and conditioning.”
In 1999, Greenleaf returned to Jacksonville, where he focused on his eldest son’s participation in football and wrestling.
“My son attended a deaf school, and his coaches were also deaf,” Greenleaf said. “They had interpreters at their local games, but when the team traveled, my wife and I came along to help out as interpreters. We supported all kinds of programs that way.”
In 2003, Greenleaf was stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, where his daughter began to show interest in athletics.
“She walked up to me one day when I was getting ready to go on a run and asked, ‘Daddy, can I come with you?’” Greenleaf said. “I told her, ‘Be careful what you ask for, daughter.’ From that point on, she was my running partner for three years.”
Although he wasn’t coaching any teams then, Greenleaf began training his daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, to run five- and 10-kilometer races until she asked to join a Little League baseball team.
“My dad’s great,” his daughter said. “He used to go outside with me for two or three hours just helping me work on my pitching or my catching. That’s just how he is. If you want to be a baseball player or a football player or a wrestler, he just wants you to succeed, and if you’re willing to put in the work, he’ll help you.”
With his oldest and youngest children heavily engaged in sports, Greenleaf began working with his second son, who also is deaf, by taking him to the gym. He eventually convinced him to join a youth wrestling program.
In 2007, the Greenleafs were stationed in Washington, D.C., at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I streets, where he said the coaching got out of control.
“I was coaching youth baseball, and then my daughter switched to softball,” Greenleaf said. “I was also coaching the Marine Corps Institute flag football, basketball and softball teams.”
Earlier this year, Greenleaf returned to Hawaii, where he assumed his current duties and began coaching youth wrestling.
Although most of the Greenleaf children are adults now, sports remain a family event. Greenleaf’s daughter and second son practice judo and are involved in the youth wrestling program. His second son took fourth place in the 215-pound weight class at the 2011 Hawaii High School Athletic Association’s wrestling championships while wrestling for Pearl City High School.
“My oldest son is married with a baby now, and he’s a coach on the [youth wrestling] team,” Greenleaf said. “[My second son also is] a coach, my daughter is on my team, and my wife sits on the bleachers and is in general support. When you involve your family and invest your time in your kids, it makes it all worthwhile.”
With a team of more than 30 wrestlers from ages 5 through 17, Greenleaf has his hands full, but continues to do more than he has to by offering additional one-on-one coaching time with his wrestlers and continuing to train his older wrestlers during the off-season.
“I want them to learn mental and physical discipline,” he said. “Wrestling helps to build their self-esteem. Not only are they doing grueling two-hour workouts, but they have to get out there and perform in front of people. I feel that the more you put them in those kinds of positions, other things in life won’t feel so daunting.”