Why sport coaches become worn-out

Coaches carry heavy loads


In the era of professional sport, coaches are regularly replaced – the Australian national rugby and cricket team coaches and in South Africa John Plumtree has had his contract with the Sharks cut short. But then coaches have always had to carry heavy and important loads, going back to the 15th century.

The word 'coach' comes from the days when horse-drawn carriages were commonly used in Europe to transport people and important items, such as mail, along trade routes.

A small town in the Hungarian Tyrol, by the name of Kocs, became renowned for the quality of carriages it produced. To such an extent that there exists written evidence that when Anne of Bohemia married England’s Richard II in 1382 she imported carriages from Kocs for the occasion. To this day a horse-drawn coach is often used during smart weddings by those who can afford it.

Kocs lay on the main road along the Danube between Vienna and Budapest. These two great cities were important commercial centres and there was a need for well-built, fast vehicles that could carry two people in as much comfort as possible over the bumpy roads of the day.

The craftsmen of Kocs obliged and during the15th century developed a four-wheel carriage with an enclosed cubicle, sporting comfortable seating and an elevated seat in front for the 'driver' – the man driving the horses – which gave us the modern word for the person at the steering wheel of a motor vehicle.

This luxury transport model of the time, with its strap suspension, or 'shock absorbers', became known as a 'kocsi szekér' to indicate that it was a wagon from the town of Kocs.

Over the next 100 years or so the design spread across Europe and the 'kocsi szekér' started being used for transport from Vienna to such cities as Paris and Rome and  beyond. The German-speaking Austrians in Vienna started calling it a 'Kutsche' and to this day in Dutch and Afrikaans it is known as a 'koets'.

In French it became a 'coche', in Italian, to this day, it is called a 'cocchio' and in Britain it became known as a 'coach'.

The first use of the word, outside the world of transport, was during the first half of the 19th century when from around 1830 it became a student slang term at Oxford University for a tutor/lecturer who 'carries' a student through an exam. And, very soon thereafter the term 'coaching' became used in reference to the training of sport teams.

But, as has often happened with place names, trades and crafts, the town of Kocs and its 'kocsi szekér' builders have also given rise to a number of modern surnames.

Most famous among those whose surname originated in this way is Maria Augusta Kutschera, born on (1905-01-26)26 January 1905 – ironically enough in a railway coach while her parents were heading from their village in Hungary to a hospital in Vienna. Orphaned before her seventh birthday she eventually joined a monastery as a teacher in the 1930s, intending to become a nun.

But fate would see her first as the caregiver of the children of, and later the wife of, the famous admiral Von Trap. In the 1940s the family settled in the United States and became known as the Von Trapp Family Singers. Her story became the inspiration for a 1956 German film, which in turn was first turned into the Broadway musical hit 'The Sound of Music' and then the blockbuster movie of the same title in 1965.

The surname of another present-day Hollywood heartthrob, Ashton Kutcher comes from the same roots. The surname’s original German spelling, when the first member of the family arrived in America, was Kutscher.

Now I am no match for celebrities like the Von Trapp Family Singers or the star of 'That 70s Show', but the first Kutzer, who was turned into a 'Coetzer' by the Dutch clerks of the day in official records, arrived in South Africa in 1714. And at least one of his descendants, Jacobus Coetzer, at the age of 62 as a freed 'Boer' prisoner of war in 1904 departed from Bermuda for the US to farm there because he was unwilling to return to a South Africa under British colonial rule.

Piet Coetzer

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Issue 410


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