I coach youth football. I'd like to say I do it because of some noble calling to volunteer, but the truth is that I absolutely love it.
I would pay the league to coach if they asked me to. When people ask me why I enjoy it so much, I tell them: Everything that happens in life can be reduced to a 60 minute youth football game. You get conflict, excitement, joy, disappointment, defeat, overcoming defeat, obstacles, pain, love, anger, greed, competition, trials, tribulations, triumph and everything in-between . The entire spectrum of life's emotions happen on that field.
Our team of boys, which I've had the honor of coaching for three years now, is pretty good. We've won a championship and we're generally pretty dang competitive. This season we made it to the semi-final playoff game before being defeated. Had we won that game, the boys would have had the opportunity to play at CSU's Canvas Stadium for the championship game. A pretty tremendous prize for a 9 year old boy! So needless to say, the stakes and the tension was pretty high.
I'm a firm believer that although this game is important, at the end of the day it is a game. Far too many coaches take youth sports far to far. My goal as a coach is to see these players through all of the emotions that happen on the field and help them navigate those emotions the same way they should when they will face them in life. I fail at times, like when I chewed out a ref for missing a pass interference call, (I'm human, and I'm sorry Luca!).
As noted, we lost the playoff game. I, admittedly, am far too competitive. I felt as though I had been punched in the gut. Not only did we lose, but we lost decidedly. It wasn't close. There are only a few things in life that sting more than being in charge of a group that has been decidedly defeated. There is nobody to blame but yourself, all of the parents, grandparents, players and friends are looking to you for answers that you just don't have. It's embarrassing, it sinks into your gut. Pride...Truly can be the root of all evil.
As the waning minutes of the game began to tick down, our boys realized there was no hope for victory. As they huddled around me I could see the disappointment in their eyes. I could feel their loss of playing in a major college football stadium for a championship. I looked them them all straight in the eyes and told them, "There is nothing that happens on this field that can make me less proud of you or could make me love any of you less." Then I smiled, making sure each one of them looked me in the eye, "Now just go play football and have fun." We scored 3 touchdowns in the last 7 minutes. Still not even close enough to make the game close, but the boys played, they just had fun and played the game.
After the game, we went to dinner as a team. The parents were all making polite conversation, trying not to show that they were as disappointed as I was at our loss. The boys, having played two full games that day, were out in a field playing a game of pickup football. Drawing their own plays out on the grass, without any pressure, without any care in the world, without a coach instructing them on the "proper way." They were just playing football with their friends...and it was the most beautiful sight in the world.
The boys were disappointed, yes. They really wanted to play in that stadium for a championship, there is no doubt about that. But it had taken them a 12 minute car ride to get over it. Me, I am still lamenting the loss as I write this a week later. The boys understood something that we adults do not. The game is not about winning championships. Of course they wanted to win, but that was not the goal. For the boys, the goal was to show up to practice everyday and play with their buddies. There were just as many smiles on those boys faces playing a makeshift game in a random field in Loveland, Colorado as there would have been at a championship game at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins.
Its not about winning. Its about the process. The process of learning to be a man. The process of being a teammate. The process of learning how to lose and learn from the loss, get better and start all over again one level higher than you were before.
I run into this all the time in the business world, particularly in the sales environment. Employees are judge on winning. What if we focused on business like the boys focus on football? The boys show up to practice everyday and they work on the process of winning, not on the act of it. Catching, throwing, running. I can tell you with certainty, the boys do not want a "system" that would allow our team to dominate every team we face. What they crave is a structure that allows them to learn, grow, and become better people, athletes and players. Our employees want that as well. I've been on teams that were dominate, both in business and in sports. Those teams sucked to be a part of. They were mechanical, systematic, win at all costs organizations. I did not grow as a person, as a player or an employee within those systems. Did we win, yes, we won, temporarily.
The best football team I was ever a part of won every game but one in a dominating fashion. The following year 65% of the team had either quit or transferred to a different school. It wasn't fun. The players weren't growing, they were simply parts of a machine and a system. In the short term, the team was incredibly successful. Long term, nobody wanted to be a part of it. So much so that many of them walked away from the sport forever.
What we really want in our hearts is to be a part of a family, a group, a team. What we want is to be loved. We may think what we want is championships and glory, but once you get them, it is so short lived. A week later you are looking for the next victory.
The young men on my team know that they are loved regardless of how they perform on a field. That's why 12 minutes after a tremendous loss, they can be laughing and having the time of their life with their buddies. And do you know what? When I watched them playing pickup football in that field, they were damn good at it. Mission accomplished.
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