The Press Box For Sept. 5
Put yourself in the shoes of a professional athlete for just one moment. All of a sudden one wrong play or one bad series of events, in just one game, ruins an entire season – along with everything you put your heart into.
The season will wear on, and there will be many issues. Players will lose respect; coaches won’t always be on the same page. Arguments between the head coach and assistant coach could spill over onto the field or court. The assistant thought the head coach wasn’t dedicated enough because he was always missing practices, doesn’t come up with any plays or strategy. In general, the assistant coach felt like he was running the team. He may have had a point.
“Nobody believes in us,” he said. “Nobody expects us to win. I know what that feels like. People think we’re a bunch of losers. They think they’re going to come in here and walk all over us.”
Your fans and supporters are disgruntled and restless. Some question whether you can really coach and get the job done. The internet and talk radio self-proclaimed “experts” are ready to bury you and your program. You would think your team would be ready to implode or disintegrate and totally give up on the rest of the season.
We can’t win at home. We can’t win on the road. Parents and fans may be laying the blame on you. This is only natural, but it’s usually unfair. But this all adds to your own frustration and anxiety as a coach. It’s hard to have thick skin and let this roll off your back… but that’s what you have to do. Before you make a rash decision to quit, or make some other drastic decision, sleep on it. Take a couple days before deciding.
Lou Holtz once said, “Nothing is as good as it seems and nothing is as bad, but somewhere between reality falls.”
Take time to reflect on why you wanted to coach in the first place. Was it just to supplement your income? Was it because you were going to be the next Coach K? Or were you going to be the savior of this perennial cellar-dwelling team? Do you find yourself always screaming at the refs and your players, and losing your temper? Then maybe it’s not for you.
Or, was it because you love the game and like working with young people? And you want to help young people succeed? And you want to be a good example and role model? You want to help develop character, work ethic and good values in your players? OK then. Let’s hang in there!
So, how are you going to get through the rest of this ugly season?
Don’t forget those goals – teaching kids the value of teamwork, sportsmanship, hard work, etc. When kids are down in the dumps from losing, realize that this affords a great opportunity for teaching some life lessons. Usually I don’t like to see coaches spending a lot of time talking during practices; just work, practice.
But, if you really have no prayer of winning your next game against that really strong opponent, why not “step out of the box,” and talk with your kids.
Talk to them about how life at times can be a real struggle; tell them how to buck up and get through it. Tell them how life can be unfair and how you can make the best of a bad situation. Find a way for your players to still have fun and enjoy themselves, and feel good about themselves. Get to know them, and show them that you are still interested in them and care about them as individuals. Teach them that, “You don’t have to win a trophy to be a winner.”
It’s tempting in a losing season for a coach to decide to “rebuild” for next year. Okay, but don’t forget your seniors who have labored in the program for four years, and this was supposed to be their year. If you want to give your underclassmen more playing time, maybe let your seniors start the game, but then substitute liberally.
Don’t just forget your seniors, assuming they are still working hard with good attitudes. Start the rebuilding with your youth program; be passionate with younger kids, and get them interested early on.
Be realistic. Maybe there’s eight games left; let’s look at the schedule. We have a good chance of winning two or three, so let’s win those games, and then see if we can win another game or two that nobody thinks we can win. The old upset! Nothing more fun than that.
After my initial disappointment, I have reflected back and have to give tremendous credit and respect to the coaches and these kids who have worked so hard. There is a lot of sports to still be played. Don’t give up on them. They have the guts and persistence to come out and play, even when times are tough, you have the guts to stand behind them even if things are going bad.
A good friend of mine told me about one of his seasons when he was coaching a boys varsity high school team that ended up 1-9. Last game of the season – playing an undefeated, highly ranked team, they came back from 14 down to get their only win.
With seven seconds left in the game, tied at 14, he calls a timeout. With the ball on the one yard line, he puts his trust in his seldom used kicker who boots it through the goal to get the lone season win, 17-14.
I remember another story about basketball. With little time left and the score tied, the coach looks down the bench and sees a big tall kid who hardly ever got to play, but could really jump and rebound. “Billy, you check in now. He’s gonna miss the free-throw. You go up and get that rebound, and we’ll call another quick time-out, and then go down and score.”
Sure enough, the kid misses the free-throw. Billy jumps up, grabs the rebound, jumps back up and dunks!
A real experience for me was when I played little league baseball. With two out, and our team behind by one run and me on first, our worst player came to bat. Coach hollered, “Hit it! Hit it hard!” With no one expecting it to happen, he slammed one over the center fielder’s head. I raced around the bases heading toward home when the batter and I crossed paths at short stop. “You’re out!” screamed the umpire, and the winning hit turned into the losing run. Coach laughed and laughed; he told the story every time he saw me for the next 50 years.
So hang in there, and someday when you are on the winning side, remember, “The two hardest things to handle in life are failure and success.” – John Wooden