When Kids Quit…

31 Jan

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We lost big time this past Saturday and to a team we should have beaten.

We lost because we played like we practiced: poorly.  We practiced poorly because we were full of ourselves.  The previous Saturday we had upset a top team in our conference – a team much more talented than us — so that when we came up against our next opponent – a team that hadn’t won a game — we didn’t think we had to work hard.  It would be, we thought, an easy win.

We thought wrong.

Getting beaten is one thing.  That’s when you give your best effort but your opponent is simply a better team or more lucky.  In either case, there is no shame; just disappointment.  Losing badly, though, is something else entirely.  That’s when you don’t prepare to win and you don’t give your best effort and, as a consequence, you’re an embarrassment to yourselves.

We were definitely that and more.  We had kids quit.

Quit!

Some faked injury to be removed from the game or, in the case of three players, they simply quit during the game.  They were all starters too, and one was a coach’s son.

They were the starting QB, TE and RT.  The QB’s father actually came out onto the field and pulled his son from the game.  He said nothing to anyone.  He just walked on to the field between plays and escorted his kid to the sideline, away from the team.  The refs were so dumfounded they didn’t even call a delay of game penalty on us and they could have.

We were dumfounded as well.  When finally we regained the power of speech, we regrouped as best we could but it was too little, too late.  We were a sputtering Volkswagen competing with a well-tuned Mercedes.    Our opponents had the mojo and we didn’t, or so it seemed.

Now removed from the drama by a couple of days, I replay the game in my head in slow-motion to understand where we broke down fundamentally, then emotionally, because that was the sequence.  My focus is entirely on the O-line because that’s what I coach.  Given how I prepared the kids during the week, I couldn’t understand why we went thru the motions without any energy or enthusiasm.

Our pass pro, excellent the previous two games, was suddenly porous.  The blocking in our short-yardage run game – a specially designed play called “Smash” – while leak-proof the previous two games, was, this particular day, leaking defenders like a sieve.   And then, as if to compound our frustrations, our receivers were always open but the passes just beyond their fingertips.  It was like the game was scripted to go against us, but that explanation ignores our culpability in this loss.   We lost because, as I admitted earlier, we didn’t prepare to win.

But why did so many kids quit?

I’ve played this question over and over in my mind and each time I’ve come to same conclusion:  character.  Or, in their case, the lack thereof.   When the going got tough, they simply got up and left, which speaks more about their character than it does about our coaching.

Character isn’t a quality or specific trait that can be isolated and examined under a microscope.  It’s not that at all.  Character is what you are.  It’s the sum total of all your traits and qualities, both good and bad.  The kids that quit lacked something in their character, be it courage or defiance or the simple gumption to try again – to rise up in the face of defeat and TRY AGAIN!

Their character as people was defined long before they came to us as players.  It was simply exposed in the crucible that is a football game.

So, it begs the question: can we, as coaches, change a kid’s character?  I think we can, so long as a kid is willing to try again because the building of character involves much trial and error.  What some might say is the courage to fail and TRY AGAIN!

How we react when they fail is more important than how we treat them when they succeed.  It is in those times that we build character through instruction, encouragement and patience.  It is those times that we can alter a kid’s personality and strengthen it.  Because, when you think about it, there is so little that we, as coaches, can control.  We can’t control the weather, the bounce of the ball, the referees, or the make-up of the kid when he first comes to us.   What we can control is how we react when they fail.

And when they quit, that is the test of your character.

For the starting QB and DE there was no offer of a second chance — no reprieve.  The consequence for their actions was to be permanently separated from the team they deserted in its time of need.  It wasn’t punishment or condemnation that motivated us, but a hope – a sincere hope — that they learn from their actions that quitting is not the answer to any of life’s difficult trials.

And, more to the point, it is simply not acceptable.  Not in our society; not in life.

As for the starting RT, he didn’t quit as it turned out but was suspended during the game because of his conduct.   He failed the team but he didn’t quit.  Big difference and enough of a difference to grant him a second chance.  Not so much to redeem himself, though that was in play, but to learn from his mistake and become a better player – a better person.

And that, I think, is why so many of us coach.  Not to win games, but to create winning people.

People of good character.

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(Reprinted with permission from the author from an article published on October 5, 2011)

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