|Our energetic, devoted coach expected
pride in everything the players do.
I had planned to write a cynical post today complaining about the curse of sports banquets. Having just been to one that brought tears to my eyes, I didn’t have the heart for that…yet. Maybe I’ll be able to share those whining complaints next week, but not now when the sentimentality is fresh.
What is it about football? I asked that question to the group of moms who decorated the American Legion banquet room in preparation for the big night. What makes us willing to let our sons go out there and play a game where no one is surprised by an injury? What makes teenage boys willing to work their butts off for ten months of the year for the glory of ten hours worth of game?
“It’s a sport a player has to feel passionate about,” was the quick and excellent answer I got from a mother who had obviously wondered the same thing.
Passion – the non-sexual kind.
It can be a precious commodity in youngsters, and even in some schools and communities. But our small group of players and coaches had passion for the game, evidenced by their very presence on the gridiron.
Pride, on the other hand, had been missing and missed. A few years ago the athletic facilities in our district were an embarrassment. A group of local community members took on the seemingly undoable task of fundraising to pay for improvements to our pool, repairs to tennis courts, installation of an all-weather track, creation of a softball field, and the addition of irrigation and a new concession stand to the stadium. The people and businesses in our rural district had stepped up during a terrible economy to show they believed our youth were worth the investment. We now had competition areas we could be proud of for all our sports.
But how do you change a culture of failure on a program? How do you convince a team that was 0-10 last year that they can be winners? Our coach talked about the return of pride at the banquet I was so resentful of going to. Talked about how he had told the team at the beginning of the season that they had to start to feel pride in everything they do.
It took a group of coaches willing to give the boys permission to feel proud. It took a group of players prepared to work for the right to that pride. It took a group of community members committed to making our facilities safe and enjoyable for our athletes and guests.
What that trifecta led to was magic. Our team not only earned the right to be proud with a 4-6 season, they brought Friday night pride back to a school and a community who hadn’t had much to cheer about on the football front since the mid-90s. After two losses, we won the third game on our schedule, away. Fans turned up in droves to the home game the next Friday night, joining the parents and die-hards who had been in our stadium for eighteen winless and nearly winless seasons. When our team won that game, you would have thought we’d won the Superbowl.
What is it about football? If you’ve had the privilege to experience first hand a season like this one, then you already understand. On the other hand, if you’ve never experienced four quarters when your underdog team earns their first win, you’ll just have to take my word for it that it is football’s wild mix of passion and violence and skill and teamwork and pride and community that sets it apart.
The lesson here is pretty obvious. Find something you feel passionate about and perform the tasks related to it with pride, expecting that success, or whatever your goal is, will come. We can only hope that this is a lesson our team members have learned and will apply to every endeavor of their lives.