Lessons From A Football Game: Acting Like a Coach

Lessons from a football game

Part 1: Acting Like a Coach

Most of the times when I write it is because something about a particular situation has caused me to think. It is my sincere desire that I not necessarily pass judgment, there are many more qualified than I to do such, but rather that I comment on those things which cause me to pause in my actions. For this reason I purposefully ignore most public events (Georgia/Florida excepted) and instead choose to deal with things in my personal life that I observe.
I had a chance a few days ago to watch a football game played between two 9 & 10 year old teams. I worked the chains on the sideline of the visiting team and therefore was able to hear almost every conversation that the coaches had with the players and with themselves. This seemed to be a typical youth team with their “head coach” and numerous parent “helpers/advisers” on the sideline.

The coach also didn’t seem to be unique and this is what makes this story even more atrocious. Before I go into his actions during the game I must digress to help you see the point of the story. When I have the time I read Gregg Easterbrook’s weekly column at ESPN.com, entitled Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Easterbrook writes about football from a decidedly different viewpoint than most of ESPN’s commentators and columnists, many times with a view towards safety and sportsmanship which is direct contradiction to the former players that ESPN primarily employs. One of Easterbrook’s pet complaints is against coaches who set things up so that the blame falls on the players and not the coach. (BTW, Tim Couch, of Fox Sports, has written a fairly interesting column concerning Tebow and John Fox) In fact Easterbrook proposes, on an almost weekly basis that you must be able to shift blame to become a “successful” coach.

I had to learn this lesson the hard way myself. A few years ago while coaching my daughter-who-shall-remain-unnamed-here on a basketball team I saw this same problem in myself. In a close game in which we had a great chance to win this “child” fouled out. The rules of the league are unique in that this player would be allowed in following the end of the current period. The problem was that we needed points in that period and now our best chance of scoring those points was sitting on the bench. We had no offense, and as I implored the girls to do something I grew more and more frustrated with their inability to do anything. Later that week it hit home that I should have planned for this event. This “child” had fouled out before and to some degree I should have prepared the other players for the fact that things could change at any moment.

Back to the story. On each of his teams first three possessions the coach changed his offensive starters. On each of his possessions following his changing of players he was penalized for having too many players on the field. Each time he threw his hands up in exasperation and loudly berated the kids for messing up. Since I was on his sideline I pointed out to the parents on the sidelines that they should be encouraged that their kids were playing for someone who was sure to be a success as a coach as he was yet to make a mistake. Several of the parents laughed but most didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. For the sake of time let’s just say that the rest of the game continued much in the same way. If the opposing team had a large gain then it was the fault of individual players because he had called the right team for just that play.

Later that night, I began to think about how many times I act just like this coach in my behavior; at church, at home, and just in general. If something at church doesn’t go the way that I planned or hoped then certainly someone else must have contributed to the problem. In fact I think this is a problem that is especially pressing on pastors and those in a position of leadership. If you doubt me on this then I have one question: When is the last time you heard someone in authority say sincerely that they were wrong or that they didn’t know how to answer or deal with a particular situation? If you haven’t been around me too much then I would just have to say that those times have been too few and too far apart in their happening.

Work isn’t the only place that I have this problem. I usually deal with this same issue in my home. After all we all know that kids, especially teens, are airheaded and hardheaded so shouldn’t they bear most of the blame? When is the last time that we looked into the eyes of our kids and said, “I blew it.”

The most depressing thing about this coach’s actions was the impact that it had upon his players. Most of them became discouraged, a few became angry, but they all kept playing. In an indirect way I confronted this coach after the game (the subject of another article) and I can assure you that he felt what he did was right. If he had been asked for a measurement of his “success,” he may have pointed to the fact that his players were still present; and that he wasn’t accosted by any of their parents on the way to his vehicle. Sadly, the measurement of his success will not be known until many years down the road.

When will the result of our actions be known if we act like this coach? Let’s be honest with our family, our friends, and those we come into contact with. Feeling right in the moment isn’t worth the trail of debris that we will leave behind if we don’t become humble people.

But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Matthew 23:11-13

Published by Daniel M Harding

Husband, father, associate pastor.

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