Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lessons Learned Playing High School Football

Like so many young men between the ages of fourteen and eighteen,  my world revolved around high school football.  There is nothing quite like it.  I can still remember those hot August days, cool Friday nights and the smell of freshly cut grass, mixed with the dew that settled on the practice field.  That new season, that glorious new season, which offered each player a new start and a chance for redemption.  It secured for many, a last chance to chase the big dance while 'grasping for another go around with greatness'.  Come fall, winning championships was what every player dreamed of. 

High school football is a team sport and you are only as strong as your weakest link.  Good teams understood this, while your average teams always seemed to find ways to come up short. Being a champion requires that extra effort, that most teams were not willing to give.  So, when adversity set in, average teams could not respond and were destined for mediocrity.

My high school team was one of those squads that always seemed to flirt with success.  Oh, we had our share of good athletes, and a few went on to play at the college level.  However, as a team we could never quite get over the hump, because the hump was always just a little to steep. Therefore, since the inception of my high school, there were no championships to brag about and very few winning seasons.

Mediocrity brought changes, the most notable being the hiring of a new coach the summer before my senior season.  He was young, energetic and ambitious with alot of fresh ideas.  Ideas that we as a team had not heard before, but from the first team meeting, we knew these ideas would make that season different from all the rest.

I can still remember that first meeting...

It was held in the school library right before our very first practice.  We were dressed in our new practice gear, consisting of shorts, t-shirts, new shoes, socks and helmets, with all of this coordinated in our school colors.  Little did we know that we was about to hear a motivational speech, the likes of which we had never heard before, and one I would carry with me for the rest of my life.  

When the coach entered the room, idle conversation ceased, as all eyes followed him down the center aisle up to the podium.  Once front and center he paused, looked up and begin to talk.  He was there to teach life lessons, which became apparent from the very beginning.  The stories, like parables from the Bible, were designed to motivate and inspire.  

Here is the story I'll never forget...

'Men, you have not been winners for one reason.  You don't believe you can be winners.  Let me illustrate  this point'.  The new coach paused then continued,  

'If I were to lay a fifty foot two by four on the floor of this library, and ask each of you to walk it's distance without stepping off, could you walk it?'  All the players nodded in agreement.  As if to say yea, so what?   

 'Good', he stated.

'Now, if I were to take this same board and I laid it across the top of two ten story buildings and I ask you to walk it again, would I have any takers?'  A silence fell over the room as each player reassessed the coach's offer.  

'I didn't think so', replied the coach.

'Now,' he added, 'you have doubt and fear to deal with, and that changes everything.  Doubt and fear affects your believe level to a point where it is improbable that any of you would make that walk, because now you don't believe you can and the consequences are just to great'.

This made perfect sense to me then and it still does today.  Doubt and fear steal far more dreams than they should, allowing people to get sidetracked, skewing their focus and taking their minds off the goal.

What a powerful story I was set to ponder.  I think about that experience from time to time and wonder how something so simple could mean so much.

And if you're wondering how we did that season, our new beliefs' took us all the way to the state championships. while posting the best won-loss record in school history.