I couldn’t find it anywhere. I haven’t seen it for years, but I was sure it was in my nightstand drawer. There is lots of stuff in there . . . but no whistle. I finally just gave up and bought a new one. I need a whistle because I volunteered to be an assistant coach on Charlie’s junior-level football team.
Coach Curt is back. It wasn’t really a big deal . . . no fanfare or music. Nobody really noticed as I, with great reservation, slowly raised my hand at a parent meeting when the head coach asked for volunteers to go through the certification process and help out on the field. My wife gently urged me to raise my hand. Then she looked at me. You know . . . that look that actually makes an audible sound. Yeah, that one. I had talked about helping out earlier in the year . . . and I wanted to . . . so I raised my hand. Then I started looking for my whistle.
I haven’t coached anything in almost 10 years and I haven’t coached football in 30 years. I coached a Pop Warner football team in Delaware in 1985. I moved to Alaska in 1986 and didn’t have the time or inclination at that point to get back into it immediately. Between then and 2006 I coached baseball, soccer and hockey. Since then I have been an involved sports parent. I always had lots of excuses for not coaching anymore . . . no time . . . bad knees . . . outdated knowledge of the game. I had lots of them. Then I realized that this might be my last chance to be involved with Eli and Charlie on a level that has proven so important to my relationship with Parker. It was time.
All coaches have a philosophy, even if they don’t think they do. Sometimes it is hard to put into words. Sometimes you can get a good idea of a coaches philosophy by just watching . . . sometimes you can’t. You have to watch and take other factors into consideration.
At a hockey practice many years ago a player’s mom approached me and told me that I yell at the kids way too much. I blinked at her. I wasn’t sure what she meant. I never had harsh words for any player. I got into the heat of the moment sometimes, but I certainly never felt I was abusive. She explained that I always yelled, even during practices. I smiled at her. I got it. I knew that she wasn’t going to buy my explanation no matter how eloquently I put it. I had to show her.
I asked her to step out onto the ice with me. As players were going through drills down by the goal, I took her near center ice and asked her to stand there. I went to the bench. With sounds of hockey ringing through the building I stood in the bench area and began to explain in a conversational tone why I yelled so much. She frowned at me and strained to hear. I continued to speak. She raised her hands in the international “I don’t understand” gesture. Finally she yelled, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”. I smiled. “EXACTLY!,” I answered. “I RAISE MY VOICE SO THE BOYS CAN HEAR ME ON THE ICE.” I could have just explained it to her, but I knew this woman and she was telling me she had a problem with me. She already had the issue decided and settled. No answer other than “I will stop yelling” was going to work. The point is she watched me coach and came to a conclusion about my philosophy without taking certain important factors into consideration.
I was never able to really put my coaching philosophy into words until I saw the movie “Friday Night Lights”. It is about the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas. Ok, stop rolling your eyes . . . yes a movie about football in Texas helped me put my coaching philosophy into words, but it isn’t all macho and Go Team! The story is about how this team worked through athletic, personal and political issues to play for the Texas High School 5A Championship. At half time of the Championship game Coach Gary Gaines makes a speech that helped me define my philosophy. He told his players they had to be ‘Perfect’. Really? More eye rolling? Take a look and then wipe your eyes, blow your nose and I will talk to you in a minute.
I was inspired by Coach Gaines’ definition of perfection. Essentially he tells his boys that perfection is the state of having done your absolute best . . . being at the end and being able to tell your teammates that there isn’t anything else you could have done. Making this effort allows a player to move on through sports and through life with “love in their hearts”. Before you think that Coach Gaines went all soft there, I am pretty sure that he meant that players can move on with no regrets . . . I think that was just a movie thing.
I especially like Coach Gaines’ definition because it doesn’t include winning or scores. From the first time I picked up a whistle I emphasized effort over results. I look at it this way because effort can be controlled while winning and success can’t. My favorite example of effort versus results involves Charlie when he was six.
Charlie is and was big for his age. We allowed him to play in the 7-9 year old tackle league when he was six because of his size and athletic ability. His older brother Parker was coaching on the Rams Rook Division team that Charlie was assigned to, so that helped as well.
Charlie has always been very literal. He doesn’t overthink things much. He does what he is told . . . in this respect anyway. Somewhere in the second quarter of his first game Charlie, wearing number 12, got into the game as a defensive back on the left side. He was put on the left because that side was closer to our sideline and Parker could communicate with him. He did well in his first few plays and got to go back in on the next series. The ball was on the other teams side of the field about the 20 or 25 yard line. Their running back took the ball around their left end, away from Charlie. He broke a tackle and had nobody in front of him. He accelerated and had nothing between him and the goal line but fresh air. The Rams gave brief chase and then fell back. It was over. Nobody could catch him.
Nobody told Charlie that.
As soon as the ball carrier went around the end Charlie took off. At first nobody really paid any attention as he ran past teammates and opponents. The other teams spectators were hooting and hollering as their boy ran downfield. The young man put it in cruise control as he neared the 50 yard line. Then the crowd got quiet. A little kid in blue and gold wearing number 12 was giving chase . . . and he was closing the gap.
As the ball carrier neared the 40 yard line, the crowd and his coaches started yelling at him to hurry. Have you ever run really fast, then slowed down then tried to run fast again? The ball carrier’s legs weren’t responding the way he wanted them to and Charlie was gaining. At the 25 yard line Charlie was less than 10 yards away and he had momentum. At the 5 yard line Charlie reached out.
The ball carrier crossed the goal line with Charlie on his shirt tail.
For a split second there was silence. Then both crowds erupted. Think hard. Have you ever seen both sides of a football field go crazy over a 75 yard touchdown run? One side celebrated a touchdown while the other celebrated an effort . . . a perfect effort. At the Rook level here, each team is allowed to have one coach on the field during the game. As Charlie picked himself up in the end zone the other teams offensive coach approached him. He put his hands on Charlie’s shoulder pads and talked to him for a few seconds. Then he patted on the helmet and sent him on the way. It was the kind of effort any coach could appreciate.
I have told that story and been told that the story is about failure. I have been told that the effort would have been perfect if Charlie had made the tackle. My idea of perfection is about the players, both as a team and as individuals . . . not the result. On that particular play, there was nothing left for Charlie to do. He couldn’t have done anything else. He couldn’t be faster . . . in that moment his effort was complete. My thought is that if you emphasize effort and provide players with the proper tools, then the results with take care of themselves. At the end you will have players ready to move on in playing level and in life.
Right now, nobody is really interested my philosophy. You don’t need philosophy to hold a tackling dummy and run warm up drills. I am an assistant so I get to teach skills, explain techniques, snap helmets and adjust shoulder pads. I get to interact with kids and help teach them a game while, hopefully, giving them tools to deal with life.
Both boys are playing in the Wolfpack group within Fairbanks Youth Football. All of the Wolfpack teams practice at the same time on the same field, so I am close to where Eli is working with his group. It’s a great to be involved in a sport I love with the ones I love.
In fact . . . it’s perfect.
Thanks for reading and sharing. We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.