“You can be tired after the game” I must have said it a million times already, to my boys and the kids I coach. We are just wrapping up the football season, and I hope if we have taught the kids anything is to work hard and be resilient.
I remember the first full pads practice a few months back. The kids were so nervous that the air vibrated around them. A few were ready for contact, but most were a ball of anxiety and excitement. As the drills went on the sheer surprise of the force made some kids shy away from it or stay down after their turn through the drills. Coaches soon echoed “get up; you are fine” and kids would oblige. As the season wore on, some kids learned real quick how to be resilient and bounce right back up, others it took a while. We had to keep encouraging them and help them find their inner strength. After all, we are teaching them to control their body, to do something instincts wants them to flee.
My team just had their playoff game, and we lost. There is one kid in particular that truly came alive and set a great example for his teammates. Drew is one of my running backs and a linebacker. The kid is a ball of energy and too smart for his own good sometimes. When we started the season, he was hitting, but after getting hit by bigger kids in a few games, he began to shy away from contact. We coaches were perplexed and tried everything we could to help him bounce back to the old Drew we know. He had a couple of rough games, shying away from making tackles and running the ball tentatively. He is such a leader and a great kid we kept working with him.
All that work paid off during the playoff game. Drew came alive and bounced back with a vengeance. On his first run a kid on the other team came up to tackle him, Drew put his shoulder down and just ran over him. The noise of the pads exploded through the cool night’s air, and when the dust settled, Drew was still running while the kid on the other team lay on his back. I quickly went from coach to cheerleader, hooting and hollering as Drew kept running. When he came back to the huddle, he had a glint in his eye and a smile on his face.
The night continued, and he kept running hard, he kept running over kids like Jim Brown used to do back in the day. After weeks of working with him and never giving up on him, he finally bounced back and was now better than ever. The level of pride and fulfillment that provides me as a coach is hard to describe. My chest feels swollen, and my eyes tear up. We always believed in him, but now he believed in himself, and that is the most beautiful thing anyone can have.
As we teach, parent, coach or mentor kids we have to remember that resiliency is not instantaneous. Another coach might have benched Drew and put someone else in his positions, instead of struggling with him until he finally bounced back. But for me, coaching is not just about winning games; it is about teaching kids lessons and skills they can apply to the rest of their life. Some athletes will pop right up like they did on the first day of practice. Others might take weeks until they spring back up. Others, who might have had it to begin with, will lose that resilient spirit. With enough love, patience, and care they will find it again and be stronger than ever.