We are first-time football parents. At ten years old, my son is now playing the most popular sport in Centerville, Ohio, and from all accounts he is doing well. He loves it. He loves his teammates, he loves hitting, he loves the speed of the game.
The one thing that none of us were prepared for was the intensity of fifth-grade football. To say that we take this stuff seriously would be an understatement. For the first two weeks of the season, we practiced five days a week. Since school started we are limited to three practices a week, each one two hours in duration, plus the game. If you are keeping track, that makes it an eight-hour commitment every week. Eight hours a week in the fifth grade – I mean, we just had no idea.
The reality though is that football is a complicated sport, and if you want the kids to do well then it will require the commitment. We’ve made it work in our schedules, and have even grown to love our time on the sidelines. We love hanging out with the other parents and watching our boys start to grow as a team.
When I talked about intensity, I wasn’t just talking about the amount of practice time. When they practice, they really get after it. At the end of the very first game of the season, it was clear our team was gassed. It looked as if we were trying to get water from a dry well. So, in response to this reality, the coach emailed all the parents and told us that he was going to run our kids this week. He was great in letting us know that the only way to keep us safe and competitive was to make sure that we were prepared for the end of the game.
This week our team ran their butts off. I’ve never seen so many laps up and down the football field. It was pretty amazing. On one particular evening the mugginess of the summer, mixed with the long day, had gotten to the kids. The coach was running them and was running them hard. There was no doubt that these kids were going to be ready for the fourth quarter. As I looked up and down the row, I could start to see some of the boys begin to crack.
The tears started to fall. They were hurting. At one point Connor walked up to me and said that he was in pain and his body was hurting. Our conversation was cut short because it was his time to run again. They call the running drill “beasts,” and at this point the drills were living up to their name.
This was the first time as a Dad who was watching his kid practice that I wanted to step in and save him. My insides were churning. This was my oldest, this is my first born, I wanted to protect him!
Yet I followed the lead of the experienced parents and I watched (from the comfort of my chair) as tears rolled down Connor’s face. I watched as the coaches yelled pieces of encouragement, and in one moment, when a kid was just about to give up, I watched the coach come over to him. The coach fixed his chinstrap, looked him in the eyes, and told him that he believed he was capable. It wasn’t a yell, it was a whisper. This young man happened to be standing next to Connor, and Connor heard what was said. More importantly, Connor and the other kid believed their coach. As they took off to run for the very last time, Connor (and the team) dug deep. They wiped away the tears and they finished the run.
Every single player on the team finished the run. Every. Single. Player.
In my astonishment I was reminded of something that Perry Noble talks about in his book The Most Excellent Way. Perry writes that there is a huge difference between a coach and a critic. And my interpretation of Perry’s words are that critics push people down, while coaches pull people up. Critics look for the worst, while coaches look for the best. Coaches, good coaches, get the best out of their teams and their players.
So, even though it was hard for this dad to watch, I have to say thank you. Thank you, coach, for caring enough about my kid to get him to give his best. On this particular Wednesday evening in the heat of summer you didn’t just teach my son, you taught me as well.
My prayer for all of us parents is that we have enough courage to trust and be good coaches. Not just for our kids, but for all the kids of our community.