My brother Tim had the privilege of being on the coaching staff at Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington for over 20 years. At the time of his death, he was the Offensive Coordinator. Son #3 took this photo of him in the booth calling the plays on a visit there. It has become an absolute favorite. While he adored the game, as you will see here, he loved what it taught about life even more. This article was written in February of 2011. Enjoy.
This being Superbowl Sunday, I thought it might be enjoyable to take a peek in the locker room. No, I haven’t played or coached in a Superbowl, but I do have an idea. I have been so fortunate to have played and coached in some very big games with future professional players and coaches, some on television, and one–probably the biggest game I was ever a part of, for the championship of the highest classification in the state of Washington. It was played in the old Kingdome. Attendance on the day was just over 30,000 people, and most of them were still around for the last game of the night when we took the field. Lest you think this will be a reminiscing period, relax. Let me take a moment to say that my approach to athletics as a player and a coach has always been quite simple. It is about dedication to preparation and the thrill of performance–all for the purpose of teaching life lessons. Sports in my mind are no different than a musician who practices for that huge concert–maybe in Carnegie Hall, or the actress who is given the role of a lifetime, maybe on Broadway or on film; or the law student who encounters the Bar Exam. All “big stages” are about the preparation and dedication it takes to get there, and the life lessons that can be gleaned from it. The performance piece is just pure enjoyment.
Let’s look at Sunday’s huge game and the culmination of preparation. Think of the millions of pictures that will be snapped–some by photographers who have dedicated their life to getting that one perfect shot–maybe the cover of Sports Illustrated. I don’t know if the Black Eyed Peas would consider this their biggest concert, but with almost 110 million viewers–I’m guessing it’s their largest audience. Marketing people have 20-30 seconds to score with those 110 million viewers–the fact that 30 seconds now costs 3 million dollars might make it a big stage for them as well. Even the folks who RATE the Superbowl commercials, by their judgments, will create or destroy hopes of some to become overnight millionaires. All these things together add up to a lot of pressure on a LOT of people who aren’t even running, tackling, kicking, or throwing. It’s all about the big stage.
So back to the Kingdome before the local “big game.” What was the message? Was I throwing up, or pacing, or biting my nails? Not really. Oh, so were you cocky, overconfident, and feeling arrogant? Not exactly. All of our coaches have a unified message to their kids. You BELONG here. You have put in the work, and back in August when we started this journey, we told you that game success would come down to just a few plays here and there. But LIFE success is all about the preparation, and dedication that goes before the performance. This game is just the reward that you get to enjoy as a result of your hard work. Let’s go see if we can make those few plays go our way and add another great memory to our collection. You see, the outcome of the big game was not the focus. Because of that, there weren’t many nervous kids. Maybe a few butterflies, but they weren’t nearly as nervous as they probably should have been!
At first things were even, but then we fell in an unfortunate 21-7 hole. At halftime it was 21-14 and we were behind. The message at half was a life lesson I will never forget. The head coach got everyone together and said, ” Do you know what we are going to do differently in the second half? Nothing. Because what we are doing is the right thing, and it is what we have practiced, and we have not played our best yet. But we will.” That was it. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the kids. All they needed to know was that they were okay. What followed doesn’t always happen in sports, but on this night it did. We scored 35 points in a row, (41 in a row total) and won 48-21. There was never a doubt. It all came together. We set 9 state records in that game. Wow.
So what is the message? The value of preparation and dedication is priceless. It brings about a good kind of pride, mental toughness, a teachable spirit that realizes there is always more to learn, discipline in persevering, integrity, humility (the right kind) and teamwork. THAT is what sports, or ANY big stage is about.
All the preparation creates an opportunity where sometimes in a split second or a very few seconds, we determine lifetime memories. I can give tons of examples, but yours are probably even more vivid and meaningful to you than mine would be. As we move forward in life and the opportunities it offers for training, teaching, advising and counseliing, we have and continue to be preparing for those split seconds, where lifetimes can be changed. The more prepared we are, the less nervous we are about “messing it up” and the more confident we can be that our course is dead on target.
As we move ahead, (he was referring to the beginning of the second school semester here), let’s have a record breaking second half.