Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lessons Learned from Flag Football

I recently finished coaching my 8-year-old son’s NFL flag football team, the Green Bay Packers. We played in a league of 13 teams and as each week passed with another victory, we felt we had a good chance of having an undefeated season. That was before we played the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a receiver that was a foot taller than our biggest player and a quarterback that could throw 30 yard passes perfectly. We lost our game to the Colts by 35 points, giving up many 70 yard touchdown passes.

At the start of each practice, I would take a few minutes with my 11 boys to teach them a principle of success. Following our big loss to the Colts, I shared this story with them. “Once there was a man who worked for IBM and he made a mistake that cost his company $10 million. After making this mistake, the man was called in to meet with the company founder and CEO, Tom Watson, Sr. The nervous employee entered the office and took a seat. He sat in silence, waiting for the CEO to speak, but the silence continued. Finally the employee said, “I guess you want my resignation?” The CEO replied, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you!”

I told the boys that we must come to view mistakes not as failure but as learning experiences. I then asked the boys how many of them had younger siblings. When their siblings were learning to walk, did they ever fall down? The boys all shook their heads in the affirmative. I then explained that just as a baby falls when learning to walk, we will all make mistakes and fail when we are learning to do new things. Failure is a part of learning and doing something new. We had never played a team like the Colts that could throw and catch long passes, and we had never practiced defending long passes; therefore, we were not very good at defending this type of pass. That day we practiced defending long passes and by the end of practice, we were much better at it.

We won the rest of our games and earned the number two seed in our league tournament. The Colts finished the season undefeated and were the number one seed. We knew we would not have to face them unless both of our teams made it to the championship game. As it turned out, this is exactly what happened, and we found ourselves with another opportunity to play against the Colts for the championship. Our team was excited. The game was close and came down to the final play. We had a chance from the three-yard line to win the game, but were unable to score.

Following handshakes with the Colts and shouting our team cheer, I had our team come together one last time to talk. I told the boys, “I am very proud of you today. We started the season saying we wanted to do three things:

1. Have fun
2. Do your best
3. Get better each week.”

I asked the boys if they had fun playing football this season and they replied with an enthusiastic “yes!” I then asked the boys if they had done their best each game, to which they responded in the affirmative. I told the boys that they each had improved greatly since the start of the season and even though we came up short on the scoreboard in the championship game that they were winners since we had accomplished our three goals as a team.

Our two loses to the Colts reminded me of a story from the life of Michael Jordan. Three years in a row (1988, 1989, 1990) Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Detroit Pistons. Some questioned whether the Bulls would ever make it to the NBA finals. In an interview following another playoff defeat to the Pistons, Michael Jordan was asked why they could not beat the Pistons. Michael Jordan responded by saying that the Bulls could not worry about the Detroit Pistons. Instead they needed to focus on improving their team and getting better so they could beat anyone. Michael Jordan and the Bulls went on to win 6 NBA titles over the next 8 years. Michael Jordan wrote, “I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. I don’t do things half-heartedly. Because I know if I do, then I can expect half-hearted results.”

Walter Payton, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, taught, “A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something. It doesn’t mean that they accomplished it or failed, it means that they’ve given it their best. That’s a winner.”

I had received medals for the boys from the league. As I placed the medals around each of their necks, I gave each boy an individualized compliment and thanked him for being a part of our team. Each boy’s face lit up as he received his compliment and medal. I told the boys how much I had enjoyed coaching them and that I was going to miss them. Much to my surprise, I began to get emotional during this process, for I had come to love these 11 boys, and I was really going to miss working with them each week.

“Success is not a single event but a process. What matters more than where you are is the direction you are heading.” -Cameron C. Taylor