AED for Life

By Dan Bauer

Teenage boys and cars have long been a precarious love affair. The combination of too many unattached synapses and too much testosterone has made teenage driving accidents an annual epidemic. No amount of education or threats has seemed to slow the frequency. The daily race to practice from school provided its share of warnings, tickets and the occasional minor accident. As I arrived at practice one day the rink manager informed me of a player spinning donuts in the parking lot upon his arrival. It was disappointing, but not the first time. But there was more; another player was laying on the hood holding on for literally his life.

It was a bad, awful, horrible decision. Teenage boys, at times, can’t seem to escape from making these potentially disastrous choices.

Thankfully nobody was hurt, but my ensuing lecture reminded them once again of the importance of making good decisions. In a game we all make poor decisions, but the clock keeps running. In life one bad decision can dramatically change or end your life. Developing good decision making skills is one of the three most important parts of success in athletics and life. I call it AED for life: attitude, effort and decisions. Athletes hold complete control over all three and when they execute that control they almost completely ensure their success. And it is those same three that will lead them to success in life.

I recently saw a quote from Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney, “You can win, win win, but if you’re not equipping young men to be great husbands and fathers, you lose.” Make no mistake this is from a Division I football coach who gets paid to win. With a career record of 143 – 33, he has shown he can win, but realizes in the long run building great husbands and fathers is more important. When we can teach athletes to control their attitude, work hard to achieve their goals and make solid decisions along the way we have taken a huge step in preparing them for life.

One of the tenets of the 3D Coaching platform is the belief that as coaches our job is to help individuals and our team get to a level that they cannot get to by themselves. And as we have established, we have tremendous power in making that happen. Your words, attitude and body language are the nourishment that develops confidence and perseverance. When hard times hit, and they always do, you must be the eternally optimistic light at the end of the tunnel.

I have battled through many difficult seasons, but perhaps none more challenging than my last as head coach at Wausau East. After a successful three year run that included forty-eight wins and breaking the school record for victories twice, the cupboard looked sparse in comparison. As a coaching staff we were prepared for a different kind of season. We knew our daily enthusiasm and energy were going to be tested. Boy were we right!

We started the season 0-8-1 and were outscored 46-7. The saying that what you see is what you have coached was hard to own. The frustration of the players, many of whom had been a small part of the past few years, was crushing their confidence. Finding silver linings after each game became a needle in the haystack challenge. We kept our post-game analysis short and focused on getting back to practice and working to improve. Our issues extended through all three of the coaching dimensions. We needed better effort, more skill development in the 1st Dimension, but our collective minds were the bigger mess. To steal from former Northwestern coach Gary Barnett, we needed, “Belief without Evidence.”

Every day our staff showed up with a bucket full of enthusiasm and a plan for how we would get better. We repeated over and over that if we worked hard, stayed positive and most importantly played for each other good things would come. Admittedly, on most days, I had a hard time believing that myself, but as coaches we never let that poison seep out.

Our inner misery continued as our record sunk to 1-14-1. With eight games to go it seemed improbable that our optimism was going to be rewarded. A CSI team would have struggled to find the evidence we so desperately needed. And then it happened; we lost a hard fought game 2-1, to a team that had beaten us 7-0 earlier in the season. Finally there was a spark and verifiable evidence of our improvement. One game later we found a way to win in overtime and used that momentum and confidence to go on and win six of our last nine games, including our first playoff game.

I have been a part of some very successful teams, but this group of young men had every reason to quit and they didn’t. They persevered through an incredibly demanding journey and came away with a priceless life lesson. I believe as coaches we helped them get to a level they could not have reached by themselves. The issues we faced as a team couldn’t be solved by punishing them and turning our practices into a track meet. It took a plan that implemented strategies from all three dimensions, but most importantly it took a lot of attitude, effort and the decision every day to never give up.

Like an actual AED, we jump started our unified team heart and turned imminent failure into enthusiastic achievement.

Our success as coaches is too often simply measured in wins and losses. Most would look at a 7-18-1 team and see failure. I look at that team as a great success story. Faced with failure like they had never encountered before, they chose to demonstrate the character, grit and perseverance to get back up again and again. Each journey we embark upon, whether crammed with victories or riddled with defeat; provide coaches an invaluable platform to prepare their athletes for the game of life.

When we look beyond the scoreboard we find the true purpose of coaching. Don’t allow the bright light of victory or the darkness of defeat prevent you from finding the real reason we call you coach.

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at

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