The Biggest Game of Our Life
By Dan Bauer
We have all faced that David and Goliath match-up, that irresistible force, that immovable object. We have all donned the cape of the sixties cartoon hero underdog and taken on that seemingly unbeatable foe. As coaches, we thrive on and welcome these challenges. It is simply part of our competitive DNA that lured us to the athletic battlefield. We set our sights on this invincible adversary and study film, game plan, push our team harder and search for the motivational elixir that will propel us to an emotional zenith.
And when the dust settles, the scoreboard confirms that against all odds—we still lost.
However, we are not discouraged but for a moment; we know failure in our realm is a temporary learning experience that will foster future success. We pick ourselves up off the metaphorical canvas and focus on the next practice, the next opponent. We can’t wait to step back into the ring.
We know failure in our realm is a temporary learning experience that will foster future success.Click to tweet
On or around March 12, 2020 we all encountered a villain unlike any we have ever seen. There was no video tape to study, no game plan to implement and no team to motivate. In literally the blink of an eye everything about our existence as a coach, player, parent or fan changed. In fact change is too mild a word; it was more like a being knocked unconscious. We are programmed to get back up under these circumstances, but this was different as if someone stole the entire field, court or rink. There was nowhere to stand. It was a challenge like none we have ever faced.
Staying connected to our teams at a time when we all had been sent to our room is a difficult assignment. Imagine the isolation we would be feeling if this had happened before computers and cell phones. There is no shortage of methods or time for most of us to reach out to our athletes. As we search for articles, videos and training methods, perhaps we are missing a gift in disguise. Unlike training in the physical dimension that we would normally be going through right now at practices, we are being afforded a special opportunity for our athletes to explore the cerebral side of being a great athlete and teammate. A time to spotlight the heart and mind of our athletes development.
We are witnessing first-hand, an opponent of the grandest scale and in the world’s largest arena. The Super Bowl or the World Cup Final are merely backyard skirmishes compared to the battle we are facing as a nation. It is a foe of apocalyptic devastation and every law of teamwork is being tested right before our eyes.
Leadership is vital in times of crisis. Staying with the game plan and presenting a calm, positive way forward is what we all need right now from all our leaders. The media will supply us with plenty of irresponsible speculation and flood us with demoralizing facts and figures. We need a source of hope and inspiration and the realization that this is the cruelest of losses, the most punitive bad bounce we have ever experienced, but we will survive it. It is what being an athlete has taught us.
Imagine we are in a dog fight with Fenris, the giant Asgardian wolf from the Marvel series. Just as we consistently preach to our teams, everyone has a role to play. Whether it is the single act of staying home or the willingness of major companies to shift their production into ventilators or masks, everyone’s role is important. We have also observed selfishness that has sabotaged and delayed our purpose. The parallels to what we teach our players everyday are unmistakable.
It is a time we should all be reminded of John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” When you dig past the political finger pointing you will find story after story of incredible acts of sacrifice and good will toward each other. In effect, being a great teammate is being played out on life’s stage. The countless examples of unselfishness, humility and empathy are everywhere. Drawing these comparisons is an excellent tutorial for our players into the real life benefits that can be gained from the athletic experience. It is the ultimate course in team building because a unified effort by our country will bring us an eventual victory.
The current circumstances have caused all of us to sacrifice something. It is a lesson that we are all too familiar with as coaches and players. Collectively we are all “taking one for the team” and putting the team, our countries well-being, above our own personal goals. Let them know that as athletes this is what they have been trained to do and whether or not they ever play competitive sports again, this won’t be the last time they will be asked to make this type of sacrifice.
Just as we would prepare for a shot at the number one team in the land, remind them of their duties as a member of team USA versus Covid-19 and that they need to do their part. Ask them to execute their role to the best of their ability by staying home and be great teammates for each other by staying connected. Their grief and disappointment is just part of the shared sacrifice we are all making. And while their emotions and our empathy for them are real, they pale in comparison to those fighting on the medical front lines. It is a great reminder for all of us to be thankful and express our gratitude.
Teenage athletes are in the creative sweet spot of their life; encourage them to use their technological skills to bond together and create positive content for all to enjoy. Challenge them to continue to be leaders and role models, like so many professional athletes have done, to the youngsters looking to them in this time of crisis. Let their imaginations, with your oversight, soar.
Like an inquisitive detective finding silver linings is a skill all good coaches possess. When we sift through the pandemic’s path of destruction and look deep inside the pitch black cloud overhead we see a textbook example of life imitating athletics. Our athletes cannot be a part of their teams right now, but they can be a part of one of the most significant victories in the history of our nation.
When we sift through the pandemic’s path of destruction and look deep inside the pitch black cloud overhead we see a textbook example of life imitating athletics.Click to tweet
This is the biggest game of our life.
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Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org