When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

By Dan Bauer

It is one of life’s most dreadful, yet most valuable lessons. That moment when you realize that your best wasn’t quite good enough. It is a struggle we all have to deal with at some time in our life.

It is a common occurrence when you choose to be an athlete. Hundreds of hopeful NFL players across the country recently experienced this humbling set-back. My first recollection of that painful moment came as a sophomore when I could not find my name on the team list of a locker room wall in Rice Lake.

I had been cut from the basketball team. I was emotionally destroyed. Sports were what I did, and I was petrified that it had been taken away from me. It is the one scene in the movie Miracle that brings a lump into the throat of even the most hardened coach. When Herb Brooks must deliver the news to Ralph Cox that he has been cut from the team. As Brooks shakes his hand he says “thanks for giving me your absolute best,” I feel the pain.

I remember an emotional Packer coach Mike McCarthy lamenting about cutting wide receiver Myles White, “He’s done everything you can ask.”

They gave their “absolute best” and “everything you can ask” and it still wasn’t good enough.

As coaches it seemingly contradicts what we ask from our players. We ask them to give us their best and whatever happens we can walk away feeling good about ourselves. Yet both of us know that sometimes everything you have won’t be good enough—on the scoreboard, in the job market or in life.

There is always that chance that your best will result in failure and at that moment of truth everything isn’t ok and we don’t feel very good about ourselves.

It begins with a sick and uncontrollable feeling in your stomach, like police lights in your rear-view mirror, or the sound of a phone ringing at 3 am. It can quickly grow into devastation, disappointment, and anger. It temporarily exposes a raw nerve that not even Novocain can prevent.

Many times in my life, the reality that my best wasn’t good enough has been as a coach dealing with a season ending loss. My most devastating disappointment came in a job interview where like athletics, there are no rewards for finishing second, or perhaps it was third. After twenty-two years as a head coach, my bid to be the head coach of my twin daughter’s team for their senior year fell short. Like the final horn to end your season, one sentence and your dream is shattered.

Sorry, but we went with somebody else. Only first place matters.

It is one of life’s most brutal and difficult lessons. You feel like you did everything right, like you left no stone unturned, you put your best foot forward, (insert your own cliché here), and it still wasn’t enough. In an odd Seinfeld-like twist you are told it wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do—it’s not you it’s me. It is an explanation that clarifies absolutely nothing. Subjective decisions are by their very nature, debatable, and whether it was a gut feeling or an arbitrary scoring system, or the winning legacy of a coach no mortal man could overcome, it doesn’t matter or need to be justified.

Like a referees call, it won’t be reversed.

I love coaching hockey and pouring myself into every job I have held comes without hesitation. It is a passion I have held since I was a backyard Lombardi; engineering the neighborhood kids at 203 Madison Street, just down the road in Spencer, Wisconsin. Being told your life’s work wasn’t good enough is an unsettling and self-esteem eroding moment.

When you fall short and gather your team in that last locker room of the season, together you attempt to dissipate the disappointment equally. In the job scenario there is no one else to blame.  The cargo of responsibility falls squarely and insurmountably on your shoulders. It is a failure, albeit temporary, that occupies your every thought.

Delivering the news to those close to you is humbling.

My family and my coaching are the passions in my life. When I have been able to combine the two—coaching my son & now my twin daughters—life is great. Being on the ice with them is second only to gathering all of them around the dinner table. The thought of having one of my passions stripped away would be the cruelest of punishments.

I am a big believer in the lessons athletics teaches every day. My players have heard many tales of how what they are experiencing will benefit them later in life. Now that one of those life lessons had kicked down my front door, it was now time for the coach to walk the talk.

So, I did what I would ask my players to do. Get up off the mat. Learn from the experience and live to fight another day. Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it. Getting back up took a little time, but with my pride intact and my ego on the mend I found myself back where I needed to be, on the ice and the bench, as an assistant coach. Resiliency and perseverance are cornerstones of the athletic experience and necessities in the game of life.

Thankfully my Mother, who knows virtually nothing about sports, but at age 91 is a Jedi master at life, had the right, even if it was the most difficult advice to hear;

“You don’t always get what you want in life,” she told me, “You don’t always get what you deserve.”

She left out that sometimes your best won’t be good enough.

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at drbauer13@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough”

  1. We all want the Hollywood ending for ourselves and others, especially when the athlete or coach is likable, humble, and hardworking. Things do not fit into a formula. Life is lumpy. Great reminder, Dan. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tremendous Gospel opportunity here with “your best is not good enough.”
    The bible teaches that our rightousness, our best, is like filthy rags (Isiah 64:6). Our best behavior and intentions fall short. Sin has marred all that we do. Our actions have no power to save.
    However, Jesus best was good enough. His life, death, and resurection was perfect and is so good it is able to save us. That is the Gospel.


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