I’m a third generation high school coach, and I’ve heard the TEAM/me speech as much as anybody. In fact, in my last head coaching position, we had t-shirts made with TEAM in 4 inch block letters and me in 2 inch block letters in order to emphasize the constant vision of building a team.
The concept of “TEAM” in athletics is a very noble subject; however, one must understand it in its full context. There is a big difference in building a team that is about to go to war and defend a country, or go on a life or death mission to rescue a hostage, and a high school football team. There is a big difference between building an NFL team that has an objective to win the Super Bowl and building a team that wants to win a high school football state championship.
First of all, when it comes to the soldiers in either situation above, every person involved in the mission has only one objective. Each individual has surrendered any other personal goals or dreams because, quite frankly, there are none at this point. I was watching one of the players from the New England Patriots deliver a perfect speech about teamwork and unselfishness in the post game interviews following their 2017 Super Bowl victory. It was Howie Long’s son, and his words were quite impressive. In fact, it was after his interview that I came up with these thoughts that I am now writing. He was dead on! He was 100% correct about all of his comments regarding unselfishness and teamwork. It is completely and perfectly applicable to the life of an NFL player.
They are at the pinnacle. There is only one goal for these players at this point. It is to win the Super Bowl by whatever means necessary. They reached their ultimate goal, and that is to make it to the NFL and win a Super Bowl. Any ex-NFL player will tell you that they would trade any personal accolades that they ever received for a Super Bowl Championship.
But this is not the case in high school sports or collegiate sports. A coach must understand that he is not the head coach of the New England Patriots, nor is he the leader of a battalion of troops that are battling in a life or death situation. A high school coach and a college coach has to come to the brutal realization that while trying to accomplish “his goal” of winning a championship, he is dealing with young men or women who may have huge aspirations of playing on the next level. In this case, their playing time, individual performance within the team concept, and their statistics play a key role in their advancement.
These coaches have to learn how to balance all of the age old truths and wisdoms of teamwork while fostering and stewarding the hearts of these young men and women. These coaches can not be just like Bill Belechek. They can not be General Norman Schwarzkopf. They have to understand that they can pull tremendous wisdom from these juggernauts of their fields; however, they also have to consider the young men and women’s personal dreams and goals. Some of these kids have been working their whole life to advance to the highest level of their sport. Many of these young men and women embrace the “team” concept as much as a New England Patriot does, but the coach sometimes does not understand that he or she also has a responsibility to steward this young person’s heart and dreams. Coaches have a responsibility to care about a high school or college athlete’s dreams, goals, and ambitions. Coaches have a responsibility to put the right kids in the right situations, based upon deserve, to help them advance personally with their dreams and goals…all without compromising the team. This is not an easy thing to do. Nor will it ever be done perfectly.
It is usually done best by coaches who are fathers and mothers, who have had their own children already pass through the gauntlet of high school sports. They, as a parent and a coach, have a deeper understanding of what it feels like as a parent to walk through watching children be the subjects of someone else’s subjectivity…all for the sake of “the team”. Many times, what it boils down to is that a coach can teach and preach about team all day long, but at the end of the day, he is concerned about winning his championship. Now, keep in mind that this is not every coach, so do not take that last statement out of context. It is applicable to whom it is applicable and not applicable to the unselfish coach.
I used to be that coach. I was a high school head football coach at 29 years old. Although I had two boys, they were only 3 years old and an infant at the time. I wanted to win championships. I wanted to be the winningest high school football coach in the history of Texas. I loved kids, and I loved coaching all of my players, but at the end of the day I was so full of selfish ambition. I was blinded by the fact that I cared more about my record and my future as head football coach than I really cared about “team” and those kids. I did not know how to truly foster and steward the heart of a young man and his dreams. Looking back, I know that I have players from that short era of my life who despise me. I even got a hate email from one of them 3 years ago, telling me what a sorry coach I was. The facts were, there was some truth in his words. I look back at other talented players that I had and knowing what I know now, I would have utilized them in such a tremendously more dynamic way. Because I was so focused on “ME” and not the team, I missed it.
If you are a high school coach or a college coach, don’t miss it! Keep a proper perspective about your team as you work to build a championship program and strive to win championships. You and I both know that it won’t be done without proper teamwork and a group of players devoted to each other who play unselfishly. So the point is to go deeper. As the leader, never forget that your sport is not life or death. Your sport does not have the final pinnacle for both you and the player with dreams of climbing higher. You are in charge of shepherding young men or women’s lives who may have another pinnacle that is not your pinnacle. You need to have a respect for that. You need to know your players individual goals. And lastly, you owe it to yourself to steward their heart.