Lesson #1 from My Football Coach

Next month, I will turn 45 years old. I’ve learned much in these years. I’ve learned from a set of wonderful parents, from spending 20+ years in formal education and from a life in the church. I have also learned lessons through life experiences. Some of those lessons would have been much better learned without the painful experiences – the knowledge of good and evil is not always the preferred lesson plan.

In the past few years, I have discovered that my body does is not as physically capable as when I was young. Playing football or basketball has become more of a struggle than I ever thought it would be. In my younger days, I was very active in competitive sports. I learned the lessons of discipline, hard work and enjoying what you do. A few lessons still stand out. Since I was in a military family, I moved about and attended 3 different high schools. I had the privilege of learning from some excellent coaches. This was one of my first lessons that has lasted.

As a high school freshman, I had a football coach that took a chance on starting me as his quarterback on a team with very good players that were upper classmen. I still remember the first game we played in our first offensive possession. He sent me onto the field with the first play and gave me the responsibility of calling the rest of the plays. The first play was a handoff up the middle to a very tough fullback. He gained several yards on the play. In the huddle for the second play, I called the same play. Same result. The third play — same thing.

On the fourth play, I had a brilliant idea (or so it seemed at the time). I called a play that faked the same play we had been running. I would then take the ball toward the sideline with the option of running it myself or pitching to a very fast running back. As I pulled the ball away from the fullback to start the new option, I discovered that I had no room to run and pitched the ball to the running back. He was immediately met by several defenders that hit him at the same time the ball arrived. The defense recovered a fumble and our offense trotted off of the field.

I wasn’t happy, but had not realized fully what went wrong. That is, until I was about 5 yards away from our sideline. The head coach met me there and simply said, “You stupid freshman!”

Now don’t take that as a harsh thing. He was trying to get my attention quickly. As we talked, I realized that my play call had indeed been stupid. We were having great success and the defense gave no appearance of stopping what we were doing with the fullback. If I had continued with that call until the defense adjusted, then we would not have been stopped.

The lesson I took from this encounter was to focus on our strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses until those changed. I got too tricky and outsmarted myself. This coach taught me not to outwit myself. The basic play worked. Stick to the basics. Razzle-dazzle is only effective when the basics work, not the other way around.

So in life, it is not the slick move that matters most. The basics are still the base to success.