Best Coaching Day Ever . . .

When Kids Teach Resilience

This will seem contrarian to some, because it’s not about winning. In fact, it starts with a heart-breaking loss.

The High School boys’ soccer team I coach scored a goal in the second half against a terrific team and one of our rivals. We held that lead down to the very last few minutes. Then, as happens in soccer, the other team scored two goals in less than four minutes.

It was a crushing loss. At the whistle, the other team sprinted onto the field, whooping it up. Our guys dropped to their knees with that pain in the chest: How could that have happened?

Of course, that’s just like life. Stuff happens, losses are snatched from the jaws of victory. Life is rampant with disappointments, failures and the unexpected. Most of this is out of our control.

What we can control is how we respond to difficulty and that is what a couple of teenage senior captains reminded me that afternoon.

Here is what happened. Our captains — the guys with most on the line for this was their last season — called everyone together.

“Bring it in,” they yelled and the team gathered in a circle, arms around each other, captains in the middle. It was a circle of exhausted and discouraged soccer players.

The coaches stood outside the circle and just listened.

“I’m so proud of you,” Adam, one of the captains spoke. “That was the best soccer we’ve played all season. It sucks to lose, but they are the third ranked team in the state and we nearly beat them. That was a great game!”

Eric, another senior captain laying on the ground exhausted simply said, “great game boys!”

Our final captain, Drake, jumped into the middle of the circle, “We’ll get them again boys! I’m so excited for our next training! I want to work so hard!”

There was no blaming, no whining, no “ain’t it awful.”

Rather the captains focused on framing the loss, tapping down the drama, and being positive and optimistic. They pointed our team towards what they could control: solving problems and working hard.

During the circle, my coaching partner and I both smiled at each other. We knew that these are the moments in sports that are better than winning. You see these kids — that we’ve known since they were twelve — grapple with important things: dealing with disappointment, motivating a team and focusing all of us (coaches included) on what we can control; our work ethic and our attitude in the face of loss.

My dad taught me that sports isn’t so much about winning and losing as it is about teaching players about the potential of their lives, who they can become if they believe in themselves and work hard. When I began coaching, he reminded me that sports was about grace when you win and resilience when you lose.

This day those lessons was passed on to a new group of young players by their captains. They learned they are part of this magical experience, a real team. They learned, I hope, that even when there is a crushing loss we can get up the next morning and go to work.

Best coaching day ever.

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