Power of Perspective: Lessons from the 2018 Hackley Football Season

By Simon Berk, Varsity Football Coach, Hackley School

We met throughout the off-season. We met in the weight room to prepare, to grow stronger and more flexible for the arduous season ahead. We met in classrooms, to learn a new vernacular and stratagem to fit our changing personnel. Finally, we met on August 16th to prepare ourselves mentally for the challenging year ahead. Students can get so caught up with their busy schedules that even something they love to do, such as a team sport, feels like yet another obligation. Another assignment. We addressed this issue head-on by asking our athletes to replace “have to” thoughts with “get to.”

This simple shift in perspective allowed mundane events to be viewed as growth opportunities. Football boasts the greatest number of practices for the fewest numbers of contests. A negative mindset might view this massive investment of personal time as ill-conceived. Our seniors only wish after the season ended was to somehow rewind the clocks and return to August.

As coaches we say that our programs will help impart life lessons to our student-athletes, but I have found that without careful planning, the lessons coaches impart may be poorly constructed or yield unintended messages. For example, physical conditioning is a necessary tool for any athlete, and it should never be used as punishment. Teams don’t “have to” run sprints because they failed to play well; teams “get to” prepare themselves physically for future success by working tirelessly without any certainty of outcome. We run “victory sprints.”

All the positive mindset in the world doesn’t mean much, though, without great, consistent leadership. This fall, we were privileged to be led by three steadfast captains: Folger Hogg, Jack Kneisley and Charlie Hite. Captains can be transformative leaders in any arena, but all too often resign themselves to leading team stretches and generic pre-game speeches. Our 2018 captains practiced what they preached and were as present and vocal during our failures as during our conquests. These captains embodied the idea that they had been elected to a leadership position by their peers and that leadership takes many forms. As captains, they got to lead extra sprints after practice, they got to talk with their friends about poor effort in practice, they got to address the team after crushing defeats. They didn’t have to do any of these tasks.

We opened the season on an ideal September night, defeating Poly Prep at Fall Sting, a first for Hackley since 1995. Fans and family charged the field. The game was streamed live online and Enzi Teacher was recognized by LoHud as player of the week. Every able-bodied athlete at Hackley would want to be part of a night like that. We ended the season on a freezing November night before a crowd of brave parents and a few Hackley faithful. Only the core football family remained. The constant between these events was the work and the brotherhood generated by our leaders past and present. Our football team practiced 70 times for 8 games. We didn’t have to practice, we were blessed with the opportunity to compete and improve together.

Hoisting the 2018 Metropolitan Independent Football Bowl Championship trophy.

As we wrapped up our 2018 campaign in Allen Memorial Hall, my favorite part of the night was hearing from our captains and their reflections on the season. They highlighted the necessity of hard work, of persevering through adversity, of seizing opportunities when they arise. In the decades ahead, we will see what success these young men of the 2018 team ultimately achieve. Will our young men go forth to attack life with a positive mindset or not? My sincere hope is they take their “get to” mindset and continue to excel in all facets of their life. They get to go to college, they get to go work, they get to start a family, and so on.

For me, I got to be their coach and am grateful for the opportunity.