One of the things that is interesting about coaching youth football is to study those that have consistent success and compare them to those who don’t. Hopefully by sharing that information with coaches, they can try to replicate what the successful coaches do and avoid what the unsuccessful coaches do. One of the less quantifiable attributes I see from most of the consistently successful coaches is calm confidence. Even when faced with what seem like insurmountable odds, most of the consistently successful coaches have an air of calmness and confidence about them. Somehow this air seems to find its way into the persona of the teams they coach. These teams don’t panic when they are down in a game, they don’t freak out when a call or bad bounce doesn’t go their way. They don’t collapse when a star player gets injured.
While most youth football coaches try to find their football footing by studying Xs and Os, some of their best training could be learned from other sources. Recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with studying the Revolutionary War. George Washington was a general who was proclaimed the father of our country, but he was much more than that, he was the consummate turnaround coach. He was pressed into service as commander, because there weren’t any qualified American generals willing to take on the task. His “army” of rabble were poorly equipped, poorly fed and had little to no combat experience or formal training. He had no Navy, little ammunition and the “community support” was about half. He lost almost all of his early battles and there was lots of attrition, in one 6 month time period, over 2/3 of his army deserted. He had “assistant coaches”, generals, who were both incompetent and in many cases backbiting and scheming to take his job. His ranks were often times full of diseased and undisciplined “troops” that were facing the most successful, most well equipped, most well disciplined and well trained armies of the world. Washington faced experienced and successful opponents who thought the conflict would be nothing more than a minor skirmish extinguished in a few short months. In football terms, the Brits thought the game would be over in mercy rule in the first quarter and by most accounts it probably was. Yet Washington held out against excruciating odds.
Privately, he worried and wrote letters to his wife Martha about how dire his circumstances were. He shared his fear of the power and might of the Hessian and English troops he was facing. He wrote passionately about the near impossibility of his task and how little help he was getting from his generals and the Continental Congress. He longed for getting back to his farm and his family. He had fear of failure, he worried and he complained about his circumstances. But only he and his trusted wife knew of these fears.
But on the surface, in front of his troops, he never wavered. He was always calm, confident, well dressed and even a little aloof. Even in battles that were going very poorly, he was always reported to be calm, in control, in charge, deliberate and confident. He was said to always being immaculately coifed, he took great pride in his appearance and even greater pride in his attitude in front of his troops. Imagine that fateful evening crossing the Delaware to attack the Brits and the Hessians in Trenton. In football terms the Hessians were the 200-0, the greatest “select” team of all time. Big, well fed, well trained, well equipped and they had never lost. They were considered the monsters of the midway. Washington’s troops had been crushed by this very same “team” months before. Now Washington was attacking this “team” with his “team” who had lost huge numbers to desertion and disease in the meantime. When landing problems and weather issues stranded 2/3 of the attacking force for this battle, Washington attacked with just 1/3 of the forces that were originally intended. This attack was made after a 10 mile forced march in near blizzard conditions in freezing cold, where 2 men froze to death along the way. This rag tag band of Americans, some with rags on their feet for shoes, won this decisive battle that helped turn the tides of the war.
While I don’t equate football to war, there are many parallels to Washington’s plight and what many youth football face every season. Many times we are given a job we really don’t want, we don’t have great gear, our opponents have better players than us, we don’t have great community support, we don’t have experienced players, we have kids or coaches who quit, we have assistant coaches that aren’t supportive and we suffer some crushing defeats along the way. In the midst of all these problems, that many youth football coaches face, you must appear to others as calm and confident, even in an especially in the direst of circumstances. Washington accomplished this by making his outward emotional state a priority, he knew all eyes were on him at all times. He was keenly aware of how his actions and demeanor would impact his troops and generals. He also leaned heavily on prayer and meditation. Understand that you are going to be under that same type of scrutiny, from your coaches, players and parents. How are you preparing yourself to be up to the task? Take some time before each practice to quietly remind yourself of that scrutiny and the importance of having that air of confidence and calmness in front of your “troops”.
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