I have also had a chance to have some amazing and productive discussions with coaches, parents, and students at my school as well.
And though I am still learning, I have felt inspired to write out some thoughts on what I call, Cannibalizing Your Team. Cannibalization is literally 'eating your own team'. And cannibals can be found among any and all parts of a team or surrounding community.
By the way, the cannibals are always there..... human nature is always breeding more. The existence of cannibals is not deadly unless there are too many OR the cannibals are KEY CONSTITUENTS of a team or organization.
Cannibals eat away so many things.... but the overall impact is a loss of opportunity, a loss of positive momentum/energy, or the erosion of core values.
I once worked with a coach ( a great coach by the way) who was very upset about the way we did a certain aspect of our football team. This practice was a by-product of a fundamental piece of our philosophy.
As the season went on, he would say in the head-sets, "This is not going to go well". And he said it EVERY SINGLE TIME the game situation dictated that decision because of our philosophy. And this went on.... game 1, game 2, game 3,4,5,6..... and then, in game 7... his prediction finally happened. Oh my goodness!....the 'I TOLD YOU SO' that came from him was as loud and obnoxious as any I have ever even IMAGINED.
The next coaches meeting, he was armed and ready. When we got to that place in the film, it was obvious that the decision was what it was.... but the execution of the decision was the major problem for failure.
I stopped the film.... "you know... I have been listening to you on the head-set for 7 games in a row. You have predicted this EVERY SINGLE time. Your prediction FINALLY happened... but that is like me predicting rain everyday during a five year drought until it finally rains for 5 minutes. Congratulations!" You could have cut the tension with a knife.
And that coach did not stay in the program after the season was over. As good a coach as he was, his unwillingness to buy into this was a constant corrosion. He wanted to be SO RIGHT... that he was DEAD RIGHT.
WORK TO MAKE IT WORK
Here is an OPPOSITE illustration of this.
In 1999, we lost our ALL-State Tailback on a freak play to a torn ACL... the last play of the first half. It was mid-season, we lost the game, and people were beginning to wonder if we could win back-to-back state titles. It looked doubtful.
We played two more games with a quality back-up and personnel packages and won those. But we were not the dynamic offense we had been. We still had an elite defense and as far as our record, we were still a favorite to win it all.
Our head coach, Fred Yancey, surprised all of us in week 8 of the regular season by announcing a DRAMATIC move. We were going to take our starting SAM linebacker and move him to Fullback and move our Fullback to Tailback. What made this even more startling is that neither player had played those positions ALL YEAR! And the linebacker had never run with the football in his entire football life!
Immediately, there was the typical assistant coaching pushback...but Coach Yancey was adamant. This was a HC decision and he walked out.
I was offensive coordinator... but both defensive assistants AND offensive assistants kept pressing me to change Coach Yancey's mind.
I simply looked at them and said, "Guys, this is his team.. this is his decision. So, we have two choices.... gripe and moan OR get to work to make this work." And we did.
Now don't get me wrong... THIS WAS NOT EASY... and the early results were flat ugly... but we worked it with positive energy and we won the State Championship. The tailback was MVP of the game and the fullback scored on 3rd and goal at a critical time early in the game.
Winners, champions, and competitors learn early in their battles that cannibals never win. Dream killers and blame game hand wringers are always examples of self-fulfilling prophecies.
We do it to coaches as well..... I wonder how many programs would be more successful if they embraced their coach instead of tearing him down in endless opining of opinions. You know what a good play call is? One that works. And a bad play call doesn't.
I'm not saying that you never make changes... but I KNOW of teams who stole away their opportunities to be good because of cannibalism.
Now, one more important point is this. A lack of virtue is a type of cannibalism. we live in a world that seeks to tear down our rivals.
COMPETING WITH CLASS AND HONOR
Coach Bryant taught the State of Alabama to do it differently. He taught me as a fan and later, as a player to show class and respect toward the opponent. It is more honorable to beat a worthy opponent than to beat an unworthy one.
But we tweet 'hate week', and we spew venom, and we ridicule and mock the opposing team... so is it really a great victory if we beat them?
An example 1965 ALABAMA:
Alabama opened against Georgia on a blistering hot day in Athens for the 1965 season. Tom Brakefield was with the Bear Bryant show film crew, wiping away sweat, and enjoying every snap of a fierce contest pitting Coach Bryant against Vince Dooley.
Even though Alabama struggled all day, even going in at halftime down 10-0, Alabama rallied in the 2nd half and took a late 17-10 lead.
What took place next in the game was recently ranked by The Bleacher Report as #3 of the 12 greatest plays in college football history.
Coach Dooley called it 'flea flicker' but today is more known as a 'hook and lateral'. Kirby Moore threw the ball to Pat Hodgson who then flicked it to Bob Taylor who ran for a 73 yard touchdown to bring the score to 17-16. Georgia converted the 2 point extra points to win 18-17!
The problem was.... it looked very clear to the Alabama faithful that Pat Hodgson's knee was down, thus making the play 'dead' on the catch and the touchdown should have been disallowed!
You have to think that Alabama fans felt snake-bit. It was the first game since Joe Namath had seemingly been robbed of a game winning TD in the Orange Bowl and now they lost the opening game to a missed call in Athens!
Tom Brakefield saw a clean angle and knew he had a camera all over it. He carefully noticed which canister was going to have the field level proof!
Sure, enough, the Bear Bryant Show crew had indisputable video evidence that 'Bama had been robbed by the Bulldogs!
When Coach Bryant came in that Sunday morning to prepare for the live telecast that afternoon, he shocked everyone! As soon as he saw the clip he stopped and said as clear and forceful as he could:
"Men, I never have won a game on Sunday because of film. Please take this clip out and give it to me."
When the show went live from Channel 13 that Sunday, Coach Bryant taught the entire state on how to lose with class.
And Tom Brakefield used it to teach an even bigger lesson!
"You want to know the biggest part of that story? We lost to Georgia, we TIED Tennessee- but still upset Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the National Championship. At Alabama, Coach Bryant started a lesson that, even today, we understand.... if you do it right... you always have a chance!"
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I am going to make a plea to every athlete, coach, and parent reading this. Don't be a cannibal! Don't be that person who always focuses on the flaws. Don't create small circles of whiners and complainers who whisper in the dark and throw darts.
A winner is hopeful... even to the very last snap, he believes he can find a way to win. And in the end, that relentless optimism gave him MORE of a chance... where a doubtful pessimist robbed his team of the opportunity.
Competition with honor is rewarding... win or lose.
Winning without honor... is never really a victory.