Tuesday, March 29, 2022

We All Have Pre-Suppositions

 

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. 

You are considering the 'story' you have been told your whole life. All around you is evidence that this story has a long history with humans. So you ask, "Tell me why I believe it is no mere myth."

'Let's assume for the sake of the argument that the Creator does exist. He not only created all of the natural world- but He also supernaturally revealed, watched over, protected his written communication to mankind. This narrative is the creation, fall, redemption, and ultimate consummation of all things. The story is pieced together in a variety of ways- Nature itself is a piece- The history of Israel and their Sacred writings are a piece- The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the apex of the story- The God-breathed writings of eye-witnesses are another important part- sealed with martyrs blood. According to John Calvin- knowing yourself is a piece of this mystery- the shared deep inner life and complex outer life of human beings throughout history.

I want to mention another important part of this tale. There is such a vast difference between the Creator and the creature that He must reveal Himself in an accommodating way. Our first mistake is that we think of "God' like He is some sort of super-human..but He is something beyond ALL OF OUR UNDERSTANDING. God's  'teaching technique' (revelation) is NOT pretense for it does reveal truth and reality. But it is revealed truth in a way that can be understood. And the understanding takes place in time and history. And it is so simple yet complex...it takes TIME for it to make sense.

The grand story contains another plot development- this is where you and I come in- we show up in the story and find ourselves in a world gone wrong. How did that happen you ask? The Creator created a good world (without Him we wouldn't even really know what 'good' is)- part of life's goodness was pure freedom. The capacity to love and have relationship is maximized in the power of choice. The King gave the subjects unbound freedom- not only the 'possibility of evil' but a 'probability' of evil because of the amazing talents and powers of these creatures.

Previous to the human story- there seems to have already been those who chose the 'NO' option:' I will do it my way'- the true character of the Creator requires consequences for violation of His nature. Notice He does not choose here- this is what He is.

This fateful rebellion also happened in the human realm. SO that all of creation bears the marks of a 'curse'. One result of this curse and rebellion is the emergence of three distinct enemies to the Kingdom of the Creator. The world ( the unified system of rebellion)- the flesh (the default mode of the rebel)- and the devil (a supernatural leader of a powerful army of rebels).

One more item in this story is a 'transferable disease' in the creature- a natural desire to rebel - which results in a separation from the Creator. Indeed, the core of this message is the Creator's actions to restore the divide.

The great character in this story is the Hero- the Creator/King/Father- giving up His begotten (not created) Son- who emptied Himself of His Royal Rule- becoming a creature Himself- living in perfect obedience in the face of enemies- and then paying the punishment of a rebel- fulfilling the shadows of the sacrificial system that has been practiced throughout human history- appeasing the wrath of the Creator by the shedding of blood and offering sacrificial worship.

The Creator accepts this great sacrifice as a substitute for rebellion. His wrath is satisfied in the blood of His Son. This King affirmed His acceptance by raising the son from the dead and bestowing on Him universal honor- salvation is in His name alone.

So there is now a way back to the King. Those who were once rebels may lay down their arms and come home. The creatures have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Son. The once sworn enemies are now not only cleared of their crimes but even adopted into the royal family. These sons are now heirs. The terms of this covenant? A willingness to be ruled and a trust in the Son's sacrifice.

Though many still refuse- they will get better and better at refusing Him- ultimately sealing their eternal state. The Creator Himself overcomes the rebellious spirit of some- allowing many to accept restoration. Their stories are strikingly similar "I once was a rebel determined for death but now I am a royal son and a high priest to my Father the King. What a gracious ruler He is."

Be very careful in this part.... push yourself a little here...."Am I willing to be a little suspicious about my judgements and opinions ?".... you can do this

Though you have been exposed to the narrative, you come to point in your life where you begin to weigh whether this story is real or myth. How on earth can you validate a Creator who is seen only by the accommodating structures He has used? People tell you all kinds of things, but who is trustworthy? How can you know what path to choose? Is it important.

And this is a race against time- all of us get captivated by the fact that one day, we will no longer be here. 

A huge problem is that IF the story is true then you are going to be infected with the attitude of resistance. If that is true...you are trying to judge based with  a pre-wired attitude. One friend whispers 'hogwash'- 'another man says 'trust'- your inner voices are pulled and there is a mighty battle being waged way down deep- so deep that we have to use a metaphor... the heart. Yes-I'm telling you that you should also regard yourself with a healthy suspicion.

This battle takes place over time- it is a fight for years- there is weariness and doubt and inconsistencies all around.

But once again you come to a quiet moment and ask the most dangerous question a man can ask- "What if I am wrong?"- "IF the story is true then I am deceived and cannot judge the validity of the message in a neutral way- I am biased- I don't evaluate evidence- I twist it- I rationalize it- What am I to do?"

Soon, though, the thoughts slip away and you notice something- you are stronger now in your doubts. You meet others who are stronger still. It is not long before you meet some who reject the story as myth and even mock the claims.

You see that there are staged debates where each side offers up their arguments and evidence- but no one is ever swayed. The loyalists celebrate their 'slam dunk win' and the 'rebels roll their eyes at the foolish faith of the 'believers".

Then you read this, and you somehow venture into this battle that now only feels like a routine of ideas in your 'heart'. It doesn't take long to see that I am a 'believer'. After a series of meaningless points and counter points, you ask me the deadly question: "Aren't you just biased and hiding behind your 'faith'."

My response feels like a win for you at first, but also pushed your first angry button. 

"Of course I am biased. Of course I am living by faith. But you are too!"

This frustrates you: "I am not a person of faith- I have facts and science."

I respond again: "You are confident in your evidence. I am confident in my evidence. But do we really have proof as we discuss evidence? If we stop here, we both are left with probabilities."

Something strange begins to happen- you are opening yourself up just a little. You feel weak on the inside but would never show it on the outside. It is a quiet thought- He's right- we are both biased and I am putting some faith in my logical arguments and evidences.

Then the most dramatic question you have ever pondered comes screaming into your soul.

I say, 'Let's try something different- You know, we have spent all of this time arguing the King's narrative of why the things are the way they are and why we are here.

'Try this- let's remove the Creator completely out of the picture. Tell me your grand story. How did all of this get to be. How do we even have grounds to share our story. Where do the rules of logical analysis come from to evaluate the story? Where does the will to reject the story come from? Why does it even matter? Remember- no miracle allowed."

You know that there has to be a big bang in there somewhere- but other than that - you realize that you have a lot of fantastical statements you are about to make. And deep down you know that not even you will buy it.

You look at me and even have a sense of anger. You think I am an arrogant, foolish, prude. If I say I care for you- you won't believe it. And if you watch me long enough you will see my inconsistencies. But you also see that I really believe the message of grace.

Once more you consider the narrative- What if I am in rebellion to the living Creator/King? And you want to fight the cynic in you that says 'it just sounds too easy to be true."

I continue to pray for you. I know you can't win this battle- I am asking the real Father- the Creator- The King to shine His love deep down and open your eyes to His glorious love and truth. "Father- please do for him right now what you have done for me. I don't deserve your grace- please welcome this lost son home."

You attack again with questions: 

What about the hypocrites? I say look at the Son. 
What about injustice? I say look at the Son. 
What about those who never hear? I say "You have just heard- what are you going to do? Look at the Son."

And a little tear forms in your eye- you want to come home- it is too weary a fight and without hope. You want the despair and fear to leave. You want an embrace. It is no longer about an argument of ideas.....

 It is now about the deepest thirst of your soul......

So pray... reach out... maybe start with thanking Him. He is that close to you....

Thursday, March 24, 2022

What Are the Pieces in the Team 'Trust' Puzzle?

In the fragile process of becoming a team that can sustain the storm of competition, 'trust' may be the most important factor. There are others.... a competitive team must have a work ethic, confidence, perseverance, patience, toughness.... but without trust (which is a component of love as well) I don't think the other qualities have a foothold to stand firm in the storms of competition.

For decades, in the 'training camp' portion of seasons, I repeat this phrase over and over- if you are around me for any length of time you will hear me say it like a well worn mantra, "Players trust players, players trust coaches, coaches trust players, coaches trust coaches". Like a lot of things I say, it originally came from David Cutcliffe. And it takes a lot of work, mistakes, conversations, and time to develop this and keep this in place. 

So.... Let's dig in here a little bit, what is the level of trust needed from the player? How do we get there? 

CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL TRUST

Every championship level team I have ever had ranked super high in the trust category. I will state it again: "Players trust players, players trust coaches, coaches trust players, coaches trust coaches"

So what does this mean? Is it only a factor of continuous success? 

I say that you HAVE to have "trust' to have success, but "YES" it is strengthened as well when success accompanies the process.

Also, the trust factor is not measured in wins and good times....  this type of trust shows up in the tough times, when doubts and questions begin to rise.

TRUST DOES NOT MEAN THAT A PLAYER IS A MINION

True "TRUST" is nurtured in human reality and flourishes in a worldview of mistakes, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Have you ever been in a competitive dog fight? I reckon it is a mini-version of the chaos we call 'the fog of war'. Testosterone fills the air, bravado overwhelms passivity, and the intensity glows red hot. Do you suppose that there can be tempers and mis-understanding in that context? Would it shock people to know that we have occasional fights at football practice?! They generally don't last long, the guys have on pads and it doesn't take but a few times to realize that punching a helmet is pretty stupid.

We call this 'mess up, fess up, and grow up'. We don't condone the fight... but competition is more warrior than gentleman. We have to work really hard on those boundary lines. And it helps those lines to not get crossed during games.

Championship level trust is that a player will grow to trust a coach has the team's best interests in mind and is making tough choices. Championship level trust is when a coach will put a kid back in after a mistake and keep giving him a chance to grow in confidence, even in the storm.

LOCKER ROOM "SIDE" TALK

Do you want to know what I believe is the best evidence for team trust? What do the players say when no other coach is around?

Now this is harder than we might believe. As a teen matures, the peer group begins to supplant the authority structures in their life. And that stays in place throughout life. I suffer as much from peer pressure as the 16-18 year olds I coach. Sure, I would love for one of my players to tell me that I am a good coach... but nothing makes me happier as when a fellow coach tells me I am a good coach. 

And in the exchange of these structures, there becomes a 'questioning' of authority structures. If that side talk is rooted in a lack of trust for the coaches, then it can become a real drag on the performance of a team. Healthy teams always have some of the griping about the boss as some comic relief, but it never doubts the intentions or the expertise of the coach. 

I believe it is a mistake for a coach to be paranoid about the 'side talk'... don't demand trust... if you are demanding it, it won't blossom anyway. Instead do what you can to build trust on your end. And forgive immature kids when they doubt.

Remember what Jesus would say? "Of ye of little faith"!

The 'Side Talk' piece doesn't mean the team agrees with every call, but the overall talk is 'do what the coach asks' and the team has an overall obligation to obey. I think this is ultimately the greatest evaluation of player leadership. Good team leaders demand that the head coach be faithfully followed.

It is also a mark of spiritual maturity... am I willing to trust God when His Word counters what my peers are telling me? That is not just a question for a teen, it is more important today for me.

 A MISSING PIECE ? 

"Players trust players, players trust coaches, coaches trust players, coaches trust coaches"

What missing here?

What about parents?

Well , for the success of a sports team,  parents are a factor in how easy or hard it is to develop team trust- but their trust is not required. And even as I write this, I can feel the pushback. And this is where I want to be clear and careful.

I want parents to trust me, and just the opportunity I have to coach their child already indicates that a high and special 'trust' is in place.

But the team trust I am writing about is deeper.... it come from time together, tears together, celebration together, hours of meeting, film, weights. And the TIME it takes to build that level of trust will likely NEVER take place between a parent and me unless we are friends beyond the world of school and sports.

A parent will love their child more than I ever can, the "LOVE" word I use is different from the "LOVE" word a parent uses. In the same way, the "TRUST" needed for me to coach a player to championship level competition is way deeper than any level of trust I could hope for or expect a parent to have in me or my program.

A parent can't be at every film session, meeting, coaches meetings, practice... and the sheer lack of time will prevent team trust.

However, I have had some amazing parents who by faith pressed their sons to trust me, even when it seems illogical or hard to do so... and that support does help the trust to deepen at a faster than normal rate.

So know that I am praying for all teams... 'keep the faith"- keep hope in place... and build trust. Teams who grow together in trust will never regret the process and find a great culture that lasts a lifetime!


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Coaches: Be Master Motivators, Not Master Manipulators

Hollywood normally does not treat coaches well in movies. There are exceptions of course, but many of the early 'football' movies in particular that I experienced in my developmental years tended to portray coaches in a negative light.

A little more recent example was the 2004 film, Friday Night Lights, based on the book by the same title. The film is based on the Permian High School program and the iconic head coach is played by Billy Bob Thornton. The final locker room speech is a great moment in the film, but the overall treatment of Coach  Gaines in the movie is that he is rather manipulative and largely uncaring about his players. It shows his habitual choice to shade the truth and leaves doubt and questions about the overall integrity of his procedures.

My personal experience with coaches, both as a player and as a 30 plus year coach hasn't encountered this very often. Most of the men I played for, coached with, and coached against had incredible motives and character. Human? YES! Perfect? NOT EVEN CLOSE! But they were trustworthy and had great empathy for their players.

Now, I do have to readily admit that a teen can mis-read, pre-judge, and carry an opinion to the opposite. I often find that these players can create an 'echo chamber' where they can take a mistake or a flaw and magnify it. This will sometimes carry over to parents and other players.

I have experienced that personally. I have had some difficult parent meetings over the years where the player's opinion and report about me questioned my care and concern for the young man I was coaching. And to be honest, nothing hurts more than a player who believes that I am a bad person or that I have treated them poorly.

The majority of the time, a player will not tell me this to my face- but he will be quick to tell other players or even his parents.

I have to be extremely honest here, I have made mistakes with players in my past, especially my early years as a coach. There are times I have lost my temper, judged too quickly, accused too harshly, and used sarcasm or shaming techniques to send a message to others. I even would use some techniques with the excuse 'that was how I was coached' thinking it is justification for some motivational tools that have long lost their effectiveness.

I have had to pick up the phone in my past to call a player and apologize for something I said to him at practice. Thankfully, these moments were not a trend, and as I grew as a coach, the more rare they became. Keep trying.. never give up and sadly, you can't win them all. For those hard cases, seek to have others on your staff to reach those that you aren't gelling with. Learn to practice forgiveness and seek authentic conversations.

Today, it seems to be even more of a challenge. Players today have great empathy towards classmates who they think may be getting singled out or mistreated. I advise coaches to jump on the team in general, but be careful about calling out individuals in front of the group. You can end up winning a battle, but could lose the team in the process. Spend time looking at all of the players on your roster and find ways to make all of them successful. The talent level is never the same- but they all have worth as humans created in God's image.

Coaches who do succeed in sharp words are usually very relational and communicative. If the players KNOW you care for them, they tend to give more allowance for tongue lashings. But the average player today will tune out a coach who only has one volume all the time. The coach who gets away with it is usually seen as fair, caring, and will pass out praise as well. But these are rare exceptions in today's world.

Also- COACH THEM- don't scream at them to block...teach them the techniques about how to block!

Consider this...parents like my dad don't hardly exist anymore. My dad was TOUGH on me. And if a coach roasted me in practice or a game, he backed that coach up at home. I learned quickly that my dad was not a complain safe zone. 

One of my favorite stories was one that Coach Yancey told about his dad. When he was a young player in Memphis, Coach Yancey came home and was bellyaching about how his coaches were treating him. Coach Yancey's dad looked at him and said, "Well why don't you be a suck egg hound and quit."

I laughed when he told me that story, even though I didn't know what a 'suck egg hound' was... but it sure sounded bad!

Today can be a very different story...there are GREAT parents out there and I never count it as a negative that parents love their children. Try to win them all! I still believe that a successful development of an athlete needs to be as much of a partnership with the parent as possible. A coach can never guarantee playing time, but they should guarantee that a player will be treated fairly and compassionately.... even though the love is sometimes 'tough love'. You can be team first and still care for individuals. Here is a winning edge...win the kid and you will likely win the parent as well.

The main purpose of this post is to make us a coaches WARY of our motivational tools. A young person is impressionable and we need to understand that 'a disciple when he is fully trained will tend to be just like his mentor'. I tend to coach the way I was coached- and I need to be cognizant that my players will likely end up coaching like I do... even if it is just their own children.

And in motivating my players... I need to motivate in truth, not pretense. I also don't need to overcook the emotional rollercoaster ride. If I'm not careful, I can take a pre-game talk and create inappropriate mechanisms like anger, hate, revenge, or life/death scenarios that create unintended consequences.

Don't get me wrong... I love a good pep talk. And a skilled and beloved coach can create a mindset and motivation with a flair for the dramatic. These are great stories to tell as the years go by. But the emotion of the moment at some point will melt away to real game ebbs and flows. And if we tap the emotions too much, our players can become numb at a time you least wanted it.

Here are some examples:

  • Never tell a false story to pump up a team
  • Tell them the truth- you can be honest without being negative.
  • Constantly evaluate the messaging in the music that your team uses to get them fired up. 
  • Hold your opponent up as worthy competition- don't make them an enemy. It is OK to have a big rival...but be careful about 'hate' or character assassination.

If you aren't careful, you may create a monster that you regret later. 

INTENSITY OVER EMOTION

Our football team will often lose the ‘warm-up’. I can’t tell you how many times we have been preparing to play teams and they are ‘fired up’. Some teams really put on a show with all kind of pump up antics. One year I remember a team coming out of the locker room for warm-ups and barking like a pack of wild dogs! 

My experience has convinced me that all of the pre-game hype lasts about 15 seconds into the game. Once the game begins, any manufactured emotion melts into the intensity of battle. I love emotion, but I want real emotion based on what is happening on the field. Teams that live on emotion will have games of highs and games of flat lows. It is hard to get pumped up week after week with emotion. The players end up feeling unprepared if it is all based on pre-game hype and they ‘don’t feel it’. We want something more reliable. 

We teach this as ‘intensity over emotion’. The feelings may come and go as the momentum changes, but we demand fiery focus and a commitment to lay it all on the line for your brother in the trenches. And this doesn't mean there isn't room for emotion... but let it be emotion that lifts up and not tears down. We have to continue to preach sportsmanship and class in a culture that seems to be losing it in many areas.

THE BEST MOTIVATORS

Over my course of time, I have admired and even been jealous of those larger than life, charisma saturated, 'kid magnets' who can hold a team in the palm of their hand. But I also plead with those types of coaches to never abuse that power.... always point upward and lift up those around you.

Even though human nature hasn't changed, the cultural pressures do call for wise adjustments to motivate and encourage. And the bottom line... it is the relationship that matters. Not buddy buddy, but a compassionate mentor who is in it for life.

One of my dear friends, Lee Hall, is one of the best I have ever seen to love his players for life. Not every coach has that ability.. but we can all seek to build bridges of communication built on love and care for the long term success of our athletes.

And though it is tough at times, pressing your players to honor their parents and others in authority is important as well.

For the coach who desires to have a ministry.... consider this passage.

TITUS 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

 This passage in Titus contains many of these the exact sentiments- notice the focused intensity. Paul writes for us to be’ trained to say NO’ to worldly passions and have a steady, disciplined, steadfast hope which is ‘zealous’ to serve the Lord in our lives through good deeds of godliness. 

I know some Christians who live their spiritual lives on feelings. “I don’t feel close to God” or “I don’t feel like my prayers are getting through”. Please keep in mind that your salvation is not based on feelings but faith in the fact of God’s promise. 

Feelings will come with the natural flow of life, but they are very fickle and totally unreliable. God’s grace is the trainer. It melts our stubborn worldly desires and washes away our shortcomings. God’s grace props us up to walk one more day in hope. God’s grace marks us as His and eventually makes us desire to produce works for His glory. 

For spiritual living, my challenge to all of us is to get up each morning and get steadied by the truth of God’s existence and encouraged by His gospel message of salvation. Let it be these solid facts that carry us through the day and not have to rely on warm-up pep talks or motivational music. Those things will come in time, but we don’t need them. We have our hope in Christ and that is enough. In fact, it is much more intense than we could ever imagine.

I would love to hear your stories and ideas to help us in this great profession....


Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Theology For Losing?

A heads up for this blog: I'm going to spend a few posts in March and April on trends and observations in sports and then in May, I plan to explore the need for coaches to add mental health observation/education/care for their athletes and what that may look like in today's culture.

If you would like to send a guest post on mental health and coaching- please send it to me at jayopsis@gmail.com.

Here is today's post:

"We were flat." "They wanted it more than us.""The officials were terrible." "Our coaches aren't playing the right people." "That other team is a bunch of cheaters."

It is amazing how many things you hear right after a loss. Some words are healthy and healing, but a lot of 'talk' after a loss is senseless mumbling. Our natural human response is a desire to know 'why's' , we need to see 'reasons', and often we want to cast 'blame' as natural responses to the feelings we have when a team loses a game.

Is there a correct response to losing? I believe there is! I believe that wins AND losses are a great time to display our core values and priorities and can serve us well in the future when life throws victory and defeat our way... and often these life situations are more serious and consequential. And we always point to the truth of the Bible (including Romans 8:28) as help and hope in these moments.

A QUICK TIP TO COACHES- my advice is to say very little to your team after a loss. Take some time and carefully craft your response... this is a fragile time and it takes time to formulate the response. Don't squeeze toothpaste out of the tube by a scorched earth speech that you will have to do damage control later.

BALANCE- A VERY NARROW TIGHTROPE

Spend enough time with me and eventually you will hear a 'quip' that I have quoted for decades- "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." It normally gets a good chuckle from my audience and it has a history found within the cultural literacy of our society. It is normally attributed to Vince Lombardi. In Alabama, it is attributed to Coach Bryant and has been linked to many people from Richard Nixon to Tiger Woods.

Unfortunately, it is often used to justify an inappropriate response to a loss. But this is NOT an excuse.

One of my high school coaches quoted Coach Bryant as saying, "The only thing you learn from losing is that you don't want to do it again." Then, my freshman year I heard Coach Bryant say it differently when he told us, "you have to learn from losing so you do all you can to not experience it again."

When I use the quote I am referring to the reality that 'losing hurts'... and if it doesn't hurt, it may show the lack of a component necessary to be a great competitor- "winning matters'. The desire to win is an incentive to work hard, compete hard, and that the prize of victory is 'worth it'.

I Corinthian 9:25 has this 'desire for victory'  in the context of "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

But this verse also shows why the quote 'show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser' CAN"T be used to justify inappropriate reactions to losing- "They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever"

In other words, we train to respond correctly to losing BECAUSE we are competing for a higher reward and responding appropriately to a loss, means we respond with an acknowledgment that there is something higher and more important.... EVEN IF WE DON'T FEEL LIKE IT. That is what 'strict training' actually means.

So let's explore this a little bit more.....

On my desk I have another Lombardi quote: "The harder you work the harder it is to surrender." So let's be honest with ourselves... LOSING HURTS! And if it doesn't, then it is likely that you really didn't care enough to REALLY go for it. Now, to be clear, it may not show on the outside because some humans are wired to NOT show pain. My warning to coaches is to not judge a player be what you observe on the outside after a loss. And we do need to explore the balance that losing hurts... so there has to be an allowance for emotional responses. Can I really get on a player who cries after a loss? or screams? or has an outburst?

Another great challenge to coaches is "What have you done to educate your expectations to your team right after a loss?" "What are your procedures in walking your team through a loss?"

And it may be something like this- "You are going to hurt if/when we lose one day. It is going to really hurt. But in your disappointment, there are things you just cannot do. You will not throw your helmet, you will not scream profanity, you will not lash out at your teammate or opponent. But I also realize there will very hard emotions... sometimes kids hit a knee, lays down, or sits down and they don't want to get up. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes there is a desire to blame or lash out. We have to be a TEAM at that time. It is OK to hug and comfort a player who is crying. It is OK to help your brother get off the ground. It is also OK to restrain or lovingly correct or instruct a teammate who crosses the boundaries because their emotions got the best of them. And, this is important, there will be consequences for violating our clear and reasonable boundaries. This discipline is good because it is a help to grow and help you to not do that incorrect behavior again. I'm not disciplining you because I don't like you, I am discipling you out of a care for you. "

I may end up writing a separate post about 'team discipline when rules are broken' with more detail later and I believe all coaches should meditate on Hebrews 12 in this important area.  But my suggestion is to restrain and correct quickly when the inappropriate behavior occurs (and it is usually an understandable 'hot' response or reaction) but save the consequences for later after the emotions have had time to cool. When I was a head coach, I would often give consequences to a player on the next day or even the next Monday to keep the punishment as business like as possible and give me time to think about the best tools for correction.

The bottom line is that, unfortunately- losses do come. No one is undefeated except Jesus. (Note: I have said this for years and then one day a friend of mine mentioned the disciple, Judas and said "Even Jesus didn't win them all- He was 11-1" - I will let the theologians argue that one)

BUT WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL HERE- THE PENDULUM CAN GO TOO FAR

I have often had to critique Christians in this arena as well. I have had to deal with some rather bizarre theories and applications of Christian living and sports. I have had Bible teachers tell me that 'competition is antithetical to New Testament living and yet I see competition, warfare, battle, and other types of struggles all the way through the Bible. Christian living IS competition... a war between two kingdoms, a battle with sinful nature, and opposition from Babylon on almost every page.

There is also what I term the "Kumbaya Klub" where Christian teams show up, get beat really bad, and walk around with 'Jesus loves you' stickers and you make the other team feel good about beating you.

I also have to be careful with the "Win in your heart but not the scoreboard" mentality. No, the scoreboard counts. And at the end we want to experience victory and we don't like defeat.

A final critique regarding Christian views of loss includes the one I like the least... "sin in the camp".

We lost a quarterfinal football game one year and we ended the season with that lone loss- 13-1. I rarely cry after a loss (though it crushes my soul to lose), but one of my good friends walked up to me and put his hand on my heart and said "Coach, what a season! Thank you SO MUCH for all you do! Love you!". When he touched be, it was like turning on a water faucet and tears just exploded out of my eyes! It shocked me and probably was the first time I had cried in a long, long time. We just didn't grow up that way.

The next Monday, I had another friend come up to me and here is what he said. "Coach, tough loss! I have been thinking about it this weekend and here is my thought... there must have been sin in the camp." which is a reference to Joshua 7-9 when little Ai routed the Israelites because they had sinned against the Lord. My response? "Well we are in DEEP trouble then. Because as long as I'm coaching here, there will be sin in the camp." 

STREAKS AND LESSONS

In 1998, we went 15-0 and won the state championship and then went 13-2 to win a back to back state tile again in 1999. It was a culmination of an amazing winning streak where we had our fourth 10-0 regular season and at then end of that year we had a four year record  of 51-4. In those kind of streaks, you just feel like you will never lose.

As a coach I have only experienced 4 'losing' seasons in 30 years. (4-6, 5-6. 3-7, and 5-6). The 3-7 and 5-6 record came in back to back 2009 and 2010 as a head football coach (and that was my last year to ever be a head coach). Just as I felt like we would never lose in that 96-99, losing began to feel like a habit during those last two years and I sometimes wonder if I would ever win again. 

But I also learned something important. 

In that 98/99 streak we lost a tough game down in Mobile- Friday, Sept 10, 1999 to UMS-Wright 26-31. It was our 1st regular season loss since 1995 and broke our streak of 17 straight games that went back to 1997. After that loss the next Monday, I met with a heartbroken group of guys and simply said.... "Guys, so far, all that most of you have learned from football is winning. If that is all you ever get from this game, then it has been a dis-service. You also need to learn about responding to a loss." And this team did.... and went on to that 2nd championship.

But another important lesson I learned was how much I grew to love and appreciate the 3-7 team. It was comprised of a lot of young guys who lost a lot of close games. They came out and fought like warriors every game that year. They loved one another well and I never ever felt like they were 'losers'. The next year, they were better and we just had some unfortunate injury situations that season.

We tend to define success by the scoreboard.... a win is an achievement but isn't always 100% a success.

A loss is not an achievement, but it can end up leading someone to becoming a 'success'.

'REASONS' FOR A LOSS

After any loss, a coach has feelings and circumstances to process. We tend to think in terms of things we could or should have done that would change the outcome. Indeed in many sports competitions, the outcome falls on a hand full of plays or circumstances. We live by a motto that "the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win" and that is why we practice with a pursuit of perfection- but I have never seen a perfect game of a perfect practice in my 58 years of life. I might possible say 'near perfect' but how close or far away is that? It is similar to trying  meditation on eternity.

One year we suffered a very difficult loss in Nashville after a nice winning streak. As I was grading the tape it became very clear that the outcome was in some ways a result of a mistake that we had been making during our previous wins, it just didn't show up as a fatal flaw until we played an opponent who could expose and use that mistake in their favor. Ouch! Those kind of losses hurt because I should have recognized this mistake and worked to correct it BEFORE it cost us.

The last thing we tend to do in analyzing losses is to actually give the opponent credit. I get it, a competitor never believes that he couldn't have found a way to win if he had gone harder, prepared better, been smarter, had better luck, or felt like the clock just ran out... but guess what? Sometimes the other team is just better and "a beat is a beat". Coach Fred Yancey used to love telling a story about his brother Bob who very successful and was one of those  'relentlessly positive' coaches. His team lost one night 49-7 and Fred called his brother to console him. Bob's response? "Fred, we were right there with them until they scored 42 points!" And we all have to love that attitude!

So there are quite a number of factors that can contribute to a loss, many of them are actually out of a team's control- other team better, bad bounce, unfortunate injury, controversial or missed official's call, weather impacted, team illness, emotional crisis... and others

But let's explore some components that can contribute to a loss that we underestimate or miss or could be improved or controlled..

MENTAL FREEZE UP OR NEGATIVE VOICES

I have written on this before, but athletes who are burdened by expectations or consumed by mis-guided, results oriented validation will under-perform in pressure situations. Because I work with teens, this is the hardest hurdle to overcome because the immaturity of the individual hasn't allowed for a solid development in this arena. It takes a starting varsity QB a full 3-5 games in the heat of battle until I believe they are adequately pressurized to handle a do or die situation.

My experience with athletes over the last two decades has shown me that the issue is more prominent today than in previous decades and I primarily blame the pressure on kids to earn a scholarship. And I believe they play in too many meaningless games where winning or losing is of no consequence because it is simply a have fun and showcase 'my stats' to get noticed by the scouts.

The problem with coaches today is that we are too quick to label a kid as mentally weak or a poor competitor and we don't persevere enough with a kid and let them grow up in their ability to focus and fight with freedom. As long as a kid is focused on himself and his reward, he will rarely pull through in the clutch. We have to create TEAM concepts- "I am fighting for my brother. I am going to lift him up." Then my stats don't matter, we celebrate a win together. Starters, stars, role players, and sideline personnel all come together and win together.

I usually cringe when a college scout shows up at one of our games. It almost always will cause the athlete to freeze up and underperform, because they are playing for an audience of one.... and it is the wrong 'one'.

The real winners... free to win because they aren't afraid to fail. I call it "free to miss means you are free to make."

BAD MATCH-UP

Some teams lose because it is just a bad match-up...  Superman's kryptonite. It isn't always personnel, I'm usually taking here about scheme/philosophy. When we were a veer option team, we would always struggle with a good 3-4 'Okie' front with 4i tackles. You have to prepare for those bad match-ups...but you know it will be ugly! A win is a win!

TEAM DIS-UNITY

Over the years, those teams that had the habit of 'snatching defeat from the jaws of victory' were suffering primarily from a lack of unity. I identify two key factors in building team unity:

(1) PLAYER LEADERSHIP- Coaches have to identify the leaders in each grade and seek to develop and train that leadership over time. I believe that waiting until the senior year is too late. I also believe it is appropriate to give leadership training to all athletes- most of them will be leaders in their sphere of influence. But I see it all the time- if the coaches are the only positive and persevering voices in the locker room... the team has no real shot at becoming unified.

(2) TRUST- Deep trust is the bedrock of team unity. David Cutcliffe was the first person I ever heard say it this way "coaches trust players, players trust coaches, players trust players, coaches trust coaches". A loss will strain these relationships more than any other. A hard loss will divide a team more than anything. I always watch players deal with a loss and it is the 'locker room whispers' that say more to me than anything. It is a fragile time and can sink a season. As soon as the grumbling and murmuring and questioning begins in force- that team will cease to grow and improve and the decay will begin.

One last point about unity..... unity does not mean 'universal agreement with all decisions' but it is a willingness to trust each person to fulfill their role. I think a player can question me in terms of who I play, what I call, or even how we train. The key is that the difference in opinion doesn't erode our relationship. It also means there has to be a level of trust to discuss these things. I'm a little unusual in that I give senior players the right to bark (even at me) but I also demand that we meet after those moments and discuss it. I need to be humble enough to listen and then they need to be trusting enough to make a decision work. 

Some of my greatest conversations over the years has been when a QB sits down with me and really gets honest... "On 3rd and long, when you call (any play- screen, draw, post, dig, out, etc), I just don't like it."

And then, instead of being mad, I simply say, "why?" and then we have a terrific conversation. And we end with a promise, I have listened, "let's work on it, but when things are called in the game... do it with your honest best effort and don't worry about the results... keep competing".

So now we close; is there a theology of loss?

For a follower of Christ... yes there is. We trust God to use every failure to produce a fruit of growth. Even if we don't see a 'reason' we have to trust that there is an opportunity.

I don't have to LIKE LOSING to EMBRACE THE LOSS.

The long term loser has it the toughest... but also has the greatest chance to become the toughest winner when the circumstances change- EVERYONE LOVES A COMEBACK!

What we DON"T DO is pout, blame, quit, gripe.

Instead-  we get up, we keep moving forward, we learn, we help others

And we don't listen to the critics, the doomsdayers, the naysayers... 

Those people have never won anything significant in their entire lives.

Further reading on previous posts:

http://www.jayopsis.com/2011/11/how-football-pain-points-to-gospel.html

http://www.jayopsis.com/2005/10/we-lost-praise-lord.html

http://www.jayopsis.com/2009/08/going-for-two-and-providence-of-god.html

http://www.jayopsis.com/2021/07/the-only-way-to-lose-is-to-quit.html











Monday, March 07, 2022

Signaling In Plays

I have been thinking a lot lately about the strategy of signaling.


Getting the call into the offense is a balance of time, efficiency, accuracy, and security.

Former Alabama QB and kicker, Danny Ridgeway was Coach Bryant's messenger. He would run onto the field, tell the huddle, and run off to the sideline before the NCAA changed the rule that if a player came onto the field, he had to stay for a play.

I remember how Bob Finley, (the hall of fame high school coach of Hoover back when it was Berry High School) would have Stan White would run over after every play to the sideline and Coach would tell him the play and he would run back. There were no play clocks back then and I don't remember many delay of games.

Most teams used to (and a lot still do) run in the play with players from the sideline.

All teams had signals for 2 minute offense- but with the rise of no huddle teams which led to nascar pace teams created the need to signal.

Stealing signals is as old as baseball.

I know personally of coaches and games at both the HS and college level where a big part of the win was the stealing of either offensive of defensive signals from the sideline. All an offensive coach needs to do is know the coverage and whether the defense call is a base or blitz and you can scheme wise make a good call.

Of course, most offensive coaches today just check snap and look to the sidelines where the defense has tipped where it is anyway.

I do know of some teams who change or bluff change the defensive call after that.

Stealing an offense's signals requires a longer study but I know it happens. 

I think teams who are vulnerable are those who signal all the time, even in pre-game, at freshmen games, at JV games, in 7 on 7 tournaments- if you watch a team for any length of time in those situations you will know their base runs- what are their runs, their slip screen calls (dangerous to get that one), their pass concepts, and their boots.

I have been coaching long enough to have run the gamet of how to signal.

We have used:
  • colored hats- no joke- we had three guys who wore different hats to signal our quick game.
  • colored cards- same system but less cumbersome
  • wristbands using numbers- and we either put up 3 numbers on a whiteboard or put them on flip cards and poles which I made at Home Depot
  • wristbands using a pod system- ex: signal NOSE 1 or Golf 2- and players would find the nose pod on their wristband
  • signal live the play- have a signal that is associated with the name of the play
  • use combination of signals and pictures- the pictures are fun because you can get all kind of random stuff (we have used Oregon Ducks logo, Big Plane, Bush, Obama, and even one time a picture of the opposing coach)
  • Barrage of cards, numbers, charts, multiple signalers, and pictures (sometimes a big bluff): it turns the sideline into a zoo.
Problems with the 'systems'
  • Running in from sideline is slow and requires a player change, can be especially slow inside the 25 yard line and far hash, and you better hope the guys transfers the info correctly. A mouthpiece and a missed syllable can be tough. You have to have a 2 min system anyway.
  • The whiteboard with numbers is hard to see and can be a failure in the rain
  • Wristbands are slower that live and can get mis-read if all 11 players are getting it- the play caller has to turn his call to the code, the code is signaled, the players must find the code on the band. I also worried that other teams may get the wristband card or make their own as plays are called (tough in the number system if you signal 3 numbers- but doable). Or the card gets soaked and becomes unreadable. I also had a player with poor eyesight who had a hard time reading the foggy band.
  • signal live- it is too easy to find the primary signaler and you can decode his signals fairly easy.
SO what do I suggest?
  • Use multiple signalers and have them either signal 2 plays (1 live and 1 dummy) or use an open signal/close signal system like baseball.
  • IDEA: Instead of a spread, no huddle- line up in an attack huddle (4yds) with everyone but the 2 wideouts. That way only 3 players need to get the signal- QB and X,Z who stand on the #'s. Signal, say it, break and go fast. You can go as fast as a no huddle because the officials have to put the ball in play and it creates more panic on the defense.
  • Use multiple signals for the same base plays. Teach your guys that you have 3 ways to call inside zone or 3 ways to call tunnel screen. Don't use multiple signs for ALL the plays- just the ones that you use over and over.
  • Have a universal signal for "do it again, same play"
  • Have a universal signal for "flip the formation and do the same play"
  • Have a universal signal for "quick play" and change what that play is every series.
  • Have a secondary signal system- card, picture, or wristband handy- and use it for a series.
  • Do NOT use your normal signals in 7 on 7's or pre-game. I wouldn't even use them in Middle School, Freshmen, or JV games. Run kids in... get more people playing time or use a different system.

Psychological Warfare:

If you play a team that signals and you can't break their code- act like you know their code- it demoralizes the other players. I had an offensive tackle in full bore panic one game because he said "THEY KNOW OUR SIGNALS!". Our guard looked at him and said, "No they don't, they have been saying stuff like that the whole time and mostly wrong"- but it did impact that player's confidence.

If you do crack the code- try to NOT SHOW IT- take the cheese all night without ever displaying that you know where it is.

Finally, there is the story of Tennessee playing UCLA one year where the offensive line coach from UT had gone to UCLA. It caused a debate among the UT coaches of whether or how much to change checks and calls because UCLA would know a lot about their language and signals.

Coach Cutcliffe and the staff decided to do nothing different and it stayed that way for 3 quarters. But in the 4th quarter, Peyton Manning checked to the quick game hitch like they had done ...forever. But the coaches, counting on a steal, had instructed to run a double move, hitch and go.

Sure enough, The Bruin corner bit hard and the UT receiver scored the game clinching TD.

You better be careful- LIVE BY STEALING THE SIGNALS, DIE BY STEALING THE SIGNALS.

I DO GET JEALOUS OF THE HELMET RADIOS IN THE NFL- THAT WOULD MAKE LIFE SIMPLER.

Hope this discussion helped stir some ideas...what do you think?

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Russian Tanks and Revelation

Nothing like a European ground war to send us to Revelation 6 and squirm over the symbols with one eye on the headlines and the other in the Word.

It is almost comical to read all the ping pong points Biblical scholars make when they come to passages that involve visions. At times it reminds me of that scene in the movie, The Princess Bride- "It could be that cup based on fact A- but you know that I know fact A so it is now cup 2 because of fact B.. and so on and the answer ended up being "all of the above".

But the headlines push us back into these mysterious readings....

OIL PRICES RISE 9% IN A DAY

           Inflation at an all time high ...

Warships enter Suez Canal...
Federal, state and local debt exceeds size of entire economy...
Deadly quake rocks ... 
Witnesses report bodies in streets... 
Colossal volcano eruption sends ash plume 2 miles high....


Anytime you read a book of the Bible that contains apocalyptic visions- you become a little more sensitive to the current movements of nations and events.

I have experienced this a lot during my lifetime of reading and study of the Book of Revelation- which causes me to see the books of Daniel, Jeremiah, many OT passages, and the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24) as key companions in interpretation and application.

A quick warning, however, is to avoid the temptation is to 'tea-leaf' the passages and apply them exactly to what is happening in the world of current events. A better approach is to cultivate the enduring principles and apply them regardless of how things shake out literally. Any reading of prophetic or apocalyptic passages tell a very clear message.

Here is what I try to remember every time I get pushed back into prophecy due to anxiety over the latest cable news story.

KEEP THESE THINGS IN MIND:

“When Modern prophets turn Revelation into a crystal ball, they turn their back on church history and have been wrong every single time.”  Rev. Art Azurdia

If I Am Reading Revelation (or any prophecy) Correctly
  • I will feel excited, encouraged, and energized to stand boldly for Christ in a world that seems to grow darker and colder
  • I will feel personally challenged to continually stay prepared. This will cause discomfort from time to time.
  • I will see clearer lines of demarcation: Lion/Dragon- Lamb/Beast- Overcomer/Defeated
  • I will evaluate my circumstances in light of eternity
  • My desire and practice to worship will grow
  • I will walk and live as a champion- Victory is in sight
And then I need to ask these questions:

Have I grown dull to damnation?
Do I see that evil that demands justice?
Do I realize I am in a battle with eternity at stake?
Do I see how much the enemy hates me?
Do I see how much Jesus loves me?
Am I missing all of the beautiful promises to those who stand with Jesus?

Examples: 

Daniel 11:32 "The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits."


and

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12 ESV)

and many more- both in the Old and New Testaments

THE MESSAGE IN THE MIDST OF MY ANXIETY

God exists- He is in control- Conflict is evidence for sin and rebellion- there will be ebbs and flows of war and persecution- there will even be periods where it looks like God has lost the day- but there will be a day when time will be ended- it could be VERY soon- so are we prepared to meet the King? Are we an enemy because of independent rebellion or an adopted son? Have we spent a selfish life ignoring /not thanking the Creator or do we acknowledge His authority and live lives of gratitude? Do we expect to stand before him touting our own righteousness or do we throw ourselves on the mercy of God by clinging to His Son's sacrifice as our only hope of forgiveness? Are we in love with the city of man or do we seek the kingdom of God? Will we incur God's wrath or will we hear the tender sound of a Father's love?

Practical Applications:

1) Regardless of your interpretation you have to get ready now. The signs are all in place ( they have been since the ascension of our Lord) and time is ticking. You can't wait for a warning signal. Your time is now. Simply bend your knee, ask forgiveness and set your heart to follow Him, and ask Jesus for His help and tell Him He is your only hope. There are some who will meet judgment day today just due to their individual life coming to an end.

2) It is likely that living for Christ will get harder as time ticks by. Whatever your circumstance- hard physically, hard socially, hard economically- find a support system to persevere NO MATTER WHAT.
I am so thankful to live in a country where I have the freedom to follow Christ and we have blessings of liberty and relative peace and prosperity- but it is not a guarantee. But we need to be of the mindset that if the bottom fell out tomorrow- we would still follow our King in confidence and joy. Think of it this way- if it got HARD quick, rejoice- the end is that much closer- and the end is sweet!

3) Search the Scriptures and pray so that we will be wise enough to follow our shepherd's voice in times of confusion.

4) Be steadfast and confident- people who know their God never hand ring or whine or collapse in despair. We walk on through in joyful peace!

Take any Biblical vision and read the comments by any true scholar and you will now see the endless debate begin- it never quite fits. So most of the time there are left views that have strong points and weak points and the scholar will tend to lean toward one and live with the weaker points in humble acceptance. We all do this- I do this.

But there are larger points here to be made that we can all agree on. 

1) God's truth is multi-layered and true from many angles and through many cross-sections and dissections. There is often multiple fulfillments of prophecy that show shadows in the Old Testament- applications in the New Testament and pointers to the Kingdom of God which is an alternate reality but just as true- in fact MORE true than the reality we occupy now. The hardest part in all of Biblical visions is to keep reminding yourself "symbol,symbol, symbol- figurative language"- the Bible images of heaven and hell are figurative and point to a reality beyond our comprehension. Still true, but related in a way that humans of all times and cultures can relate to.

2) We have a hard time making it all fit 'clean' because we are still missing a final overview of the end of time. When we see unrest in Ukraine we rush to the Scriptures and want to make sense of it. The problem is that we are in a time period of waiting. All that is in play now is the competition of the City of Man ( figurative Babylon) with the City of God (figurative Jerusalem) and whether we will be citizens of Christ's Kingdom or the Dragon's Kingdom. Citizenship in Christ's Kingdom is an open invitation to repentance and faith in the God of Mercy. But to do so means that you will incur the wrath of the un-holy trinity The Dragon, The Beast, and the False Prophet. One day, God will say, NO MORE DELAY- and we will watch the final scene brought to the close- and then there will be a massive "OH- I see now- THAT is what was meant by.....". We had a little taste of this when Christ came the first time. All the prophecy was there- but all the scholars missed it. IN the end- our human pre-suppositions make us miss the future narrative. Thankfully, we are not saved by being right on our own ability.


“The first thing for us to understand is that although the signs preceding the judgment day are many and great, they will all be fulfilled, even though none or very few men take note of or esteem them as such. For two things must take place according to the Word and prophecy of Christ and the apostles: first, that many and great signs will be made manifest; and secondly, that the last day will come unawares, the world not expecting it, even though that day be at the door. Though men see these signs, yea, be told that they are signs of the last day, still they will not believe, but in their security mockingly say: "Thou fool, hast thou fear that the heavens will fall and that we shall live to see that day?"”
                                                                                                        Martin Luther

Don't shy away from your Bibles in times like these- DIG IN AND BE BLESSED!