Football taught me so many important life lessons, such as leaving things better than you found them. I will always remember what my coach would tell us after games, after the post game speech when we were packed up and ready to load the bus. He would tell us to leave the visitor’s dressing room better than we found it. We took a lot of pride in that. Later when I became a head coach, I would say that to my teams. Leaving things better than we found them developed into a philosophy. I want to see the game protected so others can enjoy it in the future, like I and so many players have. It is important we leave the game better than we found it.

How do we leave the game better than we found it?

  1. Emphasize process instead of product.

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” “Just win baby.” “Second place is the first loser.” These are just some of the many quotes that help cloud the true benefit of competition. I fear that many do not know what it means to win. Or even worse, they do not know how to judge what is lost in the pursuit of winning.

Why do teams win? It is sometimes because of a superior coach that just seems to be a step ahead of others. Some coaches it seems can take theirs and beat yours or take yours and beat theirs. It is sometimes because of superior athletes that anybody could win with. Remember, some will tell you it is the Jimmys and Joes, not the Xs and Os. Or is it? Tell that to the Booster Club who has been frantically warned that they must pay for the coach’s gas, negotiate to get his class load lightened, or who knows what else to ensure he doesn’t jump across town to another team and inevitably end the winning. Tell that to the dads searching for some means of justifying one, two, or even a few indiscretions of a coach who seems to live as ‘tough” as he coaches. After all who wants to field a team of a bunch of choirboys. The decision has been made far too many times to count in far too many communities that a blind eye must be turned for winning to continue undeterred by any unwarranted conviction or moral compass. Seems as if that winning looks a lot like losing.

What separates winning from losing? I mean really, is the degree of separation as small as a split second decision of a defensive back who tips the ball up instead of down? Go get ‘em Tiger. Is the distance between celebration and despair a miss hit field goal with little thought that you would end up having to defend the return? It doesn’t take the memory of an elephant to recall a plethora of these type endings. No matter how much you brand “The Process” it becomes clear that “The Product” is the most important thing in our society. How the game is played is to be discussed by those first losers. The “process” is often too slow. Society prefers the product now. What is it that the NFL stands for? That’s right, Not For Long. College football is not far behind. The fire and hire mentality abounds. Big money for big wins. Win now and ask questions later. By the way I am a JSU Gamecock fan, if you were wondering, as well as an overall fan of football in general. Although Holley and Hudson (Bama fans) claim to have evidence that I am in fact an Auburn fan.

  1. Record growth instead of status.

I was blessed with the opportunity to coach for eighteen years at the high school level. I started my career with the goal of winning. I was going to win, and win big. Oh sure, I would invent new offensive schemes, speak at all the top coaching clinics, and make a ton of money; but most importantly, I would win. I would win because I was awesome. I would combine my awesomeness with outworking the competition and win. Well, needless to say, it did not take long for experience to educate me. Thankfully, my priorities changed greatly, and I shifted from product to process. How we played, how we developed, and how we carried ourselves on and off the field eventually outweighed winning. Well, kind of. These qualities actually became part of what winning is. A win is more than some numbers on a scoreboard at that moment in time. Those numbers lose their significance when you realize that when the time hits 0:00, time actually does not stop. All that has gone on before does not somehow lose or gain infinite importance through some arbitrary stoppage of time. Actually time does keep on ticking. There is no lose. You win or you learn. Lose is some political bargaining piece to show the necessity for change when in reality we would be better staying the course.

What is a win? The answer really has nothing to do with a scoreboard. The scoreboard is just record keeping. Scoreboards show status. This is an interesting play on words since sadly many players and coaches see their worth in their status, or wins. Determining worth through performance is dangerous. Winning at all cost is far too expensive. You can never win enough. That is not what high school competition is supposed to be about. However, beans must be counted, and scores must be kept; but winning requires the measurement of growth. Unlike a scoreboard’s representation of the numbers at that one point in time, growth describes the performance of a team over two time points, where a team or player is now compared to where they were previously is important. Getting better is a big deal.

Who is keeping score? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for keeping score. I am all for accountability. I think scoreboards would be great to have for some professions other than just coaches, such as politicians. I am not a participation trophy guy. Keeping score and declaring victors is not the enemy. The problem is neglecting the benefits of the process for the sake of the product. If the process is truly the emphasis, then the constraints of time are removed from the equation. Scoring more points than an opponent on a given night becomes just one of the goals of growth and development, albeit a really important one. There is grave danger in only having one goal. I heard Louie Simmons, respected strength and conditioning coach, talk about how some people don’t understand power lifters who take steroids. He explained that these lifters have one goal and one goal only and that is to lift as much weight as possible. They will do whatever it takes to achieve that one goal. If that means drugs, lifting suits, or whatever, they do it because they only have one goal. For them the one goal outweighs the risk. This is unfortunately the case when winning is the only thing that matters. Development takes a back seat. The process gives way to the product. Those risks and hazards come to roost, and our game becomes less than what it should be.

  1. Teach safety.

A few years ago as I was transitioning from coaching to administration, I had the opportunity to teach safety to youth coaches and players. I became Heads Up Tackling Certified and held clinics free of charge for youth football coaches. I brought in trainers to talk to the coaches about safety and common injury prevention and care and brought in referees to talk to the coaches about rules and even how to effectively communicate with officials during games. It was a great experience for me, and I learned a lot by doing it. I believe that anything we can do to make the game safer is a great way to leave the game better than we found it. For more information on how to advance player safety in the game of football check out usafootball.com.

  1. Know your WHO.

Competing is what we do, not who we are. Our self-worth is not measured in wins and losses or by our performance. Wins come and go. Those who are in leadership positions in athletics must understand they are leaders and not fans. Fans have a hard time with process. They are far too concerned with the product. This blurs their vision of growth and inhibits their desire to stay the course. I have seen fans anoint Gene Chizik guru status, then complain of his hire as head coach, then celebrate his guru status again following a championship, only then to declare him a failure in a matter of a few years. I have heard Coach Chizik talk about football being what he does and not who he is. I know this mindset has allowed him to find success no matter what the average fan thinks of him at any particular moment. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that North Carolina is happy to have him.

  1. Pay more in than you take out.

What do we do to protect our game? Work to become a 3D Coach. Promote transformational coaching, not transactional coaching. Coaches who are concerned only with the product are transactional coaches. They use players as resources to achieve their wins or status. We need to let kids be kids. Let them play. After all, it is just a game. I see too many times when kids are pressured into playing just one sport because the demands placed on them are just too much to do anything else. They leave one season feeling like they are behind their teammates who play only one sport. They may even lose their starting spot to a player who was “just a little more committed during the offseason.” Wait, the offseason, wasn’t that when it was the in-season for the other sport they play? This is far too transactional. This is all about the product. Coaches who are concerned with the process are transformational coaches. They are concerned with the growth and development of their players. They teach skills that are bigger than the game and last long after playing days are over. Win at all cost is too expensive for our game to afford. Transactional coaching is proving to be too costly. Transformational coaching pays in more than it takes from the game. It leaves the game better than we found it.

To learn more about how coaching can transform lives check out:

On behalf of all who love the game of football and understand its ability to transform lives, let me thank you for your efforts in emphasizing the process, placing growth ahead of status, teaching safety, knowing your who, and paying more in than you are taking out. You are leaving the game better than you found it.