Honor in Defeat

There comes a time when your integrity is tested in the heat of battle. Two weekends ago, I failed that test but the recognition of being tested and my grade is of major importance. Of course, this all begins with the notion of competition, where I am at my best and my worst.

I promised I would not coach my children in sport, unless they ended up playing high school ball where I coach. Even then, I would consider retiring, so I may watch and cheer for them instead of enlisting feedback on performance. My Father coached me all the way until high school and though I loved it, there were moments when the lines of Dad and Coach were blurred. Unfortunately, the current flag football league the boys play in is a bit expensive. Paying registration for multiple kids adds up and my bank account wasn’t ready for that hit.

I asked the Commissioner of the League to cut me some slack if I took on the role of volunteer coach for both of the boys (the youngest isn’t old enough to play). He agreed. I became coach of the 10-year-old Major Division Ravens. Luckily, my 6-year-old was put on a team and they did not need my services. My oldest wasn’t so lucky. The Ravens have not been very good this year. Honestly, I think I haven’t been very good this year as their Coach. I coach high school Varsity football, tackle. It is a completely different beast and at my son’s age, I just want them to learn the game and have fun. Of course, I want to win because no one is having fun when they are taken behind the wood shed for a good ol’ fashioned ass whoopin’.

The test of integrity came against the Texans. Before the game started, the kids and the parents were mentioning the stats of the opponent. I had zero clue and I don’t scout other teams in a flag football league. Then the referees came and whispered in my ear about how this coach likes to boost stats of his players so they can have as many people as possible on the All-Star team.

I laughed it off until the first snap of the ball. They were a well-oiled machine. These kids obviously practice multiple times a week compared to our once a week, one-hour practice. They had plays that they were all prepared to run to perfection due to the fear of being belittled by their coach in front an audience (saw it happen in the game when a kid ran the wrong route). They were good and his son was the Quarterback. The kid has obviously spent many hours training, preparing for his Father’s dream of playing in the NFL (soft jab there). Can you tell I am still a little salty?

Half-way through the first half, the Coach walks over to me and says, “Don’t worry Coach. We run the score up in the first half and then back off in the second.” I was floored. I think he forgot he was within arm’s reach. We played our hearts out. Hell, we even scored a touchdown on them. They showed no mercy.

There is an unwritten rule in football. Once you have a team beaten, you run the ball. It eats the time on the clock and decreases the probability of scoring more touchdowns. You don’t throw 30-yard bombs down the field, every single play. Though I know this coach is well aware of said rule, it wasn’t in his handbook. Play after play, he called signals sending the receivers down field for long passes resulting in another receiving touchdown.

Though I was angry, I still had my wits about me, until the last two minutes of the game. We had the ball and were just trying to end the game strong, pride in hand. He decided to use his last two time outs to stop the clock so he could get the ball back and score one more time. Did I mention they were already up by 40 points and we only scored once? They were beating the roller coaster brakes off us. My response after he ran out of timeouts…

I called one for him. Not only did I call a time out for him, from my two left, but I then screamed across the field, “Here you go coach, another one! Enjoy!” He simply said, “Thank you!” Asshole.

Wait…

Was he the asshole or was I? That is an interesting question I posed to myself. Before I had that time to reflect though, all I could think about was how we live in a world today where people no longer fear getting the taste slapped out of their mouth, literally. That is not the answer and I know this but it ran through my mind. As we left, I expressed this sentiment to all the league administrators and referees who came over to console me and talk about how this guy was a douche.

When I finally settled in to what happened, I realized I failed the test. I called my son to the back porch and told him the following…

“Son, yes, in my opinion that Coach lacked the respect for his players, you and your teammates, me as a Coach, and for the game of football. But not everyone plays the game with an honor I believe in. Some people think he is absolutely justified in how he approached the situation. No matter how we feel about it, I was wrong in my response. I shouldn’t have yelled across the field and I shouldn’t have called a time out. I should have bowed in defeat graciously, shook his hand, and moved on. He prepared his team more than I prepared you guys to be victorious. It is my job to go back, get better, get you guys better prepared, and try to win. That’s it. That’s how a true Warrior responds to defeat. Please know though, a true Warrior does not raise his hand in victory either. I’m sorry I haven’t been a better coach and I am sorry I responded the way I did. You played a great game and handled that situation like a Warrior; better than me. That’s all I wanted to say. Love you.”

What I realized was the test of my integrity is not in my approach but in my response. How I approach a situation is a key component but the real measure of your integrity is your response in the face of disrespect, when dishonor is on the horizon. Here, you are you tested, in the moment, and have a decision to make. That decision can be one of honor or it can be one where you freefall to the level of your opponent who resides in a space not becoming of a warrior. What decision will you make and how will you respond? That is where the Way of the Warrior is most apparent. For this lesson, I am grateful.