I love the heat of competition.
Always have, and hope I always will.
As a player I didn't need to have a pre-designed "game" during practice to motivate me to compete. Showing up at practice to play the game I loved with my teammates was the only motivation I needed. Fighting for playing time on the field and working through the gameplan during pregame practices was all that I could ask for, the rest was just icing on the cake.
My days of playing have come and gone and although I miss the post-game congregation of the men's league or the thrill of playing in front of your friends and family in a college game, what I miss the most is being in the heat of the battle. Being able to coach at the high school level and be a part of the game again, not living vicariously through the boys but with them is both a pleasure and a privilege.
When it's game day, I'm focused on what it's going to take to put our boys in the best position to compete and hopefully win the game, and I expect the same of my team. The boys work hard to prepare for the game and I expect them to focus on their play and their effort to allow themselves the best chance for success. The players that play for me are not always the most talented on the team, but rather the hardest workers when given the opportunity.
I want players that have a passion to play, not an expectation.
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly was criticized this week for his own criticism of his player's effort, or lack thereof, after the Fighting Irish's loss to Duke on their home field last week.
"There's no passion," Kelly said. "There's no passion for it. It looks like it's hard to play, like we're pulling teeth. You're playing football for Notre Dame ... We got to look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy."
I couldn't agree more. If you have the opportunity and the privilege to play for your high school or college team you really shouldn't need any further motivation than when you pull that jersey over your head on game day.
There are some times when that passion can push an athlete or a coach over the line and the results can be embarrassing at best and at worse a hit to your reputation. In a tightly contested game in my junior year in college, I was frustrated by my lack of involvement in the play on the field and angry with my teammates for excluding me, so when an unsuspecting opponent came running by I hauled off and kicked him in the shinguards to receive a yellow card and a quick exit.
Last year, after almost 35 years in coaching and close to 1,000 games coached, I received my first red card in another tightly contested contest on our home field. I was not frustrated at my players this time but because of their incredible play and comeback (down 3-0 and a man down, fought back to 3-2 and pressuring their goal when we ran out of time). I got too involved in the game and lost track of that ever-important line that cost me a red card and my team their coach for the remaining of that game and the next.
That was arguably one of the most embarrassing times of my life and although I still disagree with showing me the red, it was something I will certainly try my best to avoid in the future.
I heard this week more stories of coaches' behavior going bad that caused both of them their jobs as coaches and leaves a permanent stain on their coaching reputations.
One was a coach who got caught up in the heat of the game and crossed the line on a physical confrontation with one of his players that should never be a part of the game whether at the recreation or professional level.
Another that behaved so inappropriately during and after the game toward his players, the officials and even the tournament security as he was escorted from the field, that parents of his players removed the uniform from their little players and turned them in right then and there.
In a stage that is the field of play, coaches and officials should be stage hands and let the players be the focus of attention. We are to model appropriate and expected behavior and step in to ensure our players are following suit.
German philosopher and poet Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once wrote, "Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion."
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But sometimes we need to keep that passion in check.