In my junior year of college, I played on probably the best and most talented soccer team that I’ve ever been associated with.
We were ranked as high as No. 10 in the south in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics poll in a conference that had us playing USC Spartanburg — a two-time national champion during my four years — Winthrop, and Erskine, all nationally ranked at the time.
The next year we graduated eight seniors and seven freshmen and sophomores didn’t return for various reasons, so needless to say, the year we had my senior year was not quite as, um, “special.”
But, for the junior year we had the right mix of veterans and talented underclassmen and set out with high expectations for the type of year we were expecting to have. We started off with a couple quality wins that gave us the confidence we needed to attain those goals, then went on a long road trip to take on some North Carolina teams out of our conference, games that were on our schedule to give us the confidence we needed to tackle our brutal conference schedule.
That weekend didn’t go quite as planned.
Our opponents were unaware that they were the “cream puffs” on our schedule and came out ready to roll, catching us by surprise. Weren’t they supposed to just lay down and let us have the win? Well, they didn’t get the message and we left North Carolina heading south with a loss and a draw on our schedule that we certainly didn’t expect to have.
We as players were devastated by the disappointing away trip and couldn’t wait to get back on the field on Monday to try to make things right. We had rolled in late on a Saturday and were also looking forward to the day off the next day.
Our coach didn’t see it that way.
I guess he had an idea about what happened to cause the shortcomings in our performance over the weekend so he invited us to meet him at the practice field bright and early on Sunday morning. We had been used to the summer three-a-days with fitness practice in the mornings that began at 6:15. He moved us up to 6, and we knew it was going to be on like “Donkey Kong.”
After a brief meeting where Coach Griggs let us know where he thought the root of the problem was coming from including tearing a pack of cigarettes in half, opening and then ripping in half a can of Budweiser, and then attempted to rip a pack of rolling papers in half.
When he hit the wire that was embedded in the rolling papers, he was unable to rip it and it put him further in to a state of rage.
What happened over the next couple of hours became affectionately known to the boys as “Black Sunday.”
It was the single hardest test of physical fitness and conditioning I ever experienced, ever witnessed, and ever want to see again.
For two hours we went through stations of skill work and every time he felt that someone wasn’t giving it their all or were making mistakes, the entire team would pound out pushups, situps, sprints, or some other type of physical torture, and even sometimes a combination of all of them.
The session ended when one of my high school and college teammates got overheated, and the other four Westminster High School players that were at Coker College carried him across the road to the hospital where he was treated for dehydration and exhaustion.
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I wish I could tell you that the tactic didn’t work, but we went on a long unbeaten streak before we fell to the College of Charleston in the playoffs.
I never know when the right time is to lay down a “Black Sunday” type training session to get the players’ attention. I certainly have had my share of teams under-performing over the years (including my current high school team) but have always been uncomfortable being the coach that lays down punishment to get them back on track.
As a player, I was fine with anything that the coach wanted to throw at me as a physical punishment or training because I was a strong-willed player and welcomed the challenge so that I could show him I wasn’t intimidated by that approach.
But my personality doesn’t suit well with being a tough disciplinarian so it’s hard to put on a façade of a hard-nosed coach when you’re not one. Plus, parents have entrusted me with their most valuable possession, their child.
I’d rather praise my kids for the efforts that they put in and try to work on the symptoms of the issues at hand but sometimes there just is no other way to get their attention than to run them through challenging workouts.
Even then, what do the kids learn, especially when they are also beating themselves up over the same performance issues? Fyodor Dostoyevsky, writing in his book Crime and Punishment, once said, “The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.”
Being self-aware leads to natural improvement for all of us. I’m not sure punishing that unwanted behavior could do the same.