When I was eleven years old, my life changed forever. I walked into a room that smelled like an armpit. A man with a hook for an arm frowned at me, pointed toward a bunch of equipment and said “grab one of those, two of those, and a helmet!” I was scared to death that I had made a mistake, but I had actually just taken the first step in a journey that would change my life forever.
On an early August-day I joined a team…my first team. Where I came from, there wasn’t much to root for. My parents both struggled with drugs and alcohol and ventured through court mandated AA meetings. I wasn’t looking for a mentor, but I certainly found one. The first day of practice I was introduced to a new coach, a new team, and a new set of expectations.
My coaches barked out the standards essential to achieve championships from the start. However, I always kind of struggled with their theories of success because as they expressed these expectations we regularly fell short in competition. I wish I could say we won more than we lost, but that wasn’t always the truth displayed in the box scores.
As an adult I still struggle with the notions of winning and losing. Over the course of my playing and coaching career I have been trained to gauge success by the lights on a scoreboard. Twenty- four years into this endeavor, success still seems to hold a numerical value! With that in mind I understand that among the many teams entering each week with high hopes, half of them will fall short in their conquest of victory.
Recently, this line of thinking captured my consideration. Surely within this union of losers some slither of greatness must exist. Simultaneously, among the victors a certain amount of struggle has to surface. Consequently, I sought to reflect on my football journey with one major goal in mind. I was determined to explore beyond the scoreboard, past the wins and losses. I hoped to calculate the absolute value of my participation in this wonderful world of sport.
Here is what I discovered…
Football has afforded me great highs in life. As an overweight and under skilled youth, my original illusion of football pitted me under center, leading my team to victory. I thought I was the next Troy Aikman. Turns out, my mind had wondered beyond all realms of reality. When I showed up to my first practice, I took the field with the enthusiasm of a recent Powerball winner. I definitely felt as if I had hit the football lottery as I ventured toward the signal callers. Not fifty yards into my fantasy, my new coach redirected me back to the real world. His directive sent me to an alternate destination with the offensive linemen. This is where my official football odyssey began. Momentary disappointment soon subsided. And in the succeeding pair of decades I gained a mentor, a best friend, and a passion.
Unfortunately, this game has also tendered its share of life’s valleys. The expectations of a coach on the gridiron prove more than grueling. A coach is commissioned to command his team valiantly and victoriously. The desires to win sometimes fuel a coach’s doubters more than they do his own team. Administrators and parents both can quickly and forcefully turn on the most well-meaning of coaches. This leads to stress beyond the athletic arena because of the roles and responsibilities the coach fulfills in the classroom and community. Countless coaches carry these stressors into their personal lives and relationships. I certainly have tackled an immeasurable amount of frustrations during my career coaching football. My individual struggles include personal and professional self-doubt and insecurity. I have coaching comrades who have grappled with alcoholism, marital tensions, and financial failure as a result of this game.
While weighing each of these coaching debits and credits, I can’t help but relive various experiences. I have laughed, cried, and loved throughout the years. I have been happy, mad, and sad. I would like to say that I have been the driver of my life’s bus, but football has guided a multitude of the decisions in my personal relationships and professional production. Ultimately, in my journey the positive memories have more than offset the negative moments. I hope that as you reflect on your career path you can say the same.
I will leave you with this advice:
1. Show your appreciation for those you care about…without them life would be boring.
2. Work hard…it makes the pillow softer.
3. Enjoy the experience…Football should be fun!
And above all else, remember just because you lose the game doesn’t mean you have to lose your mind!
See you next time,
About the Author:
Eddie Fields is a teacher and coach at Space Coast High School in Cocoa, Florida. He is currently pursuing an administrative license and Master’s Degree in educational leadership. Coach Fields has spent the last 14 years coaching at the high school and college level.