After All, It Is Just a Game (and it really is)
The faithful coaches are readily awaiting the start of the new season. The hot, humid August days lead up to the grass being illuminated for the 7 o’clock kickoff. New goals, names, and opponents are staring at us daily, and the grind is in full press. The grass is mowed, field painted, and pads in the lockers. Soon the empty stands will be filling to justify all of the off season debates from the fans. All of this for something we call a game.
The invention of a game, was created by someone who was passionate about human nature. They understood the importance of a game, and the impact it has on our society. This being said, I decided to search Google for the definition of the word Game. Recently I have caught myself reflecting about my job as a coach. What is this “game” I have made a profession? What does it entail? Am I coaching the game or just a small portion of it? Am I missing the big picture? Am I doing the game justice? These are all important thoughts because the game involves competitors (people).
I coach a sport that many dearly love, and devote lifetimes to, but that is a very shallow glimpse at what we really do. I was intrigued with the results that I found, and decided to divide this article into three parts; noun, adjective, and verb. I really stumbled into the idea that the three parts are really defining the mastery of the game. This allowed me to arrive at the conclusion, that after all this is just a game. Nothing more, nothing less. How well do I teach my competitors to master it?
a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.
I will be the first to say that I love the “chess” match of coaching. I love the schematics of the game, and how every inch can be accounted for, but this part isn’t THE game. THE game is played when the clock starts and the final whistle blows. Every aspect that happens between these parameters is considered THE game.
A game is played according to the rules. Imagine a game with no rules or governing body. How would you go about teaching that? How would you teach scheme, and individual positions if no rules were applied to the abilities of the offense or defense? It takes rules and a governing body to create a game and also to define competition. When you have rules that are in place, and the competitors accept and operate within them, playing/competition happens. In the game of football, that can result in penalties and awards. The game is a governed body of rules enforced by the referees.
The game is also surrounded by limits. The field itself has limits. The out of bounds lines that create a defined space for the game to be played. Imagine a pursuit drill without defined lines. A game played with an undefined amount of space could not be managed or defended. How well do my players understand the defined limits?
Time is another one of the limits. Game and play clocks, timeouts, and quarters all define what we are allowed to do. If we did not have specified quarters where would the strategy be. How would we stress urgency? The importance of the 4 minute offense, or the 2 minute drill, would no longer be a part of the game. Mentally how well do my players understand time? When is it their friend, and how to we defeat it as our enemy?
Down and distance, are calculated to award the offense and defense for their mastery of each other. They are also checkpoints on the path to our goal. If we divide that farther the yards are equally important to success and set back.
How well do my players understand the limits and rules of the game? Every play, every down, every possession, every position is situational. With the rules being defined, how do they react?
While these last few paragraphs seem confining, all of this causes the competitor to play the game at their highest level. It is easy to get caught up in the offense and defensive scheme part of the game, but how well do our players know the “noun” portion of THE game? The mastery of the rules define success. The competitor must know the limitations, and must compete accordingly to achieve the goal. Winning and losing are temporary within the game, but the competitor that follows-through and has self-discipline will gain the achievement of victory.
eager and willing to do something new or challenging.
I have been watching the series on the Alabama Crimson Tide. I have really enjoyed it because it was not over produced with drama. I was intrigued by Coach Saban because of his ability to continually take the best players in the country and humble them to become even better versions of themselves as competitors. He continually finds ways to make his players eager and willing to do something new or challenging.
In order to be a competitor in a game, you have to be eager to accept a challenge. Recognizing the challenge and defining it is the clear path to success. The willingness to accept this challenge is the propellant that presents opportunity to win the game. How can I make my players eager and willing to accept a challenge? I observed that Coach Saban prepares his players by drills and parts. Alignment, and knowledge of the parameters of each player we paramount in his practices. Teaching players how to recognize THE challenge, and the eagerness, was knowing that the preparation (alignment) made them willing and able to accept the challenge.
He spoke on toughness inside THE game. I quickly realized that I had missed the point for years. A competitors toughness had nothing to do with what their physical attributes, but mental. He defined toughness, as the point to which something breaks you. This point is when the eagerness and willingness completely dissolve. He is more worried about position (alignment) and preparation, than the reaction of the result. He brought out to me that being eager and willing, is being prepared to take the challenge, based on your recognition of the challenge. This made me think about how many times, I have asked my players to walk into a situation blindly, and expect them not to be timid and reluctant. Coach Saban coaches the adjective aspect of the game as hard as he does the scheme. His preparation for the adjective aspect allows his competitors to be the very best at what they do, and continually accept the challenge eagerly and willingly.
manipulate (a situation), typically in a way that is unfair or unscrupulous.
Building more on the documentary I mentioned earlier we can move to the last phase of the definition. The verb tense could be defined as the winning edge. Once the competitor can achieve the noun and adjective tense of THE game, the Verb becomes their secret weapon. We could easily say this means having the upper hand. In boxing it would be the counter-punch.
The competitor who can define the limits, eagerly and willingly accept the challenge, can easily manipulate the situation placed within the competition. Have you ever faced a team that seems to always have an unfair advantage?It is because their players have mastered every tense of the word. They can define THE game.
Tua Tagovailoa, entered the national championship game. Most of America saw this as a move of desperation, wow what a gutsy call. Well on the game winning play he threw a cover 2 ball to the single side receiver on a 4 vertical play call. Amazing in the post-game interview, that is exactly what he said during the explanation of the play. Here is player, who was placed in a high level situation, and made the right decision in a high stressed event. Alabama had created a way to manipulate the game into their favor, but only because the Spring before, he was schooled in every verbal tense of THE game.
So as we take a step back for a moment, get away from the schemes. How well can my players define THE game? What part of the tense can they not define? Do they know the limits? Are they eager and willing to accept the new challenge? Can they define the game at a high rate of speed? The scheme and schematics are important, but only when they can be properly defined. A simple trip to the old dictionary made me look completely different at a profession that I really thought I completely understood. After all it is just a game.