When I was younger, I was fortunate enough to develop a friendship with Mike. Over the years, not only has he been a great friend, but he has also been a source of motivation and inspiration. Watching him achieve goals, overcome challenges, and be a dedicated father and husband has truly been fun for me to be a part of. He was kind enough to share a story about an experience he had and a lesson he learned that would help shape his mindset for years to come.
Mike was the author this story, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
By Mike Sherels
My third year playing youth football brought me to my third different team, with different teammates, and my third different coach. The first two years had gone very well, and my teams had done well. So well in fact that my previous year’s team had won the championship. The coaches of those two teams, although different people, were very similar to one another.
This new team, located on the other side of town was…well, different to say the least. Obviously, the players were new, but the biggest difference was the coaches. This group of coaches COULD NOT have been more different from my previous team’s coaches.
My previous coaches were sent straight from football coach central casting: Big, gruff, (occasionally foul mouthed) and extremely demanding. No detail was too small to harp on and attempt to perfect. As a result of this coaching, our teams were tough, talented, (occasionally foul mouthed) and extremely disciplined.
These new coaches were more focused on making sure all were having fun and were far less demanding of us players, especially when it came to the little details. I should also mention on the positive side, that there was, a near 100% reduction in foul language.
The disagreements with my new coaches started immediately. I was openly defiant and often rude when presented with opinions and techniques that didn’t fit into what I had already learned. (After all, we won the ‘ship!) I grew frustrated with the lack of attention to detail which led to constant mistakes, both on my part, and with the team. When we lost the first three games badly, I was ready to walk away and be done.
Our third game had been against my former team and coaches, which made losing worse. They crushed us. After the game, my previous years coach made a point to call me over to talk. That conversation would change my life as an athlete forever.
He told me he was disappointed in the way I had played against them and that it looked like I hadn’t gotten any better from the year before. I started to give an excuse and complain that I wasn’t receiving good coaching when I was rebuked sharply.
In his very direct barking manner, I was told about many, many ways I could individually improve, even in the face of what I thought was inadequate coaching. As I had learned from listening to him in the past, I focused on what he was saying rather than how.
I was told about Trial and error reps during practice to teach myself new tricks, I was told to start watching a lot more football so I could see how it was supposed to be done. I was told all sorts of things that day out on the field, but the most important thing I was told was to be observant. In a very colorful way, I was told to observe everything, good and bad and figure out ways to use things to my advantage and the advantage of the team.
I started following his advice, and things changed almost immediately. Personally, I began to play well again, and my improvements came dramatically. I found that my coaches actually did have a few things to teach me about the game. But the most crucial benefit that came of my talk with coach, was that I became a better teammate. I also began to learn patience, I taught myself how to calm my emotions and focus, and I paid attention to my teammates. I began to instruct and give tips to teammates explaining exactly what we needed them to do and why it was important rather than simply complaining that they had gotten it wrong.
Once I stopped complaining all the time and observed, I was able to see exactly which of my teammates were responsive to our coaches’ style. I noticed others who, like me, were not as motivated, and I stepped in to try and provide that motivation by giving encouragements and corrections based on what I thought would help them. I made sure to always (after getting it wrong once) do this privately and not in a way to “show up” the coaches.
Now, this would be a truly great story if we went on to an undefeated rest of the year and a championship against my former team. Unfortunately, the truth is a lot less Hollywood than that. I think we might have won twice that year. However, despite not winning much, I was able to grow more that season as a player and teammate than any other. I developed great relationships with my teammates that we carried with us all the way through high school football where we were, by that time a VERY good team.
To be able to learn and grow so much on my own that season gave me confidence. Learning to read and respond to my teammates’ needs that season led me to being voted a team captain by nearly every team I played on until I was done playing.
The lessons learned would come into play later in college at the University of Minnesota, where I was named a captain twice. Being able to council wide eyed freshmen who were down in the dumps after being yelled at to “listen to the what and not the how” allowing them to fully develop as players and contribute to the team.
This story is not intended to advocate for one style of coaching over another either. One of the best coaches I’ve ever had was a baseball coach who rarely, if ever raised his voice and it was the most successful team I’ve been a part of.
Later, as a college football coach, I would take bits and pieces from every coach I’d ever had and morph them into my style which was extremely demanding, but also laid back, and rarely did I find the need to yell.
Since moving on from sports the lesson has applied just as well. We are not always going to like or agree with our coaches, bosses, and partners. But if we do nothing but complain, we miss the opportunity to grow as an individual.