Slumping in the shadows

I found this photo and I love it because it reminds me of the fight we had on our hands three weeks ago on Varsity. An hour or so to the Northeast was the opponent we were expected to beat.

But, as things go in football especially, things are not usually as they appear.

It was a dogfight - after our varsity guys went up three touchdowns, we allowed them back in the game to tie at 21s for halftime. A shutout in the fourth quarter left us to play for overtime - always a little risky in high school and college.

It was a tough loss all around - the 12th straight for our program since last season - and one that hit everyone especially hard. I guess being in all types of games myself as a player and now going through the gamut as a coach, the feelings are pretty much the same.

As a coach, you have no choice but to see a little more objectively the events that transpire, or the missed opportunities both as a result of what you could have done, and what your players could have done. It's key penalties, missed block or tackle, a bungled strength call, fumble - or even the wrong personnel on the field.

As a player, it's pretty much raw emotion and short memory. I mostly only remember in detail the successes of my teammates, the broad strokes of success we have had as a team, and minutely can think about many mistakes I have made. A game like this - especially a loss in a series of heartbreakers - leaves little choice. Your heart is exposed. Even if you never touched the field - if you really care about what you're doing, it's miserable. We can't seem to shake the misery and frankly, it's a little suffocating.

My freshmen have struggled of late as well - a lot of reasons - but none could really prepare me for the events of this past week, where we had two boys get in a fight after practice on Monday (when zero head coaches were on-site) and on game day, one boy withdrew unexpectedly on and one was suspended for a fight posted to facebook. More difficult than not being able to prepare for other freshmen teams is being blindsided by these situations.

There were some encouraging things that happened: most notably on Thursday night, I saw a center show excellent leadership. I never saw an exchange fumble between center and QB (big win for us this season) and I heard him counsel several teammates on the sideline. The leadership will always, in my mind, win over talent, because that is more long-lasting. Talent takes time to develop, and can change depending on effort. True leadership is an asset that you can't teach as easily and must be taken on by those who can be the inspiration, despite their own shortcomings.

Last season there were more little cutesy sayings that caught my attention - and situations where I felt brand new. With a little more experience as a coach, you start to get a feeling that you're on solid ground, and then something crazy happens - like our locker-room brawl. Before that, I was feeling so great - not because of a memorable practice - but because our center and QB were starting to communicate (something lacking prior in our season). The details matter. Unfortunately, then you spend hours on fights that can do absolutely nothing for you on the field.

Maybe it's just me, but besides the disappointing response from our players to stand around and cheer on a fight between teammates was that we can hardly EVER get that motivation on the field. Even murderous rage has its place on the field - we can do something with that as coaches - channel it into a linebacker or offensive lineman. It's not ok, but it's better. Punching out your teammate because he might have said something unflattering is just selfish. Plus, then you are behind in schoolwork because you spent hours out of class.

Hopefully Week 4 will give our freshmen a chance to break out from behind our shadow - I hope we will see all our players, out of suspension, uninjured and up-to-date with classes, and have a great week of practice. We will play a team which runs our offense, so our defense will hopefully show a maturity, and with the help from our folks returning from probation and the refinement of the details while they were away, may break out a few offensive keys. We put in a punt blocking scheme on special teams (but didn't have the right personnel with our late player turmoil), so maybe that will also pay off.

Last, I hope leadership defeats selfishness and teamwork slays the slump. I think that's the key for all of us.

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