Coaching Changes and Life Lessons

I started my writing career as a sports reporter for my hometown newspaper. I was all of 19 years old, in my sophomore year at Penn State, and on the occasion of my first by-line, my total firsthand experiences with athletic events totaled exactly one–the girl’s high school basketball game on which I had just reported.

Despite my lack of athletic prowess, I went on to be a constant presence in that gymnasium as well as local baseball fields and natatoriums, proudly flashing my press pass at the admissions gate. A year later, I moved from the sports room to the newsroom and never looked back.

I never covered a football game, but I know an awful lot about a certain football player!

I never covered a football game, but I know an awful lot about a certain football player!

Earlier this week, in response to a Zero to Hero blogging challenge assignment, I posted the Army Black Knights 2013 football highlight video introducing new head coach, Jeff Monken, and I briefly flashed back to my days on the sports desk. Later that day, I answered my ringing phone to hear my son on the other end–my very own Black Knight football player. We talked about school and roommates and care packages.

Then we talked football–not plays or practices or games. We talked about coaches. More specifically, we talked about coaching changes and the uncertainty that surrounds the Army football program as the new head coach takes over. That was when I realized the 2013 football highlight video is more than just crashing shoulder pads set to booming music and a brief hello to the new guy in charge. It is a life lesson for every Black Knight who walks into that locker room wondering how their team and their place on it will change.

Change, in my opinion, is always good. It may not seem like it at the moment, but a fresh perspective is rarely a bad thing. We can all benefit from new experiences and grow with our responses to them. My son and each of his teammates, however, are about to learn change can also be very frightening.

No matter their opinions on the previous team leadership, each player is uncertain of how this change will affect him. The complete picture of the new regime is still a question mark. Which assistant coaches will stay and which will go was determined early on in the transition, but the full staff has yet to be named, and new procedures and schedules have yet to be set.

On the phone the Older One expressed concerns about rumors of late night practices and lack of study time. “Has the coach told you that?” I asked.

“Well…no,” he admitted.

“Then just wait. Don’t let rumors keep you awake at night,” I said–the voice of experience.

I’ve been through re-organization several times. Some of the re-orgs have been good for me, others not so good, and others didn’t have much of an affect at all. In all cases, the post-announcement upheaval was a cycle of uncertainty, rumors, changes, more uncertainty, more rumors, more changes, and eventually a new normal.

The difference in this case is that the Older One gets to experience it for the first time at the age of 20, before he truly enters the work force. One day soon though, he will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. He will be given men to lead, and to them he will be the “new coach”. Eventually, whether he stays in the Army or joins corporate America like his momma and his father before him, his commanding officer will move on or his boss will be replaced. Before he knows it, he will be right back in that locker room wondering how he will manage the rapidly shifting emotions of change.

But this time, he’ll have experience in his arsenal. In the midst of the chaos, he might feel the fluttery fingers of uncertainty in his belly, but he’ll know to take a deep breath for calm. He might hear a rumor from a colleague or listen to the concern of an anxious soldier, and he’ll stop him, and say, “Just wait. Don’t let the rumors keep you awake at night.”

In those instances, he will be able to look back on the day he got a new football coach, and he will be able to see it for what it is–a life lesson. Whatever the outcome of this change may be, how he responds to it will shape how he responds to the challenges yet to come.

Go Army!


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