We all make them from time to time. It seems part of our human experience. An excuse can be defined as a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense. Helping coach junior football taught me many things. Not only did coaching provide a more intricate understanding of the game. But, it also required learning to look at life through an altered lens. Walking on the practice field for the final time this year, I was a different person than the one who walked onto it the first day. One of those major lessons was looking at the excuses we make differently. Football is a violent game without much doubt. Many people question why we even play the game at all. Especially at the young age of 8 and 9 years old. However, those inherent risks involved with football also come with life lessons not easily found. The sport seems different from basketball or baseball. There is more pain involved, which brings in a different dynamic from the other sports. It seems players are required to rely on one another slightly more than they would in those other two sports. The togetherness required in football seemingly leads to a low level of tolerance for the excuse.
Cerebral palsy has often been my built-in excuse. The disability naturally makes most activities in life more difficult for me. Looking around to find most people free of the burden from CP causes discouragement sometimes. It can lead to feelings of sympathy for myself, which can probably lead to making excuses. My thoughts might discourage the attempt of something challenging. Those inner thoughts reminding me of a disability hampering my ability before the attempt is ever made. It provides self-inflicted doubt in situation that could become successful with fortitude. The feeling in the back of my mind saying, “it’s okay, you struggle with cerebral palsy.” Even after an attempt, those thoughts probably shouldn’t enter my mind. They can discourage from making a second attempt or a third. Who knows, maybe it would take 30 tries in order to succeed. Using my disability as an excuse at any point doesn’t seem productive. The number of times cerebral palsy had become my fall back excuse really didn’t hit home before this year of coaching.
My cerebral palsy caused hesitation as a coach. Another way CP could have been leaned on as an excuse. There was fear around being accepted. Honestly, I had little idea of what was going on when we began. The questions were most likely going to be asked about my disability. So, in trying to avoid questions, my plan was to blend in as a coach. The plan going into the first practice was to coach a station with my buddy’s help. In that instance, my buddy could do most of the teaching with me helping out where needed. It would help me minimize the amount of interaction, thinking the kids could become comfortable with me, and me with them. Well, the best laid plans don’t often go according to their target and these didn’t either. My buddy didn’t show up on time the first few days, leaving me to run a station on my own. I couldn’t blend in those first few days. The kids needed my help in beginning to learn the game. So, doing my best, we worked through the football skill stations together. The kids ended up asking about my disability. Instead of feeling defensive or put off by the inquisitions, I answered the questions with patience and poise that hadn’t been there in the past. The positivity of those beginning interactions surprised me at the time.
As our season crept on, it became apparent that football was a different game. Many people refer to football as a contact sport. Around the game in recent day, they have been talking about the controversial nature of hard hitting games. One NFL player mentioning that football isn’t a contact sport, but rather a collision sport. The violent nature of this game took me by surprise while coaching. It never had become clear before coaching, the effort that goes into playing football. Watching our kids practice every evening in August turned out to be inspiring. They came out every evening in the heat of summer and worked hard. Beating up on one another to improve conditioning and toughness. At the same time, being there for each other to practice against, as they bonded together forming our team. It wasn’t until they began scrimmaging that football began taking form in my mind. They played against one another, offense against defense. This is where my education seemed to begin taking shape.
Football is a rough sport, it’s a collision sport. But, it also seems to be one of the most mutually reliant games we play. Have you ever looked around and wondered why the football players get much of the female attention? I see you laughing…but seriously. After a year of helping coach the sport, the main reason doesn’t seem to be because they’re all big and tough. Though I’ll admit it probably doesn’t hurt the situation. The reason seems to be the amount football players are required to rely on one another. There becomes responsibility associated with that reliance of your teammates. If you could practice, you practiced. It was something instilled during drills from the beginning and took me by surprise.
Coaches unfamiliar to me would ignore some injuries and not others. Bumps and bruises are part of the game and don’t warrant sitting out. They don’t warrant sitting out because other players, your friends are relying on you to tough out the things you can and help them. There is a fine line, I’ll grant you that, but walking that line is required. I witness many situations where a player whined about an injury simply to get attention. When they were ignored because coach realized it wasn’t serious, the player was magically okay and back in the drill as if nothing happened. Any seemingly serious injury was treated as such and the safety of our kids was always on the mind. There was a realization for me, that these coaches had been doing this a long time and could feel out situation in surprising ways. It was one of many ways to instill the importance of team over individual. The reliance of your friend, being there for them, was more important than a bump or bruise.
It was a large lesson to be learned for me this year. Most of life has been spent believing my worth to be low. There was no responsibility for me, because I wasn’t worthy of being relied upon. Or I wasn’t good enough to be looked to for guidance. But, those days and weeks with our kids began to change those perspectives. Even with cerebral palsy, I could feel their reliance on me, even if it simply meant being there each day. CP or not, the feeling hit me of importance, it was important to show up and do what I could to help them grow as people and football players. They were comforted by the presence of each coach, there wasn’t time for excuses. Just as they relied on each other, they also relied on us coaches. We were a team.
The buildup of this reliance message came full circle during the championship game. One of our star players got hurt toward the end of the game. Something happened with his hand, which was looked at by the doctor, who helped at each league game. She determined our little guy’s hand and wrist were still in good shape. Our player was free to reenter the game if he wished. The tears ran down his face, as he fought the idea. It had been a tough afternoon. The fourth quarter was ticking away, it was cold and wet. One of our coaches came over to the young man. He had been coaching this player for a number of years, knowing him well. Talking to him from the bench until releasing him back into the game. As I listened to the same lesson he had been giving every kid, all season, “you can’t give up right now, your team needs you.” We were clearly going to lose the game and it was miserable outside, but it was the perfect teaching moment and hopefully something that player will take with him. He went back into the game, playing his heart out for his team until our season came to an end that day.
Looking around each day, our lives are full of people. Whether inside our family, friends, work place, or the coffee shop getting the morning cup of joe. We all count on each other in some way. Living in a world of unpredictability, there is no way to know when that person standing beside you might need you. It could be anyone from your closest friend to a complete stranger. Sometimes, cerebral palsy can leave me feeling unworthy of reliability. It’s an emotion which has nagged me much of my life. However, being around our football team, this year opened my eyes. People rely on one another no matter what they might be struggling with or how different they may look. Cerebral palsy had become an excuse in my life, not unlike the young men claiming to be too hurt to play. It seems crucial for everyone to understand they play an important role in their social environment. When excuses cause self-worth to break down, it can be challenging for everyone in someone’s life. The world isn’t perfect and we all have good days and bad. But, we should continue to keep in mind, we all play a valuable role in the lives of others.