When you are the coach of the team that always loses, you begin to question not only your ability but the impact you are having on your players. You wonder if your ability to see potential, to see the good in others, and to sometimes be a "fixer" has clouded your view of reality.
People do not play sports "just to have fun." There are cave carvings in France that depict running and wrestling competitions. So, before we had written word, we competed. Sports are played to find a winner. Who is better? And, eventually, who is the best?
As an athlete, I had my share of success in grade school and high school. I played for some really great teams. College was a different story. I didn't go to school to play sports but I ended up playing in a program that was rebuilding. It is a program that, today, has found tremendous success and grown from just 60 athletes to hundreds of athletes. As young as the age of eight, I understood that, ultimately, the goal was to win. Losing is not fun so whoever says we are just playing to have fun is either lying or trying to make the best of a ridiculously bleak situation.
As a coach, I have always chosen to lead the athletes that everyone else cuts from the team. I am the "B" team coach. And my "B" teams have always found their niche in the sport and excelled to success. Until last season, I had never had a year with no wins.
Teaching a sport is relatively easy. Teaching teamwork and decision-making skills and execution under pressure is an undertaking that is markedly more difficult when you work with kids who never played organized sports until high school. Day to day is fun. Practices are more than just bearable. They are training grounds on which we watch as athletes blossom from hesitant and nervous kids. But game time brings the pressure to not just play well but to win and most of my kids? They don't believe they can win. Some don't believe they deserve to win. And after a few losses, I am no longer convinced that I have what it takes to help them experience victory.
In the midst of a game, I doubt myself. I don't know what to do next. The wheels start coming off and short of dressing out in uniform myself, I feel desperate and frustrated and discouraged. I know everyone is watching and listening and I think maybe I just don't want to do it any more. I don't want to torture these kids by forcing them through the motions every day. I don't want to drive 40 minutes for a 2 hour practice every day. I don't want to develop a new line up or teach the rotation ONE. MORE. TIME.
As the coach of the team that always loses, I shed a lot of tears. I reach back into my past and try to dig up any ounce of glory I once lived so I can remind myself that it's all worth it. I wish that I could bottle up my good times and pour them over the heads of my players so they can feel that big win JUST ONCE. Because like potato chips... you can't have just one.
As the coach of the team that always loses, I wonder if there will be a next year. For any of us. Then I remember, I still have to get through tomorrow and the rest of the week and the months of September and October. So I try to shake it off and get some sleep. But the sleep does not come easy.