Finishing the Season

by Ryan Krzykowski

For the past couple months I have chronicled some of the Monday lessons that our coaching staff has shared with the 8th grade football team we worked with this year.  There were discussions on topics like devotion, respect and friendship, as we worked to help a group of young men develop a greater love of football and each other.

Over the past few weeks, as the season headed toward its finish, we felt the time crunch as we began to run out of weeks with this team.  The past three Mondays have been unbelievable: one included a TED Talk by one of my heroes, Joe Ehrmann.  Joe’s topic is “Be A Man”, as he speaks about how those three words, when used or understood poorly, can have dramatic negative effects on people’s lives and society as a whole.

The following week, a friend came as a guest speaker to address the team.  Shawn is a (young) grandfather now, a business owner, but also played five seasons of offensive line in the NFL in the 90’s.  His message on determination hit home as he described his journey from a very small college to pro football (including an incredible story about a barefoot gym workout with an NFL scout).  He also talked about some tragedies that hit their team and the effect those situations had on him personally and his playing career.  Many thanks to Shawn for making time in his workday to come and visit with the team.

Last week, the team watched a beautiful speech by Rick Rigsby.  You may have seen it, The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout.  Mr. Rigsby provides a multitude of life lessons in this powerful ten minute clip.  I’m fairly certain this video will be part of the menu for every team I work with in the future.

The following day, this team went out and played its final game of the season, and their middle school football careers.  I understand that it’s middle school and that those who choose to will have plenty of opportunities to play in the future.  At the same time, when the game ended and we stood before these 53 players who had poured so much effort into a season, the finality of it all was a little emotional.  We have coached these young men for two seasons, watching them grow, develop and play the best game of those two seasons in their final time on the field together.  They were something to see.  And while it would have been a bit sweeter to win the game rather than lose it in overtime, those young men gave everything they had.  We could not have been more proud of them.

When the group of coaches had finished the post-game talk, a parade of players came up to give us hugs.  Even some who I thought maybe didn’t like me very much waited their turn and we shared an embrace.  Some of them spoke, some just held on and listened.  More than a few cried.  We had told this group all year that we love them and are proud of them.  As I hugged one player after another, I heard those words come back to me (in both English and Spanish).  It was a powerful moment.

At the end of the day, these kids are still 13/14 year old young men.  They are going to do great things, and they are also going to mess up, irritate their teachers/parents and make an occasional poor choice.  That’s just reality.  But my prayer is that the messages we worked to build into their minds and hearts will take root and yield something meaningful in their lives and in the lives of those whom they influence over the next 90 years.

That’s why I coach.