When It’s Over

by Ryan Krzykowski

The 8th grade football season ended on Tuesday October 12.  Our kids, the champions of Olathe’s Western Division, traveled across town to face the first place team in the East.  This opponent was a team we had previously defeated, and yet due to scheduling irregularities, our group was going on the road to play the city title game.  Emerging with a 14-0 victory, highlighted by a 75 yard interception return at the end of the 3rd quarter, our boys had become champions.  Yes, it’s “just” middle school football (It was mildly irritating how many times I heard some version of that comment over the past couple months), but for these kids, the stage was as big as it gets.  It was incredibly satisfying to watch them enjoy the postgame celebration.  They had come together with a common goal, worked for it, and earned that championship feeling.

I love these kids.  I loved this season.  And when it was over, I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel.  Part of me didn’t want it to be over because we’d had such a great time together.  Part of me realized I was tired, and it was time to put a bow on this thing and reintroduce some level of margin into my life.  The other two coaches I was privileged to work with, Chuck and Heath, were both about as good as it gets and I’ll miss the time we spent planning, watching video and running practices together.  I’ve known most of these kids since they were in elementary school, and it’s uncertain whether I’ll ever coach any of them again.  I’ve coached enough seasons over the past couple decades to know these feelings well, but somehow I’ve never quite gotten used to them.  When I coach a season, I am fully invested.  I am passionate about wanting to give the players something special.  And as much as I’ve gradually learned to separate my identity and sense of worth from the outcome of children’s games, the reality is that it matters and I care.  Mostly I care about living out my Purpose Statement, which speaks to helping young people compete joyfully and guiding them toward becoming resilient, selfless encouragers who are known by their love for each other.  I don’t know exactly how well that purpose was accomplished, but I know it was something I prayed for and gave my best effort toward.

Last week we had our year-end awards ceremony, and I was given the opportunity to address our team one final time.  I adapted and shared a note found in Every Moment Matters, in which John O’Sullivan quotes college soccer coach Scott Frey.  My adaptation of Coach Frey’s letter to his team went something like this:

If at the end of this season all you can say is, “I was a champion and we won a lot of games,” then I’d say it wasn’t worth the time or energy.  But if you can look back and say, “I learned a lot about myself.  I did things I never thought possible, both physically and mentally.  I made and grew important and lasting friendships.  I’ve learned that helping others and seeing them succeed at something is as good as if it happened to me,” then it is, without question, worth everything you did.

I talked briefly to the team about the difference between goals and purpose.  Winning all the games and the championship, those were great goals.  They are not our purpose for playing.  Our purpose goes far beyond games, touchdowns and scores.  Our purpose relates to the kind of people we are becoming as we pursue our goals together.  I’m not sure how well a 13 or 14 year old can grasp these ideas, but I love that we got the chance to plant those seeds.  I love these kids and I’ll miss this season.

Let’s Coach With Purpose…