What I’d Like to Hear a Coach Say After a Big Game

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

From youth leagues to high school, to college and pro sports, we’ve all heard coaches tell their team after winning a championship game, “Enjoy this moment. You’ll remember it the rest of your lives.” I’ve probably even said it myself. But it recently occurred to me that what I’d really love to hear a coach say is this:

After culminating a memorable season with a championship, how would this be for a message? “This was fantastic. Now, go live the rest of your life in a manner that makes this seem insignificant.”

The “Big Man on Campus” who can’t move on, the former high school star who is always saying, “Remember when?” These are cliches in American culture. Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about it. So many athletes try to hold on their their “glory days.”

Our society places so much emphasis on athletic accomplishment. From the seemingly hundreds of television channels broadcasting sporting events, some at the high school level, to the pressure parents put on children barely out of diapers already on travel teams, to the crushing weight of college scholarships, one might draw the conclusion that there is nothing more important in life than winning, succeeding, achieving in athletics. We are arguably the world’s most competitive nation.

But with the possible exception of the Senior Tour in golf, it eventually ends for everyone. Some by middle school, most after high school, a lucky few get to play in college or even a few years in the pros, but what then? If we were told all our lives through every message that succeeding in sports is the highest aspiration, where do we go when it’s over?

Maybe instead we can strive to think like Leland Melvin. If you’ve not heard of him, Melvin was a star receiver at Heritage High School in Virginia who attended the University of Richmond on a football scholarship. He finished his career at Richmond as their all-time leader in receptions and was an honorable-mention All-American. He also finished with a degree in Chemistry.

He was drafted by the Detroit Lions but released after he injured his hamstring. He then signed with the Dallas Cowboys. At the same time he enrolled in the University of Virginia’s Materials Science and Engineering Masters program, studying at night after practice. When another serious hamstring injury ended his football career, he applied to NASA, eventually becoming an astronaut and flying two missions aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

According to his Wikipedia page his recreational interests include photography, piano, reading, music, cycling, tennis, and snowboarding. Melvin appeared as an elimination challenge guest judge in the 12th episode of Top Chef, with his dogs in the seventh season of The Dog Whisperer, and was the host of Child Genius. He is the president of the Spaceship Earth Grants, a public benefit corporation whose mission is to make space more accessible through human spaceflight.

A few minutes ago many of us would have agreed that if we or our children could play NCAA football, be the school’s all-time leading receiver and All-American, and be drafted into the NFL, that would be a lifetime achievement. But after reading what Leland Melvin went on to do after all of that, does the football part still seem like such a big deal?

If our children grow up knowing that what they can accomplish in science, business, social work, politics, the arts, education or other fields will give them more satisfaction and leave a more significant and lasting legacy than any trophy, travel-ball championship, high school banner or even college scholarship, it doesn’t mean they will not try as hard or get as far in sports. But it may mean they’ll understand that their “glory days” are always in the future, and never in the past.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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