“There will come a day when I cannot do this… today is not that day.”
Jack’s brain when the alarm sounds in the morning.
I just got back from a run. I thought it important to get this down before the dopamine wears off.
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with running. Actually, “love” is a rather strong term, let’s call it more of a “tolerate” / hate relationship. Before anyone gets riled up and tells me that I “just have to give it a chance” or “you need to break past the barrier and it gets better,” trust me, I’ve given it a shot. I’ve run two marathons, three half marathons, a series of 10ks and a few random triathlons. If there is such a thing as a runner’s high, I need to find a new dealer.
All this being said, I am very aware of health benefits and the reasons I need to run. Yes, there can be a meditative brain flush when the jams are pumping. But more importantly, I’ve spent enough time on crutches to understand what it must be like to lose or never have mobility. So, why do I run if it’s such a chore? Because I can….. and I like cake. While I am physically able, I will maximize the benefits of this laborious task and be thankful for the opportunity.
Besides, unlike swimming, when running I have all the oxygen I want and the scenery changes. But that’s for another blog. Stay tuned….
On this bright sunny Monday morning, it seems fitting that today’s Tailwind is brought to you by Jim Johnson. When I started with Radio One, “Jimmy Jam” was a major influence and deserves a lot of credit for success I may have had during my early years with the company. He was a veteran seller who knew almost everyone in Baltimore, yet he spent more than one late night talking this young account executive off of ledges and navigating the problem du jour. He didn’t need to do this, but I’m glad he did. His generosity and willingness to help “the new kid” when I had absolutely nothing to offer in return made a huge impression that has not been forgotten. Jim has since left the company but think of his guidance often.
Fast forward many years to present day. I don’t speak with Jim as often as I would like. However, thanks to the power of social media, I am still inspired by Jim on a daily basis. Every morning, without fail, by the time I get out of bed Jim has completed a daily walk regardless of weather conditions and has posted a synopsis on Facebook with a few daily headlines. I enjoy reading updates and draw motivation from the fact he is already up and taking on the world.
In my world, history is a source of Tailwinds. When you think about it, humans have done some amazing things, under difficult and sometimes awful conditions.
Things that run through my mind:
Developing a new science or technology with only a vision and rudimentary tools.
Standing up to an establishment in the face of personal harm for the betterment of others.
Men marching hundreds of miles, in not so comfortable shoes or clothes designed to breathe existing on nutrition that makes Spam look like a delicacy, to stand in a line in an open field to fight a battle they feel is just.
Those who somehow managed to hold onto hope when it seemed there was 0% chance of a better life while interned in a concentration camp or life of slavery.
These examples of courage, intelligence and conviction were
accomplished by people with DNA very similar to ours. Because of their efforts, we now we now have a better world and broader minds. With history and a little empathy as a reference point, sometimes headwinds are put into perspective and become a little more manageable.
I said these tailwinds were not in any particular order and technically they won’t be. But for the sake of foundation, I’m going to start at the beginning. Today, I am going to acknowledge Genetics as my Tailwind.
Despite a lack of hand-eye coordination and a limited attention span, I’d say I come from pretty good stock. Both of my parents and my grandparents on my mom’s side were fully functional and cognitive well into their eighties. My dad was physically active taking daily walks, riding his bike, hiking and camping up until he had the stroke. I’m the youngest of five siblings and we’ve all been fortunate to be healthy thus far. Almost half a century into my time here, I can still run around a soccer field with some measure of aptitude, able to muscle through Julia’s 8th-grade math, keep up with Aidan’s quick wit, and my Dr. is still surprised to see me when I am in his office. These are good things.
It stems from a podcast I listened to earlier this week on Freakonomics Radio. This episode titled “Why Is My Life So Hard?” was centered on a paper the guests published called “The Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry: An Availability Bias In Assessments Of Barriers And Blessings.” In the paper, they study why everyone tends to believe their road is more difficult than others. This is something I’ve noticed and pondered before. Obviously, these dudes have wondered the same thing and figured out a way to get paid for an answer. Color me jealous.
We all do it in one way or another. It’s natural. Some common examples were “Why you think your parents were tougher on you than your siblings,” “Why both sides of the political aisle are convinced the deck is stacked against them,” “Why our profession is more demanding than others” etc. The tendency is to notice the obstacles (headwinds) without paying attention to strengths or positives (tailwinds). Even if we do notice the tailwind, appreciation is fleeting. One analogy they mentioned that resonated was a running with a strong wind in your face. When heading into the wind, it’s the bane of your existence. After finally turning around, and the wind is at your back, the appreciation lasts for only a moment until thought turns to the next hill that’s in your way.
Eventually, they got to the point which I will now as well. The people they find are the most balanced and successful are those that continually show gratitude to the tailwinds. Showing gratitude, more specifically, documenting the good fortune that has helped you along the way, creates a symmetrical counterbalance and highlights strengths that may be underappreciated. The context can be anything, but it needs to be specific. It can’t be just “I appreciate my health.” This claim might be true but what specifically do you appreciate about it? Same thing goes for people. You can’t just appreciate a person, what is it about them or what did they do that you appreciate? If you want to double down, they suggest letting the person know. Besides emotional vulnerability, what’s the harm in letting someone know they made a positive impact? For some reason, we rarely do this enough.
Let’s be honest; I have it harder than any of you. I’m kidding of course. At my core, I am well aware that I am extremely fortunate in more ways than I can count. That being said, I am not above contradicting myself and admitting that, I sometimes lose sight of my tailwinds and it seems like I’m swimming uphill. If you are with me, let me hear you say, “Go ahead with your hypocritical self Jack!!!”
Taking all this into consideration, I thought I’d conduct a little experiment. I am taking on a challenge with a friend of mine to acknowledge one tailwind every day for 30 days. To make it stick, we decided it needs to be in a public forum. I will probably use this blog. I’ve been told I can be a bit long winded with the words. This will be great practice in constructing short, concise, deeply profound, impactful, one thought posts. We’ll see how that works….
To be clear; what this is not:
With the exception of my girls dominating the CYO U-14 Soccer season, 2016 was a very difficult year for several reasons. This 30-day effort is not a cry for help or an effort to recover from a tumultuous downslide. I’m fine. I just had an idea and thought I’d see where it goes.
This exercise is not comfortable. It probably should be, but for some reason, it’s not. Which seems all the more reason to take on the challenge.
This gratitude is not to be confused with satisfaction. Appreciating something doesn’t mean I’m going to settle for mediocrity when I know it can be better.
This is not a comprehensive list, nor is it in order. I don’t have it written as of yet; I intend to go with what presents itself along the way.
This is by no means a solitary effort. If you would like to join me and potentially start my first viral movement, please feel free.
Who knows; maybe if we use social media for some positive energy, instead of venting about political headwinds, or telling me “You’re not going to believe what happens next in this video,” …… the world might just be a better place.
I’d be interested to know; what are your tailwinds and do you appreciate them?
So this post is a bit delayed. It’s been in my head for a while; recently I was motivated to let it roll. I’ve posted a few times about my chronicles in coaching. This edition will be the next in the series.
Julia’s in 8th grade, her final year at ICS which means we are now headed down the home stretch of this adventure. The fast-approaching milestone was crystallized in one succinct emotion piercing phrase last August. I’d heard the phrase dozens if not hundreds of times over the past seven years. This time though when I heard it through the twilight, it meant something completely different.
Each season I’ve enjoyed the wins, found positives in the losses and without question enjoyed every minute of the ride. When I look back on all of this, the moments I will cherish the most are those almost no one could see.
After practice, parents come and claim their player, whisking them off to finish homework or start a bath. Eventually, everyone would be claimed, and it would just be me, my kid, 6 or
8 balls and an empty soccer field. We would stay and take shots on goal, play one on one or some other type of made up game. About the time the sun was almost gone I would announce it was time to go. Julia would object, and I would continue playing with the enthusiasm of an aging rock band cheered back on stage for another encore. This dance repeated itself a couple of times, usually well past the point of darkness.
Back in August, I was once again on a darkening soccer field at Ridgely Middle School watching Julia’s shadowy silhouette line up another shot. I called
out to announce it was time to pack up and head home. Almost immediately as if it was a rehearsed response, her voice cut through the darkness. “Nooo….. Dad….. ONE MORE…..” I’m not great with hints, but with the subtlety of Mr. Trump at a N.O.W. convention, The Universe provided a reminder of reality. As of then, we had “one more” season.
I’m well aware of the impermanence of raising kids and that times like those are numbered. I try to be mindful and not wax poetic about days gone by. Yes, the moment stopped me in my tracks and made this dad melt inside. In my world, there could not be a more direct way of saying “enjoy this!!!” Even at that moment, I knew her words were a gift. We don’t always get the notification that there is only “One More.” As I watched her in the darkness, I knew I needed to appreciate not only the time we had left on a dark soccer field but all of the random situations and great moments yet to come.
The referee will eventually blow the whistle to signify the end of our last game. I will surely be sad and would give anything to begin again with practice #1. The memories of soccer will serve as one more reminder that the clock is always running. We can’t stop it from getting dark; we can’t stop the kids from growing, but we can stay when you hear that call. With that in mind, I will try and repeat the same answer I gave that night in August ; “Yeah Julia……. One More……….”
“Dear Mom, It’s me, Mrs. John William McCarty. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? It does to me.”
Betty Leiper McCarty. June 27, 1955.
So began a letter from my mother to her mother two days after she became “Mrs. John McCarty”. That was day #2 of a marriage that would last until my father passed away 21,455 days later. She was a love-struck bride thanking her parents profusely for the “perfect wedding reception” (I’d like to state for reference that the reception was in the backyard
of my grandparent’s Connecticut farm. Lively to the point my Dad had to sneak a small keg of beer behind the barn, out of sight from my temperance preaching great-grandmother). When
she wrote that letter, she had a lifetime of experiences in front of her. She was obviously very excited about recent events and the journey ahead. By the time it concludes with detailed directions to their new home in a trailer park, it tells the story of a wide-eyed woman as uncertain as the rest of us when we reach a point in our lives when we feel like we should be grown up.
My mother passed away three weeks ago. The logical Jack keeps reminding me that she was 88 years old, and lived a life she loved. She saw her kids and grandkids grow to become happy and successful. She even played with great grandkids. That ain’t bad. As soon as I begin believing this propaganda, “Emotional Jack” stomps on the logic and argues back; “it sucks, and you know it.”
Just before she passed my siblings and I found a note she had written that listed a few things that were important to her and wanted to be kept in the family. Suddenly there were five kids in a house where we were all raised allowed to explore places we were never allowed when growing up. The things we found were amazing.
We found the letter I quoted above that my mother wrote to her parents after her wedding. It was in a yellow wooden box at the bottom of her closet. The box and a backstory were explained in her note. The box was made in 1901 by mom’s great grandfather for his daughter (my great grandmother) after her mother passed when she was very young.
A few random wedding invitations and personal letters addressed to my grandparents Frank and Hellen Leiper.
Pictures of my great grandfather, Hazzard Kenyon. (Is that the coolest great grandfather name ever or what?)
The letter approving my father’s GI Bill allowing him to go to the University of Connecticut.
A loan agreement for a Singer sewing machine. $14 per months for 24 months. A $300 sewing machine was a pretty big deal back in the 1950s.
Then there was The Dress. On the list of things my mother wanted to remain in the family was her wedding dress. Thanks to the wonders of a cedar chest, it was in perfect condition. This marked the first time any of us had seen it in person. I was showed this bit of McCarty history to my daughter Julia a few days later. Strangely, to me anyway, it was close to her size. Soon I was sitting in the living room talking to my sister when the dress
I had seen thousands of times in static pictures came to life. As the dress moved down the stairs, it began to tell it’s story. In the smile on Julia’s face, I could see Betty Leiper.
She was a giddy, young, vibrant bride elated to have married the man of her dreams and excited to take on whatever life had in store. She was young once. They all were. The items on her list were more than keepsakes. They are part of our story.
It was not a “yellow wooden box made by my great, great grandfather”. It was a gift from a broken hearted, recently widowed father who loved his daughter and wanted do something to help her cope with the loss of her mother.
They were not “random wedding invitations to my grandparents”. They were invites from people who wanted to hang with “Frank and Hellen”. The couple with five kids and lived down the street.
It wasn’t a picture of my great great grandfather Hazzard Kenyon. He was a young dude with a really cool name that was sitting for a picture. Great grandkids were the furthest thing from his mind. With a name like that, he probably went out that night
and did whatever people with badass names did in the 19th century. I don’t know what it was, but I promise it was awesome. (Note: I rarely, if ever, use the term badass, but I thought it fit here)
It wasn’t a GI Bill approval letter, it was a gateway. That approved document allowed my dad to provide a life for his wife and kids. Colleges, weddings, a house, vacations and lifetime of memories way beyond anything he or my mother had when they were growing up.
It was a sewing machine that would go on to make clothes for kids that didn’t exist, and decorations for a house they didn’t own at the time.
While the emotional side of Jack is absolutely correct in that this whole experience sucks. There is nothing I can do about it except realize this is part of my story. They went through it, and now it’s my turn. As my portion of the story continues, I will draw strength from those that help shape me and embrace the cast of characters and events that make my chapter so interesting. I have been lucky beyond words to have incredible parents in my life for almost fifty years. I will miss them, but I know a part of them resides in my kids and me every day as our story continues….
For those of you who appreciate creativity or maybe performance art, this post is exactly 1,000 words…. BOOM!
This past weekend I was skiing with my daughter Julia, a couple of her friends and their families. We don’t ski very often, maybe once a year. The girls are pretty athletic, and their progress in just this short two-day trip was pretty amazing. By mid-day on day #2 they were feeling comfortable on their skis, maybe even a little cocky, and were ready for a bit more challenge. It was time for the “Black Diamond.”
Anticipation had been building for weeks. The “Black Diamond” slopes were the toughest our Western Mayland mountain had to offer. Once the gauntlet had been thrown, and the girls called each other’s bluff, it was “go time.” We headed to the fiercely named “Odin’s Chute.” I skied to the crest of the “cliff” and watched as the girls cautiously approached. Even through their tinted goggles, I could see their eyes increase in size as they began to realize they could see the bottom but could not see the hill itself.
Being teenage girls and great friends they are usually full of chatter. At this time, however, there was silence. By now they had descended a preliminary hill and knew there was no going back. As a Coach and a Dad, this is the type of teachable moment you dream of….. The expressions on their faces said,
“I will listen to anything you have to say if it keeps me alive.”
There were no arguments, no rebuttals, just a united focus that non-verbally said… “yes, I’m listening.”
The other parents and I refilled the girls rapidly depleting reserves of confidence and assured them that they were completely capable of accomplishing what they set out to do. They just needed to take this on like they would any seemingly insurmountable task. In bite sized pieces. It was one turn at a time and to cut it into small “chunks.” By this I mean, ski across the side of the mountain, turn and ski back. With each turn, they would descend a little more. Don’t worry about the next turn, only what’s in front of you. One turn at a time. That’s exactly what they did. They took on the mountain, cut it into bite size “chunks”, accomplished their goal and claimed a well-deserved victory.
The girls know me well enough to realize I will always find a deeper meaning, and this was no exception. Throughout life, we are continually faced with projects, tasks, long-range goals, which make us shake in our boots. When we break them down and take them one turn at a time, eventually we get where we want to go. Sure we are scared. Sure we question if what we are about to do is a wise decision. We probably won’t even accomplish the goal our first attempt. But when we earn the right to pose for the picture, it’s worth a thousand words.
I’m fascinated by human behavior, and I love a challenge. These inherent traits bode well for my chosen profession as the leader of a sales team for a media company. We develop custom integrated marketing campaigns that fulfill specific client needs. I get to work in a variety of verticals with customers who range from Apple to The Zoo. I love the creativity the job requires to develop these campaigns and as a by product no two days are the same. As much as I love the thrill of seeing a project we develop come to fruition and make a measurable impact, it was a one-word question and a group of over-achieving, short attention span having, 6th graders that made me realize why I like to get up in the morning. The question was simply “Why….?”
I am a HUGE Simon Sinek fan. His books “Leaders Eat Last” and “Start With Why” struck a nerve and made perfect sense. He explained in very plain terms why we do what we do, why some strategies work, and others don’t. One of his underlying themes is “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.” I’ve subscribed to this notion way before Simon phrased it so succinctly. This time, the sentence hit home and forced me to ask myself; “What Is My Why?” Why do I do what I do? At this particular time, my father had passed a few months earlier, we were experiencing a dip in sales numbers, and I was looking for a bit of clarity. I was concerned that without an understanding of why I was doing my job, I would just be going through the motions. As they say, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. This lack of focus would become obvious to my team and clients would see what must be a facade. A downward spiral would surely ensue. One thing was evident before I could figure out what I was going to do, there needed to be an understanding of “why” I would do it.
How I rediscovered my “why” was this; I was driving to work when I asked myself what seemed like a difficult question but in actuality was quite easy. “If I were able to do anything at all for two hours today, let’s say from 10 am to noon, what would I do?” After the standard “Attempt to eat a gallon of Cookies and Cream” and “experience zero gravity” were ruled out the answer was clear and evident. I would gather “my girls” get them on a field, and I’d coach. What suddenly became apparent was that my career is the same skill set and activity. I get to coach my sales team for a living. It was an incredible realization. The most rewarding part of what I do professionally and personally is help my team grow and lead them to achieve success… i.e. Coaching.
As I explored this parallel further, the commonalities between my professional and personal pastimes became crystal clear. It was all about Leadership. There were differences of course but at the end of the day, people are people and personalities are the same. The biggest difference is one audience provides your instantaneous feedback with absolutely zero concern about an annual raise.
The conversations are a bit different; you might need to deliver instructions in shorter bursts, but deep down we are all wired the same. I do not claim to be Tim Cook (named by Forbes as the greatest leader of our time), Franklin D. Roosevelt (a leader who led our country through it’s toughest times), or Mickey Goodmill. I am just a guy who’s fascinated with how the brain works and has made a hobby of studying human behavior. My conclusion is this; if you want to test your management science, pick up a ball, a bat or a lacrosse stick and head to a field.
I’ve stubbed my toe many times along the way, both in the office and on the field. Here are a few “Jackisms” that might help you along the way. These rules apply to both of my fields of play. My descriptions refer metaphorically to both teams.
Engage… Engage… Engage… It’s all about Engagement; Hence the title “Herding Cats.” If you have ever tried to get a cat to do anything, it’s all about keeping them interested. If you lose them, good luck getting it back. Now, imagine doing that with a group of people.
Same principle. Keep them interested and motivated. According to a Gallup report “How to Tackle U.S. Employees’ Stagnation Engagement”, up to 70% of the Americans who go to work every day aren’t engaged in their role. This lack of interest costs the American Economy up to $450 – $550 Billion in lost productivity*. This staggering number does not take into account the expense of Advil and therapists for the unlucky managers of the 70%. When building this connection with your team, understand that not everyone likes mint chocolate chip. Different topics will appeal to different people. So keep it fresh and find specific individualized compliments to let them know you are paying attention and care about what they are doing. In short, get involved in their world. And OMG!!! IMHO (In my humble opinion) this is VERY IMPORTANT, play to your audience. What’s interesting to you might not be important to them. If you are coaching teenage girls, you might want to study up on One Direction or texting abbreviations. If you are coaching a sales team, be up on the latest trends in the business. Do what you’ve got to do keep everyone interested and involved. A general rule of thumb: Whenever possible make it fun. Fun ALWAYS sells.
Individualization – Everyone is different. We might have one common goal, and ultimately we are wired the same, but no two people get to the same place the same way. Getting to know what makes each person unique takes a bit of time but the alternative is banging your head against a wall when your cats feel like taking a nap.
Know their “Why” – Everyone has their reason for being in front of you and on your team. It’s your job to find out why they are there and where they want to go. Everyone’s reason is important and very real. If it’s important to them, it’s important to you.
Listen to Ray!!! – Up there on the level with Simon Sinek maybe even a little above, I’m a huge Ray Lewis fan. The greatest linebacker in the history of the NFL. I even named my favorite dog after him. He was an incredible player, and his leadership skills were second to none. Dude was a prophet, and I’m pretty sure he would agree. Truth be told, most of the time, I couldn’t follow his speeches, but I wanted to run through a wall for him when he was finished. One phrase he repeated stuck with me; “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Caring is a direct correlation to “Knowing their Why.” Once they know you genuinely care about what they want to accomplish, you are now headed in the same direction. Their goal is your goal. (Full Disclosure: I know there are many people who said: “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” I just love any opportunity to share a Ray Lewis reference and a video. Click his name for the link)
You’ve Got To Give To Receive – There are reams and reams of research about the benefits of giving. It doesn’t have to be a material item. The best gifts are your personal time, effort, and concern. When getting your team to “know you care” as Ray puts it, you need to give of yourself. When you lead by example in this way, they will then give more of themselves to the team. If you want to read more on this principal, you might want to check out “Give and Take” by Adam Grant. It’s a good read.
Be Transparent – You need to know your “Why” and let it be known. As mentioned earlier, Simon says, “People don’t buy what we do they buy why we do it.” This rule is true for virtually any audience you can find. Anyone who has ever worked for me or played soccer for me knows I am a very competitive person, and it’s no secret I love to win. But they also understand (or, at least, I hope they do) that I want to help them improve and grow. Winning is a by-product of individual improvement. (see “Goals and Wins” post earlier in the blog)
Believe in your people – If you believe in them, they will believe in you. Some of my favorite players that I coached were not superstars. My favorites were the kids hesitant to play but found confidence in a supportive team. This kid ended up loving the game, gave everything they had and played way beyond their ability. Confidence is an amazing drug. It makes people believe they can do things that were previously unimaginable. Henry Ford put it best; “if you believe you can or you can’t; you’re right.” (I am confident Ray Lewis would have thought of this, but Mr. Ford predated him)
Passion Is Contagious – If you are excited there must be a reason. If you deliver information in a monotone boring manner, don’t be surprised if you get a monotone response. Cats could care less about monotone. They want the flashy ribbon or string. Give them what they want.
Shrink The Goal – Celebrate Small Victories – If you are living your “Why” your goals will probably be apparent. However, it’s your job to set, and show the path to what James Collins and Jerry Porras call the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or BHAG. In their book “Built To Last Successful Habits Of Visionary Companies” they describe the BHAG being “created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.” But remember, achieving your goal is a result of others striving to obtain theirs along the way. You are not going to reach the BHAG in one meeting, one practice, or in a short amount of time. So remember to shrink the goal. Focus on the mile marker in front of you and collectively enjoy the dopamine rush when you cross the line. These accomplishments feel good for all involved, provide a boost of energy and set the path towards the next goal on the list.
“Shooters Gotta Shoot” – but they also need to respect the defense. On the soccer field, some people have a nose for the goal and love to take the shot. Others naturally know how to position themselves on defense. Same in the business world. There are deal closers and account managers. Each person on the team is important. Let them thrive in their role. They will be happier, more engaged and the team better rounded. This being said, sometimes it’s good to switch them up for a day or two. Let the sales team see how hard the back office works when an order is late. Or let the person who gets the glory for scoring a goal understand stopping a shot is harder than they think.
People are accountable to people, not numbers – At the end of the day, one of the main reasons the human species survived for millions of years is the drug serotonin. It’s what makes you proud when someone you love accomplishes a goal. It’s what makes brave men and women in the service put themselves in harms way for others. Serotonin is the loyalty drug. When there is a genuinely caring relationship between two people, they will to more for each other than they ever would on their own.
As a Manager, you will assume the responsibilities of business metrics that are usually quantifiable by numbers. As a leader, your goal is to build and grow a TEAM. With strong leadership, Together Everyone Achieves More and the metrics become accomplishments.
*Sorenson, Susan, and Keri Garman. “How to Tackle U.S. Employees’ Stagnating Engagement.” Gallup.com. Gallup, 13 June 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
As I mentioned earlier this week, for a few months a year I don an alter ego as “Coach Jack.” In all honesty, this is a bit of misnomer as it is the opposite of “alter” and all about “ego.” When I’m on the soccer field with “my girls” I’m as inherent as a forty-something guy with a mortgage can be. There is a reward that comes after walking that undefined line and pushing a player beyond their comfort zone to a point where they may be rather unimpressed you, only to watch them accomplish things they did not know they could do. When you laugh with the player later, the bond is stronger and unequaled by many things in life. During the times mentioned above, I am quite confident the name they are calling me is not, Coach Jack. When a breakthrough finally happens that I help instigate, it makes everything right. It provides a feeling of invincibility that lasts until the next 12-year-old puts you in your place.
During my tenure as Coach Jack, there have been many players that have fueled and fed this drive along the way. There was Danny of course, my nephew, who started it all. He was the first person that caused me to be simultaneously angry and proud when he passed the ball in front of an open net so that a teammate could score his first goal. In that same era, there was “Rachel Defense.” An eight-year-old girl that had a natural ability for timing and position that caused many a young man to rethink his future in soccer. I think of “Ella the Goalie,” a dainty 9-year-old girl with bows in her hair that wanted nothing more than to be the last line of defense for her team. By the end of the season after bumps, bruises and tears she learned her craft and stopped a point-blank shot in the championship game that earned her my eternal gratitude. There was Caroline, who’s parents told me “she should play defense because she’s more comfortable when the ball rolls towards her and all she has to do is kick it.” Two years later, mid-way through the season, Caroline was our leading scorer. These players and many others* pushed me to be the best coach I can be. (*This short list intentionally omits current players, but I promise there are many more examples published in my tell-all novel.) There is one player however that in my eyes has a highlight reel all to herself.
Her drive to compete second only to her overzealous coach. She (and her smaller, but an equally important partner in crime) unknowingly push me not only to be a better coach but to be a better person.
As a coach you are not supposed to play favorites but I unabashedly admit, #10 is one of two very favorite players who has ever walked on a soccer field. And it’s not just because of this moment:
Championship Game – Score tied 0-0. :30 seconds left.
She doesn’t have things easy. She’s the coach’s kid. Every team has one. It’s the kid who has to be at every practice early and stays past the last player has been picked up. The player that has to perform with higher expectations than the others to get praise, so it does not look like the coach is playing favorites. They don’t get to leave practice or a game “on the field”. There is the talk of the team or strategy all week long. This
player that is forced to play goalie, or offensive line or any other potentially undesirable position because the coach can’t put other players in situations where he or she would not put their child. Other factors make this role more difficult. The big loud guy who yells a lot is not always the most popular guy on the field. He or she is an easy target for peer ridicule. That’s not easy to hear. And lastly, but certainly not least, the coach can and will say things to this player that are a bit more direct and possibly cutting. They do this because…. well… there is no good reason. It just happens, and I’m sorry it does.
Julia, #10, is that player for me. She had to stay in the goal long after the other girls who wanted to try it realized it wasn’t always fun. Without complaining, she accepted her fate and put in extra time outside of regular
practice to learn the position. Now, even though it’s not her first choice when she plays in the nets with a confidence that makes me nervous and an ability that makes my voice crack when I congratulate her on a save. Other instances seem to have left a scar. Such as the time that despite having scored two goals in the first half and making, at least, ten saves in the second half, she was not awarded the “Game Orange” because another girl had yet to receive such an honor. This offense took place five seasons ago. I’m not sure of the shelf life for this atrocity. In the time since then, I am fairly sure I could have grown an orange tree or two that would have repaid my debt several times over.
#10 turns 13 today. It’s gone by in a flash. She’s been #10 since her grandfather first held her and proclaimed her a perfect 10 for being the tenth grandchild. I wish I could say that I remember every game, every moment she had made my life special, but that would be impossible. This morning I tried to explain that I not only love her because she’s my daughter which is almost mandatory, I like her and truly enjoy being around her. She was quick to remind me that she was now 13, and that may change. Both of our statements may be true. Time will tell. But I for the time being she’s one of my favorite people to talk with and spend time.
She’s an incredible big sister and a daughter that makes Patty and me proud every day. She does a spot on Dad impression, has a creative mind that connects unrelated topics with ease and an ability to make me laugh almost on command. She is intelligent, caring, giving and compassionate for most of her waking hours. However, once she crosses the sideline to walk on the field, she’s a five foot, three inches, blonde haired, blue eyed, ball of Catholic school girl fury in a Lululemon headband.
The name “Coach Jack” is a natural extension of my personality. Thirteen
years ago today, #10 joined my team. She gave me the name “Dad”, and suddenly my entire world changed in ways I could not possibly have imagined. I am a very fortunate man in many ways. Two amazing kids call me this name every day (they also use Mac Daddy, which is acceptable and maybe even encouraged). Granted, the name Dad is not always said in the most positive light. Much like the situation above, when a player is pushed out of their comfort zone, the method to the madness is not always understood or appreciated. When it’s a
parent that’s causing the discomfort, the irritation to the child is magnified. That’s ok with me; they can say whatever they want as long as they call me Dad. I’ve answered to many nicknames in my life, but Dad is the name that I am most proud. I’m more than willing to tell everyone why.
Happy Birthday, Julia. We love you. Dad, Mom and Aidan.