Life lessons often come in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Some of our greatest lessons are learned through failure. I failed, miserably, at football my freshman year in high school and learned some valuable lessons in the process.
I was not cut out to play high school football. Somebody should have told me, should have taken me aside and said, "Dude, you weigh 117 pounds. What are you thinking?" Unfortunately no one did so my assumption that tackle football was not much different from the touch football I had played as a child led me to sign up for football my freshman year.
Remarkably, they found a set of pads my size (I think the label read “Toys R Us”). I did the best I could in drills, listened carefully to the coach’s instructions and made sure that I performed each skill and technique exactly as instructed, hoping he would notice my diligence. It was not long before he did.
The drill was simple. Two lines, single file, about 10 yards apart. The coach tossed the ball to the person in the front of one line, who would catch it and run as if going around the end of the line on a sweep. The front person in the other line was supposed to run over, meet the ball carrier head on and make the tackle. I was in the tackling line.
When my turn came the coach flipped the ball to the player who would become the starting fullback, a boy my height who outweighed me by 50 pounds. I sprinted to the spot and did everything just the way the coach had taught us. I kept my head up, hit him in the chest and wrapped my arms around him and drove hard with my legs. Next thing I knew I was flat on my back staring up at the sky with cleat marks on my chest. The coach fought back laughter, "You did it just how I taught you." He shook his head, "What can I say?"
My football career ended a few days later. Technique was no match for brute force. I turned in my helmet and my kid sized pads and sulked away, forced to deal with the reality that this was one thing in life that I could not succeed at no matter how hard I tried. Wisely, the coach did not try to talk me out of quitting. He did not offer platitudes or empty words of encouragement. He just let me go.
The coach did so many things right and in so doing gave an example of how we can respond to young people who have dreams that do not align with their abilities.
First- He let me try. Although it was obvious that someone with my size and athletic ability was not likely to succeed, he let me try and let me succeed or fail on my own.
Second- He gave me the tools to succeed. He showed me the correct techniques, how to do the drills. When I failed it was not because he did not work with me.
Third- He allowed me learn my limitations for myself and allowed me to fail.
Fourth- He was truthful in his response to my failure and let me learn from it.
Looking back now I realize how important these lessons are. While every person is an individual blessed with unique gifts and talents, none of us succeeds at everything we try and desire does not ensure success. It is often through failure that we learn who we are and what we can do and through disappointment that we gain a sense of personal direction. We do well when we teach these things to our children.
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