Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“The Thrill of Victory; the Agony of Defeat!”

Posted by admin November - 19 - 2012 - Monday

We played in the state championship game on Saturday. We were playing for the Virginia Independent School Division II championship— at the home field of the other team. They are about 3 1/2 hours away so I decided to take our team up there the night before. We stayed in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia. We had to pay a minimal fee (NCAA rules) but they let our kids practice on their practice field. Verrrrrrrrrry cool! We had a team meal, did our awards ceremony and let the guys “hang out” in the hotel till bed time. They were great! It is a special group of kids.

We had breakfast and then boarded our bus for the 40 minute ride up into the mountains to play this school. Our kids were understandably jittery and it showed in the first quarter. We turned the ball over twice— once on our own 6 yard line. UGH! We fought back and only trailed by 20-16 at halftime.

Unfortunately, we did not re-gain the momentum in the 3rd quarter. This was a big, fast, physical team that we faced and it showed. We just got worn down. It was frustrating that we couldn’t run the ball like we’ve done so successfully most all season. We averaged 285 yards rushing per game and 34 points a game! But not on Saturday. Final score was 41-16 in favor of the “bad guys!”

I measured my thoughts as I walked to the end zone to meet with our kids for the last time. I realized that it was not the time to point fingers or lament over missed opportunities. The kids felt bad enough as it was. The first thing out of my mouth was, “I am sooooooooooo proud of you!!!” That statement immediately lifted some heads. I explained that “we are not defined as men based on whether we won or lost. You played hard, you showed good sportsmanship….. we just met a foe today who played better than us. We have much to be thankful. We had a great run… all the way to the state championship game. It was a great season.”

We’ll be back… I think. We had 10 underclassmen starting on Offense (I have to find someone to step in and fill some big shoes for a great senior quarterback)… so I feel like our offense will continue to click. On Defense, we had 9 underclassmen starters. What I need to get into these kids’ heads is that championships are built from January to July. They need to get in the weight room for 7-8 months… not weeks!

Moral of the story: Be careful what you say right after a game. Whether it’s to the players, the parents or the media… be careful. You pour out too much praise on someone only to find out when you evaluate the video that he made one big play but the rest of the game, he did not perform well. You criticize someone in a post-game meeting— only to discover that he actually did a good job most of the night. I remember a situation years ago. We were in a close game against a better opponent and our punter (who was our wide receiver) got hurt. We came out late in the game to punt from our own 5 yard line. I had to send in our back-up punter to kick from his own end zone. Needless to say, he shanked the punt and it went out on our 20 yard line. The other team scored and won the game. Afterwards, a media guy tried to “bait” me into making a comment about the back-up punter “losing the game” for us. What I said was, “He came in the game in a critical situation. He did the best he could. That play was no more important than the fumble in the first quarter that led to their first score. I’m proud of our kids for making a great effort.”

I got a note in the mail the next week. It was from the back-up punter’s Mom. She informed me that they had just found out on Friday that the Dad was diagnosed with cancer. The boy was devastated. But, he wanted to dress out that night and be there with his team. Little did he know that he’d have to go into the game at such a critical time. He was very upset about messing up the punt until they read my quote in the paper the next morning. Mom said, “Dan was so relieved that you supported him… when it would’ve been easy to blame. We appreciate so much how you, Coach J., stand by and stand up for your players.”

Now, isn’t that how you’d like to be recognized by your players, parents and supporters? A coach who cares about his players and their feelings?

3 Responses to ““The Thrill of Victory; the Agony of Defeat!””

  1. John Zerbe says:

    Congrats Coach Johnston on a fantastic season! Thank you for being such an incredible model for not only your players, but fellow coaches.

    Be Blessed!
    John Zerbe
    Head Football Coach
    Spencerville High School, Ohio

  2. Don Jacobs says:

    Way to go, coach. You made it to the championship, which is admirable. After describing the game, what do you do? Focus on how to treat the boys with dignity.

    You are a class act, coach. Good luck getting back the big game!

  3. Tracy Jackson says:

    Congrats on a great season. Your blog is a great inspiration and a great model too. Best of everything and look forward to your next insights.