Our football team is pretty good but the coach doesn’t seem to care about anything but defense. He puts the best players on defense, he tells us that we can’t lose if the other team doesn’t score and he never seems to say much about our offense. I like offense – I think it’s fun, and people like to watch it. Is there a way to get our coach to think about more than defense?
Let’s start with a question: Have you ever seen a perfect football team?
Maybe you think those De La Salle teams that won all those games in a row were perfect, but you know, I saw the Spartans play a lot, and perfect they were not. They fumbled too much and they had a knack for the untimely penalty, and that was just what I saw from tahe sidelines. I guarantee you coach Bob Ladouceur never felt he coached a perfect team — and I guarantee you no college or pro coach ever did either.
So if the perfect team is unattainable, then what’s left? Questions like that let me wander off into the realms of Eastern philosophy, which my players have learned to love (if it’s been a really hard practice and they’d like to rest) or hate (“Oh my God, he’s talking about Zen again”).
In Japan, there’s something known as wabi-sabi, which is tied to the tea ceremony and Japanese esthetics in general. (The tea ceremony and football? Well, yes – Japanese samurai warriors were represented by two emblems: their swords and cherry blossoms.) The aspect of wabi-sabi that comes into play here is not only the acceptance of imperfection, but the embrace of imperfection.
So what could this possibly have to do with a football coach who loves defense?
Most coaches realize fairly quickly that there’s not enough time, especially at the high school level, to get even close to perfect at all phases of the game. They know they have to emphasize some things, and let some other things slide — in short, they have to embrace the imperfection of their teams. They have to acknowledge that yes, the offense isn’t what it should be, or that the basketball team can’t really press very well, or that the baseball team is bad at stealing bases.
But that doesn’t mean the team can’t be successful. The imperfection doesn’t mean that losses are inevitable because, after all, the opponents are imperfect too.
Given that reality, there are several paths to take. One is to try and be pretty good at a bunch of things, so that no matter what the other team isn’t good at, you have a chance to attack that weakness. The risk there is that by trying to be good at everything, you wind up really being mediocre at everything and not having a chance to win.
Another option is the one your coach took: Be really good at one thing, even if it means being not very good at something else. So your team is imperfect, especially offensively – so what? You still can have a very good team despite your flaws, and your imperfection can still lead to success.
Now I doubt your coach spent a lot of time studying the tea ceremony, and he probably thinks wabi-sabi is something that goes on sushi, but he grasped an essential point: There’s no perfect path available, so learn to love the imperfect.
And for you, that means learning to love defense.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email Coach Kallam at email@example.com
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