“Heads up high… I gotta see your eyes.” And so David Belisle began a speech to his team that has been hailed as one of the most inspirational sports speeches ever. Part of its power comes from the fact that we can see the faces of the little boys he’s talking to. We see their pain and their disappointment and we hear Coach Belisle try to take that away and impress on them the pride he feels in that moment. It wasn’t a “rah rah guys we’re all winners!” speech. It was the truth, from a man they clearly admired, telling them to hold their heads high because they gave it their all.
Youth sports coaches are a special bunch. They dedicate their time and talents to help countless children develop lifelong skills. They teach and inspire and motivate and cajole. They often impart knowledge and abilities that parents aren’t able to. Typically, they’re volunteers and have to tolerate impassioned parents and groups of excited children. Herding cats is often a simpler task.
We’re a pretty involved sports family. And we’ve been blessed with marvelous coaches every step of the way. There’s no faster way to a mother’s heart than to be kind and dedicated to her children’s development. I’m always touched and impressed by how many men, in our cases, are out there, willing to help pass along their love of the game to the next generation. It’s not a small amount of time and effort they invest in my children; it’s a gift no amount of Buffalo Wild Wings gift certificates can repay.
I found myself particularly moved watching the video because my kids have had the coach who teared up when it was time to say goodbye and watch them move to the next level. And this video came on the heels of my daughter’s fourth consecutive soccer tournament championship this summer, a feat (if I may say so) unparalleled by any other team in the local clubs. Typically, my daughter’s coach is a laid-back man who is more interested in player development at this age than stats. But he definitely wanted his four tournament sweep. Instead of sitting observing the game, he was standing, possibly pacing just a little bit. Instead of high-fiving his players as they left the field, he patted them on the head, a move more paternal than anything. He wanted the victory, not for himself, but for those little nine-year-old girls who were trying so hard to please him.
It’s experiences like these, watching my own children play and listening to coaches speak to their “kids”, that cause me to liken our relationship with God to that of coach and player. At least when I talk about it with my kids. I love the image of God the Father, but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I could really understand how powerful that relationship is. For children, parents are those who care and nurture, while also disciplining and forming. Sure mom and dad love them, but they have to, that’s what parents do. But coaches… they’re different. See coaches, especially the volunteer ones, don’t NEED players in their lives. They invite them in so that they can share their love of the game. Coaches share their abilities and knowledge. They both give and expect from their players. They push and require hard work. They allow for the fun of the game but there are also the drills, which aren’t always as enjoyable. They teach their players to focus, to drown out the voices of the sidelines, to listen only to them. If the players do what they are instructed to, if they listen to the coach and work hard, they can reap rewards, enjoy success.
Coaches, good coaches, don’t do this for their own benefit but rather so their “kids” can achieve success and share in their love of the game. So too, God doesn’t need us, but He created us to delight and enjoy that which He has to offer us. He challenges and blesses us. We work to hear His voice through the din on the world and when we do, when we are able to follow His instructions, we can often see the benefit. God wants us to be happy; if we can follow His “game plan” we can enjoy over victory. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s one I find my children relate to. Maybe because the give and take of the sports world is faster than the rest of life. If they listen to their coach, use the skills developed through those annoying drills, they can make those all important, save-the-day plays. The kind that bring those huge smiles to their faces. They see the benefit in the hard work, the discipline and efforts. They relish the victory more than their coach does, and he knows it. It’s his gift to them.
Sometimes a good coach has to be tough on his players. But it’s for their own good. And his players can see that, maybe not in the moment, but they have enough trust in him to believe that he’s doing it for their sake. My kids trusted my judgment when I told them to trust and listen to their coach. And I hope that this trust carries over to their relationship with God. They might not always appreciate the parent/child relationship or understand the power of those bonds, at least in childhood. They might be better able to see how their coaches choose to help them and willingly do so, for their benefit, and that listening and following will bring long term rewards. And trust that God has even more care and wisdom to impart.
And so my children might just think of God as the Big Coach in the sky. Calling plays, directing them, seeing the big picture, working towards a satisfying end. Knowing that in the end it is all done for them, for their success, for their victories. And they are appreciated, even loved, not just for how they fit into the team, but for what they bring themselves. Hopefully this will help them believe and follow, even when the game plan isn’t clear. And to fight the good fight, even when the odds don’t look good. To never lose faith in their Coach, just as He always believes in them.