I always liked having senior laden teams. Seniors were my comfort zone…they were battle tested, knew our system, and had proven their loyalty to our program. But most of all, I firmly believed it always meant a little more to you when you know it’s your last time around the block. “Next year” can be two of the most enabling words a coach or athlete can utter and can set a dangerous precedent for any program. As the Head Coach, it was my responsibility to make sure that I always stayed in the present and gave each senior class my best effort as well as doing my best to maximize our chances to win that year. Out of loyalty to our seniors, I never believed in “playing for next year”.
Most years, we had between 2-5 seniors on our team but I had teams with as few as 1 senior and as many as 8. Whatever the case may have been, the tradition of our program dictated that the primary role of leadership fell upon our seniors and I would expect more of them than the underclassmen. It was the seniors job to pass on our culture and I knew they all took this responsibility seriously. They never wanted to be the class that didn’t measure up to the expectations of our program. Without a doubt, I believe it was this part of our culture that helped our program to maintain high expectations despite fluctuations in talent level. When a senior class was passed the torch, they never wanted to let down the ones that had come before them. The road had been paved for them by their predecessors and it was their job to do the same.
In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share a piece that I wrote for our seniors in 2013 and, consequently, to other teams that followed. I also adapted the wording to apply to my daughter, Haley, as she entered her senior volleyball season and our WOHS volleyball team when they went to state in 2014. The title of the piece is “FINISH” and I wrote it to our class of 2013 (Kris Anderson, Skylar Sutton, and Levi Yancy) as they were coming off a State Championship year in 2012. Though we graduated 4 seniors (Caleb Carr, Chadd Johnston, Ian Story, and Jerred Whisenhunt) off the 2012 State Champions, I knew we had a solid nucleus returning with a chance to win it all in 2013. As we entered the 2013 season, one of my biggest concerns was complacency…the enemy of any champion. I had addressed this in a couple of ways previously, but I felt my seniors needed a jolt if we were going to have a chance to repeat as State Champions. The following was taped to their lockers the final and most demanding day of Phase I (conditioning phase) of fall offseason in 2013:
As an athlete approaches a finish line, whether he realizes it or not, he is making a conscience choice….how is he going to finish? Some athletes conveniently stroll down the home stretch feeling as if they are entitled to coast to the finish. After all, they have proven their worth in the past and they have the right to rest on past accomplishments. In a word, he is complacent but, surely, it won’t make much difference if he takes it easy and just cruises across the line. There is a word that describes this athlete…LOSER. He’s lost his edge and he’s out of the game.
On the other hand, some athletes turn the final corner with their ears pinned back focused on the prize that awaits PAST the finish. He pushes with all his might as he bears down on the finish, leaving nothing to chance. He knows that the prize does not come to him…he must go get it! It is with this attitude that he bursts THROUGH the line. There is a word that describes this athlete….WINNER. He’s maxed out, given all he’s capable of giving, and he’s finished with no regrets.
There are many “finish” points in life and you are constantly forming habits of how you “finish”. As you approach your senior year, you approach one of these “finish” points in life. How you “finish” is not based on whether or not you win or lose….every competitor loses at some point in time. How you “finish” is based on your approach…did you go after it or were you complacent and full of excuses? Don’t ever be fooled, there are winners and there are losers, and it has nothing to do with the result! It’s your last time around the block and you have a choice to make…How do you finish?
On our best teams, our seniors embraced this philosophy and left our program with no regrets. As a senior, that’s how you want to leave it.
In life, that’s how you want to leave it…Finish.
Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!