After a hard fought football game in which you lost, you’re faced with a group of crying young men. They’re staring at you hoping you’ll make sense of what just happened because they can’t. You give that famous quote “it’s just a game” boys, no need to cry over it. That statement rings hollow in the hearts of those young Warriors in front of you. You know it does but you’re trying to give solace to them and you really don’t know how. In your mind, you can hear them saying ‘Coach, if it’s “just a game”, why did we work so hard to win it? If it’s “just a game” why did we give up evenings of comfort at home to practice in the cold rain? If it’s “just a game”, why do we feel so good and celebrate when we win? If it’s “just a game”, why do I feel as though my heart has just been ripped from my chest?’
A video game is “just a game”. A board game is “just a game”. A card game is “just a game”. These require little preparation and should not upset you greatly whether you win or lose them. To enter into a physical battle with another live opponent that both have put considerable time and effort into preparing for is not a game and it is unfortunate that it is called that.
Here’s the truth and here’s what needs to be said. Young Warriors, that game we just played mattered. It’s okay to cry and mourn its loss. Because when you lose something that matters to you, it’s okay to be sad about it. It’s okay to feel pain. In fact, it’s natural and part of the process of life. In fact, I mourn its loss with you. You invested a lot of time and effort in an attempt to win that game. It would be unnatural to dismiss it with just a wave of the hand and try to pretend it didn’t matter. I am very proud of you and the effort it took to try to win that game. I’m really proud that you chose to stick your nose into the arena of competition. That takes courage. Many of your friends never do that out of fear. That effort has made you a better person even though we lost. That effort will make you stronger in the future. It will teach you to work hard in the face of adversity and to keep trying no matter what. It is what helps to make you a man. Learn to love that effort.
So now the next time you’re tempted to say “it’s just a game”, understand the difference and the damage you may be doing to that young Warrior. This is just a part of the process of learning how to love them correctly that each coach must go through.