It’s that time of the year again.
High schools around northwest Ohio are finishing up classes, and the high school sports year is down to the final few days on its calendar.
For most high school coaches around the area, the end of May means a time to reflect. What went right during the past nine months, what went wrong during the school year and how you’re going to either build upon the success or fix the mistakes.
And like most coaches, for the past 20 years I’ve spent countless hours in the spring focused on how I could have helped our high school athletes turn some of our losses into a couple more wins.
Last week, however, I had a revelation — an experience that truly showed me that for high school student-athletes it isn’t just about wins and losses.
Now don’t get me wrong winning is great and any time you step out into a sporting arena, winning should be the goal.
And losing ... well it stinks. I’d rather take a needle to the eye instead of losing a game or match that I’ve prepared so hard for.
But last week put winning and losing into a little more perspective for me.
In fact, it was a huge W for me not as a coach but as a person, and it had nothing to do with a scoreboard.
Heading into graduation ceremonies on Sunday, four of my graduating athletes asked if I would present them with their diplomas.
It was a humbling gesture that meant more than they could have known.
As anyone who has played for me can attest, a practice or weightlifting session is filled with just as much talk about family matters, the daily hot topics and life lessons as it is with lifting technique, football philosophy and X’s and O’s.
We talk about how anything in life can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Everything that is except that piece of paper you get on graduation day, because once you have an education, it’s yours for life.
And for me as a coach, those are the things that are treasured. It’s the conversations, the relationships and the bonds that you can’t find many places.
During a sports season, which lasts about four months, a player can spend more than 10 hours a week with a coach. If that coach is involved in more than one sport or is a teacher and has those same student-athletes in class, that number can easily double.
Think about it.
The time that student-athletes spend with coaches can be hundreds of hours a year. Hundreds of hours communicating, working, studying, training, learning, sweating, bleeding, crying and venting.
Former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel said it best: “You win with people.”
And he was right. But it wasn’t until Sunday that I saw what he really meant.
He wasn’t talking about football games, or league titles or national championships.
Sure, the right kind of Jimmy’s and Joe’s or Jenny’s and Joan’s on your team and you’ll have plenty of hardware in the trophy case.
Instead, he was talking about winning at life. Winning and becoming victorious because of the bonds you’ve built with the people that you’ve encountered along your journey through life.
So, I stood on stage, shaking hands and handing out those pieces of paper. Pieces of paper that were confirming what I already knew about these now high school graduates.
After hundreds of hours, I already knew that they were ready. Ready for the next step. Ready for college, or the workforce. Ready for marriage or to even become parents themselves one day.
And as they walked across the stage, diplomas in hand, they were now officially educated, but it was me that learned something.