The locker room was quiet. There was the hum of the showers, freshman who hadn’t played a minute but instinctively knew to be out of the way. The varsity players in different stages of removing their equipment. Our quarterback sat against the wall, still in full gear except for his helmet that sat between his feet. There was no conversation.
We had lost our fourth straight game. The season had started so well, 3-0. But now, it all seemed to be falling apart. Nobody knew why.
One of our best players was sitting on top of the equipment cart. He was tired. His hair was matted down with sweat. You could see the outlines of the helmet’s interior pads in his hair. He had run all over the field as our middle linebacker, taking down players with crushing hits. But now his shoulders slumped as he laid back against the wall. He had played a helluva a game.
“Coach, could you help get the tape off?” He slightly lifted a foot that was wrapped in athletic tape.
“Yeah, I can.” I grabbed a bucket and flipped it over to sit on. I snagged a pair of tape scissors from the medical bag and started in on removing the tape job from his left foot.
I was almost done removing the tape from his first ankle when I heard him sob. It was one big inhale and rumbling exhale that almost made me drop the scissors.
“Nothing seems to work. I’m trying my best… trying to keep the team up… trying to make the play… I don’t know what to do anymore,” he said as he tried to keep his emotions in check.
There are so many different moments in sports. There are moments of victory. There are moments of defeat. Moments of courage. Moments of glory. And once and awhile there are honest moments that move past the playing field to our everyday life. I felt that I needed to handle the opportunity with care.
I didn’t have the answers to everything going on during the season. It was a rough time for lots of people and for different reasons.
As I removed the last segment of tape on his ankle and switched to his right foot I thought about trying to be inspirational – some kind of Remember the Titans speech. The scissors made a soft ripping noise as I cut through the tape. I decided to be honest and direct…the moment called for it.
“What else is there?” I said and made eye contact with him. He stared back, unsure of what I said. I continued, “What else is there besides doing your best everyday? Really? You can quit, you can throw in the towel. You can be average. No one really talks about that side of things, but it’s true.”
I pulled strands of tape free, placed the scissors in a way that would not cut his socks and continued, “So, tell me, what else is there?”
He shrugs, I know he is thinking about it, his eyes have that distant look, like he is seeing a deeper level of his life.
“In this life, on that field, in the classroom, you have a choice. You can fail. You can be average. Or you can give your best, everyday. I wish I could guarantee it would make everything better. That we would win a game. But I can’t. Life does not work that way.” I cut through the last of the tape. “What I do know, is that you can’t even hope to win without your best effort. You can’t remove the hurdles in this life, you can only choose how you attack them.”
He nodded his head. I collected the scraps of pre-wrap and tape off the floor and dumped them into the trash. He jumped down off the equipment cart. “Thanks, coach,” he said as he headed to his locker.
“Anytime,” I said as I put the scissors away.