Coach Tony’s Corner: Leading with Optimism

Coach Tony’s Corner: Leading with Optimism

On October 23, the NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks ended in a 6-6 tie.  Not only did the game end in a tie, but it was also the lowest scoring game in NFL history.

In this game, both kickers had a chance to win the game for their team during the overtime period.

First up was Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro from 24 yards with 3:26 remaining…The kick was up…No good.

On the next drive, it was Seattle Kicker, Stephen Hauschka’s turn to be the hero.  However, his kick didn’t find the uprights.

Both kickers had the same result, but the head coaches from each team had two totally different reactions.

At the postgame press conference, when Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians was asked if he had any words after the game, he responded: “Make it.  This is professional.  It ain’t high school baby.  You get paid to make it.”

Cardinal’s Coach, Pete Carroll took a different approach regarding his kicker’s late game miss.  “Hauschka made his kicks to give us a chance (he made two field goals earlier in the game) and unfortunately he didn’t make the last one.  He’s been making kicks for years around here…but he’s gonna hit a lot of winners as we go down the road here.  I love him, and he’s our guy.”

 Justin Bariso wrote a wonderful piece on this scenario, entitled “A Lesson in Leadership: 2 Football Coaches, 2 Player’s Mistakes, and 2 Very Different Reactions,”  You can read the full article here:

Who is to say that I am right, but as a coach, I have always believed in leading with optimism.  To be successful at ANY sport, players need to possess the confidence so they can perform to their potential.  Coaches, in my opinion should lead with at least a 3:1 positive: negative ratio.

Last March, our basketball team at Holy Innocents’ was fortunate enough to play in the GHSA state championship game for the third consecutive season.  In the two previous championship games, we entered the contest undefeated at 31-0.  Unfortunately, we didn’t play our best, and we lost both games.

As we went into the 2016 game, we were playing our best basketball game of the year.  We played well in the game for three and a half quarters.  With about three minutes to go in the game, the Lady Bears of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School had an eight-point lead on the Lady Wolves of Wesleyan.  The Wesleyan program, and legendary coach Jan Azar, have won eleven state championships in the last fifteen years, so they were not going to go away quietly.  That eight-point lead disappeared to zero as the Lady Wolves went on an 8-0 run in the final three minutes.

With the score tied at 59 with less than a minute to play, we held for the last shot.  We didn’t get a shot off at first, but then Wesleyan’s UCONN signee, Mikayla Coombs accidentally fouled Lady Bears point guard, Shai Blanding while time expired.  Shai, who had been a great player for us since her middle school days, stepped to the line shooting three shots (Shai was fouled on a desperation three-point shot).

I thought to myself, “All Shai has to do is knock one of the shots down, and we are state champions!  She knocked two down to win the Region Championship to beat Wesleyan last year.  She’s got this.”

Shai stepped to the line for the first of three: The shot was short.

Shai stepped to the line for the second of three: The shot was in and out.

Shai stepped the line for the third of three:  Not even close.

I intentionally stood on the sideline with a stoic pose as she took her shots, but after she missed that third one, I ran to her and said, “Hey, hey.  You are alright.  We are alright!”  On the outside, I was confident and leading with optimism.  But I am not going to lie…on the inside, I was hurting for Shai, a great player and person loved by her teammates and coaches.

The momentum had swung in Wesleyan’s favor, and they had started the overtime period with a 4-0 run, but our players weren’t ready to give up.  We were able to fight back and get the win 66-64.  Shai sealed the deal knocking down a free throw late in the overtime period.  The Holy Innocents’ Lady Bears were state champions.

I don’t know if “positive leadership” led to the victory, but I do know that if I was negative after Shai missed that shot, the wheels would have fallen off, and we would have lost the game.

Just as coaches should lead with optimism, it is important for parents to do the same.  Parents, after a game, whether your child goes 4/4 at the plate or 0/3 at the free throw line with a chance to win the state championship, remember this:   Don’t judge your children after a game; support them.  Don’t bash their performance; love them.  Be their biggest fan and not their biggest critic.

(Tony Watkins servies as Executive Director at Northside Youth Organization)