Lessons from the Football Field

By Liz McBride


dateWed, Sep 28, 2016 @ 09:00 AM

Charlie is inconsolable. His uniform is missing from the locker and the school lost his sports physical so he Charliehas to sit out. As I pull into the front of the middle school, my puffy-eyed 7th grader is there alone waving meekly at me. I roll my window down as he tries to open the door.

“No, Charlie. You’re not getting in. Take me to your coach.” 

Charlie and I walk to the field while he is begging me to take him home. It was too much, the coach hates him, he’s not used to tackle football, and he should just quit.

Stephen Covey (in spirit, dear reader) joined me on the walk and reminded me of his 2nd Habit: Begin with the End in Mind. You’re right, Stephen, I don’t want Charlie to give up the sport he loves. I need to find a way to help him play. 

“Charlie, I need you to pull yourself together. It’s going to be OK. Let me help. I’m not going to let one bad day on the field ruin years of practice in the sport you love.” 

As the coach approaches, I feel Charlie slide behind me in silence.

The next thing I know, my buddy, Crucial Conversations, walks up to me (no, I don’t need medication). Crucial reminds me to lose the strut and clenched jaw and Make it Safe to have a dialogue when emotions are high. 

Aware the team is watching but not in earshot, I welcome the coach with a smile and softened my body language. The last thing Charlie needs is to be teased about mom coming to practice.

I explain calmly with a smile when and to whom the form was turned in. I remind the coach the players do not have locks on their lockers and asked if there was anyone available to help him find his uniform. The coach told me he intended on helping Charlie find his uniform after this play.

(Really? Because my son was already hitching a ride home at this point. Alone. At the front of the school during a school event. Breathe. His team is watching. Don’t be “that mom.” Smile.)

Crucial whispers, “Hey, Momma Bear, put away your claws and Master your Stories. Stick with the facts.” 

I explained that I found Charlie at the front of the school alone and that may have made it difficult to help him find his uniform. For Charlie’s purpose, I reinforce how he loved flag football and is excited to learn tackle, and that I hope he could see the potential.

Charlie moves beside me and engages with the coach. 

Covey adds, “Win-win, win-win! Just get Charlie back out there. You’re doing great!” (Covey is such a schmoozer).

I wink at Covey and turn to my son: “Charlie, your job is to listen to Coach and focus on football. Leave all of this administrative stuff to mom and dad. Understand? I’ll pick you up at 6. Coach, are we good? 

“We’re good.” 

When I pick Charlie up, he’s all smiles. I asked how the rest of practice went and how I hoped I didn’t embarrass him. He thought I did great (whew) and was excited to share that the coach said he had quick feet and was good at catching and taught him some tackling techniques.

“I think I’m really getting the hang of tackling!” 

I asked Charlie what he learned about today.

“I learned how hard it is to be a Cornerback.” (sigh)

I explained how when things get really stressful, we sometimes have stories in our head that are exaggerated from the truth. His thoughts of a lost uniform and physical form spiraled into how the coach hated him and he would never be good at tackle. 

Charlie added, “Yeah, you’re right. And, I also learned you’ll never let me quit.”

I am so lucky to surround myself with friends like Covey and Crucial. They help me maintain my cool and composure during intense board room discussions and football sidelines. It’s so easy to throw in the towel over one bad play, day, week, or quarter. Begin with the end in mind on what you want to happen and engage in healthy discussions to get back in the game.

I’d love you to meet my friend, Crucial, at our Breakthrough Conference. Joseph Grenny will be presenting on "Crucial Conversations, Tools for Teams to Talk When the Stakes are High."

Remember, Momma Bear will never let you quit.


Liz McBride


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images