I spent countless hours sharing the journey with him on and off the field. I witnessed first-hand the day-to-day grind with trainers and coaches, teams and teammates, championships and heartaches.
I learned that to maximize their potential in sports, people must have high character and integrity, be exceptional athletes, and be players with elite sport skills. This journey requires an extraordinary commitment, dedication, and perseverance in the classroom, in the gym, and on the field.
If mentored properly, a player learns many life lessons within the game that should translate beyond the game. Sadly, more often than not, they do not. Why? The primary reason today is the pursuit of athletic excellence is most-often a singular obsession.
American society is obsessed with sports. Parents are seduced into club ball, travel ball, and leveling-up their player to win medals and championships erroneously assuming that good teams require good players and coaching, and trophies in sports will lead to success in life. The truth is an appearance in a SportsCenter highlight is a one-off, not a predictor of success.
In fact, the American obsession and glorification of sports is so intense that many athletes cannot replicate that feeling of excitement in any part of their life outside of sports and after their competitive sport life is done.
Many coaches use winning as the measure of all success, present and future. Winning may ensure longevity at their job, but it does not ensure happiness and contentment for their players after their playing days are over. Furthermore, these coaches wrongly assume that all important life-lessons can be learned by inference from competing in the sport. They fail to proactively program life lessons into every training and practice session. And too many coaches and athletic trainers only require their players be dedicated to the sport, not to a balanced life. They simply run their athletes and players through their system of metrics and analytics with no regard for the players’ lives outside of the sport.
Another basic contributing factor is there are only so many hours in a day. Coaches, teams, and leagues require that, to be elite, you must practice and play both in-season and in the off-season. Many times this means a player must play on multiple teams in one sport in-season and play and train for multiple sports simultaneously year-round. How many elite athletes during their high school years hold multiple jobs which require 20 hours a week for, at least, several months?
The American education system fails to prepare student-athletes for real world opportunities. For most students, a liberal arts education in most school districts today requires way too many hours studying math and science and, for all students, way too few hours training specific work skills and gaining experience. High school students are rushed off to college with little or no idea of a process to choose a career and a crippling assumption that all colleges are equally capable of preparing all students in every major for living-wage, self-actualizing jobs in the real world.
Most tragically, student-athletes make the mistake of choosing a college based on whether they can play their sport there and not whether they can get the best education for their career at the college. The day after graduation, those athletes have, at best, some fun memories of being a part of a sports team, but the piece of paper they received during the graduation ceremony gives them no pathway to a meaningful and fulfilling career they are passionate about.
My friend was one of those good people who achieved greatness as an athlete, but was seduced into believing that his success on the field would ensure the same happiness and success once his playing days were done. For him, just like millions of other athletes, it did not.
We, as coaches, leagues, schools, and society owed him and all those who follow him, better.
Every day, we must proactively prepare our players to fill the void.