Get Your Head in the Game

He turned towards me. Flames of disappointment filled his narrowed eyes. And, squeezing the remote tightly in his hand, he barked “Are you going to lead this team, YES or NO!?”

I tried to hold the stare. But, his eyes would not leave mine. I tried to find the words to answer. But, none were forthcoming. With my face burning with embarrassment, I lowered my head. I broke the eye lock.

He turned back to the television. Friday night’s game filled the screen. I turned back too. But, he was not through. And, straining to maintain control, he said “Get your head in the game or you’ll be the first captain to ever sit the bench.”

His words slashed my heart. But, they rang true.

I was no longer the player I used to be. I knew it. He knew it. But, I did not know why.

I know now.

I was losing my anger.

Off the field, uncertainty marked my life. I would come home from practice, take the deep descent down Anson Drive, and wonder: Did we manage to pay the bills? Would we have electricity? Would we have water? Would the phone be on? Would there be a car in the driveway? Or, was it repossessed? Would Mom be awake? Or, was she sleeping off another late-night-shift?

Off the field, I was quiet. I was reserved. I was the paragon of equanimity. It was a facade. I was consumed with worry. I was angry. And,  the game gave me a socially acceptable outlet for the roiling destructive energy inside of me. I used it. I would slip into some pads, bite down on a mouthpiece and transform into a human projectile. I would fling this less than substantial corporeal form into players twice my size and steal their wind. I would meet running backs in a momentary opening in the line, stand them up, and put them on his back. I could hit. I could hit hard. And, when I did, I would celebrate. I would chop my feet. I would roar. I would spew expletives. I did not care about the scene I made. It was my field. It was my turf. It was my house.

I was angry. I played the game angry. And, my anger manifested itself in the scratches, gouges and busted bolts of my helmet. I may not have been the biggest. I may not have been the fastest. But, I had the most streaks of paint running down the sides of my helmet (a color for each opponent).

That is how I led. I led with my helmet. I led with my anger. But, my anger was drying up.

I tried to manufacture it before games, at halftime, and in the huddles. It never took. I tried to fake it. I laid out one of our weakest players during practice, gave a celebration, and felt like shit. I still feel like shit for that. I was trying to prove to myself and others that I still had it. I did not.

I was no longer the player I used to be because off the field I was becoming someone else.

I was maturing. I was mellowing. I was getting ready to go off to college. And, I was becoming a more thoughtful, reflective individual. I was evolving. But, who I was becoming was no longer consistent with how I played the game. In turn, my play was suffering. I was making mistakes. I was missing tackles. And, I was hitting like a pillow.

I had to make a choice: live in the past and continue to struggle building a way of play around anger, fear, and suffering. Or, I could embrace who I was becoming and imagine a new way to play the game.

I had to choose. He made me choose: In the game or on the bench?

I wanted to play. So, I started to lead in a way that was consistent with who I was becoming. I stood in front of my team, took off my helmet, and set it aside. I started telling stories, sharing readings, and giving half-time speeches. I focused on our brotherhood. I played for our brotherhood. And, I started hitting the snot out of people again.

Getting your head in the game is about knowing “Who you are?” “Where you want to go?” and “Why you want to get there?” It is also about picking the right fuel for the journey. Anger only gets you so far. It is easily exhausted. And, it exhausts you. On the other hand, brotherhood and sisterhood are renewable resources. And, for those playing the long game, it is the fuel of choice.

So if you’re not making the dent you want to make in the world, if you’re not happy with how hard you are hitting, you might want to give yourself a choice: in the game or on the bench.

And, if you think an eye lock will help you make your decision, I learned from the best (thanks, Coach Haag).


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my Halftime Speeches monthly email.

Thanks. – shawn

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