Nov 152013 6 Responses

Sometimes It’s Better NOT to Play

As a kid I remember my Dad telling me, “If anything ever happens to me, you go ahead and play the next game.” The comment would come while watching a professional athlete compete in the midst of grief—maybe a parent had died or a spouse had been diagnosed or a child was sick. They would show bravery in the middle of grief.

It seemed noble.

It was always my plan. No matter what, I would play.

Almost 15 years removed from my last college athletic event, I have a different perspective now. Having spent the last decade and a half walking alongside grieving families, I think the noble thing to do is to put sports in its rightful place—to honor family above competition.

Friday night, my alma mater took the field for the first round of the Arkansas High School football playoffs without its head coach on the sideline. At the beginning of the week, head coach Jeff Williams informed his staff and players that he would not be at the game. His dad was nearing the end of a six week journey with cancer. Williams needed to be with his family.

Maybe the biggest story should be that this was a big story. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a coach skipping the playoffs to be with a sick loved one—especially not a loved one who was also a coach. If my dad said, “Play no matter what,” I can only assume a coach would tell his son the same. Yet Williams chose differently.

When Williams’ father died days before the game, I assumed he would return to the sideline for the game. He would get credit for putting family first without having to miss the game. Yet Williams chose otherwise. He stayed with his family and in so doing he taught his players a valuable lesson.

In this sports-obsessed culture, where everything submits itself to the game, especially football, it is refreshing to see someone make a bold statement of what is truly important in life.

Football is not more important than family. Winning a game is not worth leaving your family in their own grief or denying your own loss. Everything should not submit to the game; the game should submit to those things which are more important—faith, family, country, community, and many other things. (See: Walking With My Son Through the Death of His Grandfather)

Coaches have a responsibility to teach young men and women about life, leadership, and sport. Outside of the professional ranks, their ultimate goal should never be a win or loss. In junior high, high school, and college, their goal should be in molding young people into adults. Winning is important, but it is only important to the extent that winning allows them to do what they are truly called to do—influence young people.

In order to teach, model, and influence, sometimes it is better NOT to play.

There are things in life bigger than football and a coach should take every opportunity to teach that lesson to players, parents and fans.

We need more people who are willing to take concrete actions to clearly remind themselves and communicate to others what is important.

  • Coaches need to put their families first.
  • Parents need to make it clear that sports do not rank above all else.
  • Players need to accept there will be times in which they should not play.
  • Fans need to expect schools, teams, coaches and players to submit sports to greater things.

We all need to enjoy the games, but stop idolizing them above those things which matter most.

6 Responses to Sometimes It’s Better NOT to Play
  1. […] Sometimes It’s Better Not to Play When a local High School coach skipped an important game to...
  2. […] While my parents never missed a game–the only time I remember both of them not being in the st...

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