Bye week reflections – The Narrow Road

Bye weeks have been rare in Dordt football.  In fact, I can’t remember one in mid-season through nine-plus regular seasons, not one.

So, this past week offered a rare opportunity to ask coach Penner to write about where the Defenders are this season.  We’re not quite to the midpoint of the season, but with four out of ten games behind us, the sample size for the  year is significant.

Couple that with the fact the Defenders were coming off a game that ran the full spectrum of emotions, I was hopeful to get a glimpse behind the curtain, or shield in this case.

I wasn’t disappointed with the outcome of this piece.  What follows, I think, is an unfiltered look at how coaches can process disappointment, and, hopefully,  turn it around for something good while keeping the end in sight.

mbyk

 

Bye week reflections – The Narrow Road

It’s rare in our game to have a mid-season bye week.  Our priority this week has been to get better fundamentally as a team AND get refreshed.  Part of that for me as the head coach means to get some good reflection time.   Yesterday at practice I did something I have never done before as a coach; I spent 10 minutes in the lift we use for filming practice.  It’s amazing how spending 10 minutes at 40 feet above the field can offer perspective you just can’t get in your normal setting on the ground.  Side note- I highly encourage anyone in leadership to find a way to do the same thing in your organization.

Needless to say, I was very encouraged by what I saw.  More on that later….

The bye week reflection has repeatedly brought me to the Matthew 7 concept about the two roads.

 “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

 

 “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

I have been stewing on this all week and I keep coming back to the same thought- maybe the narrow road has fewer people because it’s harder to walk on a narrow road.  The broad road is beckoning constantly for the narrow road travelers to join it.  The idol of winning shows up every Saturday but so does the temptation of complacency (stopping short of one’s potential).   My experience has taught me that engaging these two matters of tension are the most significant task for a Christian competitor.  And that is why I love the Defender Way philosophy for Dordt College Athletics.  We are committed to the pursuit of championships which means that we have chosen to engage the importance of winning rather than casting it off as a matter of trivial importance.

We are committed to the pursuit of championships which means that we have chosen to engage the importance of winning rather than casting it off as a matter of trivial importance.

Just because something is often an idol does not mean it cannot be a legitimate goal.  I believe the same could be said for an educator who has a strong interest in students’ test results or a business person who has goals for profit.  No one would ever tell an educator or a business person that tangible results don’t matter.

Then, the other tension is constantly lurking – complacency.  Since the pain of not winning can be so devastating, complacency seems like a decent option; and again the broad road is calling.  A competitor is sometimes tempted to invest less into the pursuit of championships as a defense mechanism against disappointment.   The less I invest, the less I lose.  Of course, as image bearers when we stop short of the potential God has granted us, we fail to bring glory due his name.

Christian competitors have fallen off the narrow road on both sides – allow winning to be THE whole point, or bump it off the list of priorities and just have fun playing.  The solution is painfully simple, yet so hard…and again, that’s why it is a narrow road.  To successfully travel this narrow road in athletics we have to confront idolatry and complacency head on and navigate the tension.

In our football program at Dordt, our method of navigating the tension is to invest passionately in the pursuit of winning while keeping our purpose at the forefront.  Your goals are your “what” but your purpose is your “why.”  To say it another way “Our goals are legitimate, but our purpose is ultimate.”  We’ve used the phrase “Industry Standard” as a vision statement.  We seek to be the industry standard college football program at our level.  What this really means is that we are in pursuit of the very best version of college football that God intended.  It’s a bold and daring vision; and it forces us to travel on the narrow road.

Now, to return to the perspective gained from being in the lift.  As I observed our players and coaches from forty feet above the practice field I saw a team going about the business of pursuing championships. Our team is 2-2, and we are only one play away from being 3-1.  The disappointment we experienced in our most recent loss to Midland was perhaps an all-time high for many of us.  We were crushed to lose the way we did, down 13 points with 4:49 left in the game – taking the lead with 1:49 left – then watching that lead disappear on a kick return. Losing should hurt because the goals we have set are legitimate.  But what I observed on a Wednesday practice after a tough loss was not a “broad road” response to a loss.

  Losing should hurt because the goals we have set are legitimate.  But what I observed on a Wednesday practice after a tough loss was not a “broad road” response to a loss.

What I observed was competent coaches coaching hard, high effort players with great focus running through drills, and even our managers investing themselves maximally.  You would have no idea by the way we operated whether we had won or lost our previous game.  With legitimate disappointment we were keeping our purpose in front of us:  To honor God, to grow as men, to compete fiercely, and to have kingdom impact.  Our “what” did not trump our “why” and our vision was unthreatened by adversity.   The scoreboard provides direction for us in our competitive experience; but it will never provide definition.  It will sting if we lose, but we will not be complacent and withdraw our investment to avoid it.  I believe one day we will win a conference championship at Dordt College, and my earnest prayer is that I will return to the lift, and from forty feet above, I’ll take in a similar scene to the one I saw this week.

Joel Penner

Dordt College Head Football Coach

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