It’s a chilly October Friday evening and you can see the steam rising off the players’ helmets as they exit the handshake line. Some walk with their heads down, some with a hand wiping away tears, and others embrace while sobbing. The inevitable scene of a high school football season ending plays out to the heartache of the players’ parents. Eventually the players and coaches form a circle to try to comfort one another from the heartbreak. Each coach shares a few words but the only thing each player will remember is this line from the head coach, “Men, you know what? Twenty years from now you’re going to look back with fondness on the relationships you’ve built and the memories made together. And in the big picture, that’s the only thing that matters.”

And you know something, the coach is right.

Whether it’s football, soccer, volleyball, softball, or basketball there’s more to the game than x’s and o’s. There’s more to the game than the scoreboard and the win-loss column. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all coaches, athletes, and parents.

The scoreboard won’t always motivate you. What will keep you motivated and working hard when no one else is around? What will keep you motivated and playing hard when defeat is imminent?

Sports should be about fulfillment, and our job as coaches is provide it. By participating in a sport athletes should not only improve their physical skills, but they should also develop into better people.

Coaches must get their players to play for a reason bigger than the win-loss column. It’s important for players to play for each other. They should play for all the sick, injured, and those lost too early. Players should play for the athletes who came out but did not make the team. Part of coaching is getting players to realize how lucky they are to be able to play a game they love, and not take it for granted. There are people who would love to be in their position and look up to our athletes. If we can help them embrace this responsibility it will tremendously help them play for reasons bigger than the scoreboard.

Another way to better our athletes is to ask thought-provoking questions. One of the greatest qualities we as humans possess is the ability to empathize. Coaches should tell stories to their team and then flip the scenario around and ask, “How would you feel if this were you.” If we can get our athletes to show empathy for others we are on our way to changing society. And Lord knows we need more empathetic people out there. Through sports character can be developed and powerful life lessons taught. Make it more than a game.

Adversity introduces you to yourself. Players and coaches deal with adversity on a daily basis. Sport, when used correctly, will help one truly discover him or herself. While playing athletes must discover what drives them, what gives them their will?The great thing is it will be different for each individual. But through sport athletes go through a self-discovery process to find out what their true passions are. This is why it’s more than a game.

So, how do these things occur? How do we get athletes to play for others, be more empathetic, and go through self-discovery? First and foremost, there must be intent. Coaches must intentionally plan and implement teaching methods into practice time. Secondly, there must be time spent together away from the practice field or court where the team can learn and bond together.

In order to accomplish the goal of making it “more than a game” coaches can utilize video clips which highlight life lessons. Taking your team to a local hospital to give back is a great idea as well. Our team delivers gifts to the pediatric patients of a local hospital every Christmas. Players can decorate the locker room or lockers to illustrate the people or things they are playing for. I love that idea and will have my girls do it this season. Coaches should also regularly set team dinners where coaches and players can bond away from the game. Another idea is to have alumni come back and share what they loved and miss the most about playing. It’s also a great idea to have them share how the sport has helped them since their playing days have ended.

Legendary University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrence writes each one of his seniors a personal letter before their biggest game of the year, which is often the National Championship. He delivers them to the seniors, and then makes a copy to read to the rest of the team the next day before the game. He says it’s the best and most powerful thing he can do. Once the other players hear his letter, their effort and desire to play for their teammates goes through the roof. They give their absolute all so their senior teammates can go out on top. That’s powerful stuff.

How do you make it “more than a game” for your athletes? Please share and add to our discussion. Let’s make the sport culture better.

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!


Coach Elmendorf is available to speak to your team, group, or organization. Message him for details.


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