I keep coming back to the same thought today; pennies. People leave one or take one in the convenience store. People drop one or pass one on the ground, and never bother to pick it up. “Not worth the effort,” says the voice in their head.
A hundred pennies is a dollar. A thousand pennies is ten dollars. Ten thousand pennies is a hundred dollars. A hundred thousand pennies is a thousand dollars.
I think about pennies and football. We have held our own since I took over this high school football program going on a dozen years ago. But two years stand out, 2007 and 2008. We won our division for our district and made the state finals in both of those years.
In 2007 we started off by losing our first three games. It looked like it would be a season typical for our high school; mediocre at best. But, I believed that crew had it in them to figure it out. All they needed to do was listen and do what they were coached to do. I saw what they were capable of, but they were having trouble doing as I asked of them.
At half time during that third loss I was livid. In the first half we were destroyed. One of the opposing players had 300 yards rushing alone in the first half. I went into the locker room and pointed out our mistakes; our mental and physical errors that had resulted in our being smoked in the first half. Then I reminded them that their friends and families had paid actual money to see them play so soft and stupid, when they had it in their power to play smart and tough. We woke up in the second half and our players were suddenly doing what we had coached them to do since day one of football camp. We lost the game but we were a different team. I think more than anything our players were humiliated and listened. They were embarrassed and realized how unacceptable it was to play so poorly. They cared.
When I speak of the steps in building character, that night always comes to mind. Step one in the character process is humility. Without it, a player won’t listen and do what it takes to win. Step two is caring. Without a reason to care a player won’t be motivated to make the very real and painful sacrifices necessary to succeed.
The next day we watched the film. They saw the difference between the first half and second half in their teamwork, effort, courage, perseverance, discipline, commitment, initiative, leadership, and awareness.
We won our next 8 games. We made the post-season for the first time in about twenty years. We beat that team that humiliated us and held that star running back to 17 yards rushing.
Humility and caring were the keys that unlocked the rest of these traits in our players. They were the pennies on the floor, that had been ignored. We had learned to pick them up. We learned that everything was important. Not just the tens and twenties, but even the pennies.
2008 was different. From day one the players did exactly as asked. It was if the 2007 season had never ended, even though many of our great players from the previous year had graduated. We won ten games in one of the greatest seasons in school history.
When it comes to 2008, the memory that stands out is of the locker room after practice. Immediately following a grueling practice early in the pre-season, I asked our seniors to clean up the locker room. A group of them, the core of our team, stayed long after practice and cleaned it up. They picked up all the trash, miscellaneous equipment and random lost pieces of clothing. I walked in before I went home and three or four of them were just sitting there waiting for me grinning.
Now most of us know what teenage males are like when it comes to cleaning their rooms and such. But few of us know why those players were smiling. They were smiling because I asked them to do something and they did it. They were smiling because they knew most people would be “too good” or too lazy to do such a thing, but they were fearless when it came time to do work. They were smiling because they were asked to do something and they didn’t half-ass it, but instead did it to the best of their ability.
I would walk in there from time to time during the season and they would always have it clean. They were consistent. They took initiative and had that locker room clean without my having to make another request.
That locker room that year was a penny. That 2008 crew didn’t just show character and mental toughness on the field. No, it became who they were and that’s why they were consistent winners in practice and on Friday nights.
See, these pennies are all around us. They are little opportunities to prove our character and mental toughness. They are things like showing up on time, finishing that last rep or set, stretching before lifting weights, making sure your helmet has air, getting paperwork in on time, eating right, not running upfield, not falling in love with a receiver crossing your zone, taking the appropriate first step, pinning the ball to your chest, etc. There are literally hundreds of thousands of little things like that in football and in life. If you can learn to pay attention to those pennies in life they will add up. If you continue to ignore them, then you will just be like everyone else.
A penny is not as insignificant as you might think. Start picking them up, and realize your good fortune when somebody points them out. Do that enough and you’ll find you will have a lot of cents!