“Living The Journey” Part I

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Well, it is that time of year again and football is about to begin! The season is always such a journey and one that can also relate to us regardless of our circumstance or profession. As one of my great friends always says, “Sports is just a way for us to practice life before we live it.” Each season during the summer, our program conducts a C.O.R.E. Leadership Trip (Creating Ownership, Relationships, and Expectations) that encompasses 7 different exercises which culminates with the new team’s vision and mission statement. On this trip we like to illustrate the journey of the season and importance of trust by taking our players white water rafting. There are several parts of the river that can challenge your trust, courage, coach-ability, and faith in others. The exhilarating 5 mile trip on the rushing white water also provides so many key points that we can apply to our teams, personal life, family, or faith. We are going to break this trip down into two parts with the next article being released later in the season to highlight the second half, avoiding complacency, and finishing strong. I want to take you through this trip piece by piece to give encouragement and challenge you for the better. Today we are going to Gear Up, take a Bus Ride, Boat In, and take on some Challenging Rapids!

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Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand your ground…” –Ephesians 6:13

Gearing Up… The rafting trip always starts at an outpost about 20 minutes from the river starting point. While here, we all receive safety instructions and the personal equipment needed to be safe and successful. Most of our players have never done anything like the upcoming experience and are already feeling a little unsure. Our whole group sits on rows of benches in a pavilion and waits for someone to give instructions. You can sense the nervousness rise, as the wait seems to drag. Finally an instructor appears to give a safety lesson with all listening intently to each word. The speech has the capability to scare, inform, and lighten up the mood for everyone.  We then split up into boat crews with a mix of players and coaches. As we separate, it becomes very evident that we may choose our group but cannot choose our boat guide. The key to a great trip is the direction of the guide accompanied by great teamwork. We are going to have to follow the guidance of a complete stranger to be safe and successful. Each person is then handed a life jacket, helmet, and boat paddle. Our team then boards a bus geared to attack the unknown.

  • Team Journey…  There is always the beginning of the season when players sit in the locker room with a sense of nervousness, excitement, and uneasiness. The anticipation builds, as everyone is curious as to what is ahead. We have a team meeting and go over all of the expectations to be safe and successful on the field. Players then are split into position groups to meet with their specific coach. Their coach needs to give great instruction for growth mentally, physically, and fundamentally. The key to a great season is again great guidance accompanied by great teamwork. Our team is then equipped with protective gear and all the necessary items to improve football skill. We are gearing up for the very near challenges, also knowing the gear will have to be turned back in one day. We then board the team bus for practice ready to attack the unknown.
  • Life Journey… The times, circumstances, or situations that we have experienced nervousness, anxiety, and uneasiness. We could be starting a new job, season of life, or facing an unknown challenge. We need to be provided with the ability to feel safe and have confidence that we will be successful or victorious. Life is relentlessly tough and requires us to be geared for the battle. I encourage you to wear protection with people that genuinely keep you afloat. We all need to understand that no matter what you are experiencing, you are not alone. There are people in your life or out there, that can be a life jacket of protection. Choose to let them be a lifting spirit and do not let pride get in the way. Remember that the wise seek the wise in counsel, advice, and in partnership. I encourage you to wear a helmet of protection by feeding your mind to grow in faith, toughness, goodness, and a positive mindset. We will talk to ourselves more than anybody and the enemy is always their trying to creep in. Negativity will withhold our best, so be intentional with what you see and hear. The more we have a helmet of life and truth, the stronger we will be able to stand our ground. Last, we are given a paddle as a tool to work together and propel the boat. Our life boat paddle is our daily purpose to some degree. Our purpose should not only propel us but others around us. Our experiences are not just meant for us to endure, conquer, or enjoy. They are meant for us to grow so we can better help, relate, and serve others in the battle. Choose to live in your purpose over your problems or circumstances. You are not meant to just stay afloat but to travel to a great destination and be victorious! Don’t ever give up, just keep rowing!

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“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

Bus Ride and the Boat In… The 20 minute ride maybe one of my favorite moments of this trip. First, the scenery is absolutely beautiful but the player reactions are priceless. They typically board the bus joking and giving each other a hard time if a little scared. When we reach the base of the mountain, the water is calm and barely moving as it feeds into an enormous lake. The higher the bus climbs, the faster the water moves and rapids begin to appear. Everyone is now looking out the windows and the talking has gone from laughter to a whisper. Eyes become wider for some and others just decide too look straight ahead. Our bus finally reaches the top, which includes a huge water spill by the parking area. Most players think this is the first rapid and becomes another great joking point. When we get off the bus, they put each boat in a calm water area above the rapids to practice with your guide. Each boat crew then picks up their boat and walks down a ramp to boat in just below the huge spillway. The river starts immediately with a series of challenging rapids that stare you in the face. As each member steps foot in the boat, locks their legs in, and grabs their paddle; they have a choice to make… I must put my total faith, trust, and action into this complete stranger giving me instruction and guidance…

  • Team Journey… When debriefing our team after this exercise, we ask them a series of questions about their guide. What was their name? Do you know their last name? Did you know them before you came? Do they know your family? Do they have an investment in your personal life? Did you do exactly what they said? Why did you follow their instructions exactly? Their answers will usually meet this type description: His name was John, but I don’t know his last name. I did not know him before I came and will probably never see him again. He does not know my family and will not affect me beyond today. But I did exactly what he said every time because he was knowledgeable and experienced. I will then describe our coaching staff with this general description: We know your full name and your family. We knew you well before today and plan to invest many days ahead. We deeply care about every part of your life and want you be successful far past your playing days. We are very knowledgeable and have tremendous experience of developing successful players. Why then do we struggle to follow our direction every time on point, when we can do that for a complete stranger? I know a big part of following the boat guide is the fear of the unknown. The first thing the players need to understand is that players and coaches are not separate. There is an unknown coming every season and nothing gives our staff more joy that seeing player success. We are connected and one team, they have to choose to trust our guidance. The river is not perfect and filled with rocks and rapids. The season is also filled with constant roadblocks and challenges. To have a successful journey, they will have to be obedient and act consistently on the staff direction. We ask them to trust us and do 3 simple things each day… Give your best effort physically and mentally, don’t be afraid to fail, and choose to have a teachable spirit.
  • Life Journey… We each have to make a choice to follow the direction of others that will help us be successful. I believe that trust is ultimately a choice. Trust is kept by consistent action and the ability to forgive others. Forgiveness is critical for trust to stay in place long term. We are so quick to throw people away when they make a mistake, but we expect forgiveness when we make the same mistake. We all believe internally that we are good people and we expect people to look past our faults. Yet, we seem to correlate other people’s faults with their personal character. Trust can be broken but can also be re-established with the choice of grace. When people have the attitude that others must earn trust, they usually become calloused and seem to always have walls up. This attitude can be for a good reason when life has let you down, but no way to live for the long term. Your choice could be with your boss, mentor, friend, or spouse. You maybe in great need right now for trusted guidance, direction, or opinion. Just like the coaching analogy above, the people that care for you, are knowledgable about you, and have life experience can give great counsel. I believe these people are the angels in our lives that God uses to help us in need. Personally, this exercise makes me think of my relationship with the Lord. I cannot navigate the waters without his guidance but yet I still struggle often to follow his lead. Often when we are afraid of what is ahead, we rely heavily on our own thought process. Instead of when afraid, just trust in him... I need to rest in the simple truth that God loves me, he has taken care of me in the past, he will never leave my side, and he will not drop me on my head now. I need to choose obedience and follow his lead whether I completely understand or not. Like the river, the process is full of rocks and rapids but he always seems to navigate me for his purpose and goodness. When I try to control everything, the trip does not turn out like I want and the ride is not near as joyous. Our choice of trust is key whether in our daily or faith life and provides the necessary connection for us to be successful. Trust gives us the peace and comfort in the midst of the battle… Trust allows us to give our best effort, to not be afraid to fail, and to have a teachable spirit for the good…

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Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1: 2-4

 Rapids and Challenges… There is nothing like taking on 5 miles of rapids with our players. The trip is so exciting and there is nothing like being engulfed by the chilling water. The player’s love it and get so fired up through each intense moment. There is constant maneuvering and teamwork to navigate all the obstacles. Everyone’s adrenaline is constantly raising and lowering as the boat crashes into a rapid and comes out the other side. You begin to become comfortable in being uncomfortable. The guide gives the crew instructions by the number of paddle strokes on the right side or left side going either forward or backwards. When it is time to really dig in, he will instruct the boat to paddle either “All Forward” or “All Backward”. This is the time when everyone needs to push as hard as they can to win. The guide always has done a good job of giving specific instructions before each rapid and guidance for what to do immediately after. It is up to us to have a teachable spirit for everyone’s job and to execute the plan perfectly. However, the river is not perfect and sometimes boats will get stuck and people may even fall out. So when every challenge comes, you are laser focused and working on command. Everyone’s eyes are always on the look out for others and ready to do whatever is necessary to be safe and successful.

  • Team Journey… There is also nothing like the experience of a football season. Instead of chilling waves, everyone experiences the waves of intense emotion every week. The team must grow comfortable with being uncomfortable. In order for our team to achieve its highest level, we must constantly operate outside of the comfort zone. Each week, our staff will teach a game plan that needs to be executed to be competitive. Like the river, the game is not always perfect and what was expected may not occur. Our team has to be able to adjust, adapt, and overcome when our boat gets snagged in the midst of the battle. A great teachable spirit is vital for any success when hitting the trials of football. On the river, a person may fall out of the boat, just like a player failing at times on the field. The people in the boat always reach out and pull you back in to safety. On the field, teammates have to lift each other up and not leave them out to dry. This thought process also applies to relationships off the field and they need to pull each other toward goodness. The rapids are created by fast moving water and rocks underneath the water. We also do not need anyone below the surface creating waves amongst our team. The team needs to be relentless and aware of the needs and problems. Some issues will always arise each season, but we need to navigate them together and not get stuck on one rock. Our football schedule is loaded with great teams and relaxing is not an option. There will be one great challenge after another and it will take everyone to complete he river. Everyone on command, working together, with one heartbeat!
  • Life Journey… For us to really grow personally, we cannot be afraid to operate outside the comfort zone. We tend to become laser focused in the plans we have made in life. However the river is not perfect and we to understand that there will always be obstacles to navigate. A daily mindset is needed to remain flexible, adaptable, and ready when the unexpected happens. Do not quit in the midst of the battle, victory is ahead if you do not give up. The rapids are again, caused by fast flowing water and rocks below the water. Sometimes in life we have to look below the surface to find the source of our problems. It is not always as it looks, on the outside, and we could be fighting the wrong opponent. Is their something within us that we need to resolve, seek help, or dispose of to be our best? You could think your boss is the problem but it is really your own bad habits that are holding you back. We also need to recognize that we never know what people are going through each day. What they look like on the outside may not necessarily match what is on the inside. Be slow to judge others and quick to give care, grace, and encouragement. Be that person that reaches out a hand and pulls others back in the boat. Facing rapids on the trip creates a spirit of rejoicing for the challenges. Rejoicing is not always that easy in real life, but it is these times were we make the most personal growth. Coach Tony Ford on our staff poetically used this analogy; “No matter the challenge in front of you, on the river we can still look up and see something beautiful. We cannot get so fixated on the obstacle in front of us.” God uses all situations for good and we must trust in this promise. We also need to understand that our challenges are not just meant for our personal growth. You are growing to help other people, one day you will meet someone that fell out of the boat as you did. Who will be there to get them back in? How about YOU!  Intentionally look out for each other… and in the trial, give the Lord credit for Victory in advance, because it just around the river bend…

“ALL FORWARD!”

DIG IN AND GET READY TO CONQUER!

Will catch up mid-season for the second half of “Living the Journey” See you then!!

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2 thoughts on ““Living The Journey” Part I

  1. Coach Winegarden,
    Thus article you’ve written is full of direction for living life well. How inspiring this is, for any age person. You display, the qualities of humility, hunger and insight for the journey of life. Your truths encourage and equip us for the energy, stamina and fortitude we need to begin and finish well.

    Like

  2. Adam, you are amazing – thoughful, insightful, philosophical, caring for ‘the whole student.’ I advise parents often to get their kids into sports – it teaches so much of life that non-athletes don’t get. Accolades and plaudits. When will this trip come out in as a movie?

    Like

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