This Lesson Is Written By Coach Milt Travis:
Football was a sport that I had always liked but was too big to play in the local Pop Warner League. The option was to play on the junior high seventh and eighth grade team as a sixth grader. I had the size but I was scared and shy. I had strength and could run fine, but I had to leave my smaller sixth grade school to practice at the larger school. I didn’t know the other kids personally, but knew their names as I had played against them in baseball leagues growing up. Toughness wasn’t something I had discovered yet in sports. Nor had I realized that I had it in me deep down. Years later I came to realize that being tough wasn’t size or age but a condition of the mind. Many feel that something tough is their element or environment. We maybe fearful that if we change our environment or variables, then our comfort, confidence, and toughness will leave us. To become tough in all situations, I learned that it required a willingness to trust myself and a persevering faith to inner belief. Toughness doesn’t always mean there is a lack of fear, but a willingness to work through the fear. I didn’t know all of this at the junior high practices. I was only surviving each day and not doing well in my performance.
At one particular practice scrimmage, I was playing left defensive tackle and was taking a beating from the eighth grader across from me. I am able to remember this day especially well because of the next moments that occurred. The offensive tackle playing across from me, was bigger than me and a couple of years older. They had run the last play right at me and had gained big yardage. I could feel the fear of the next play headed right back at me. The offensive tackle smiled at me while the fullback and tailback looked my way. The previous play had been a tailback lead play. The offensive tackle would drive me out of the way, the fullback would clean up the linebacker behind me, and the tailback would run for a big gain. I got down in my stance and felt great fear of failure. I had seemingly no answer for the tackle or the lead back. I was truly a human blocking dummy.
At the moment before the snap I felt a pat on my side and heard these words, “We got this, you and me, we got this.” I recognized the voice! It was the eighth grader named Billy Stone. He was the best athlete in the entire junior high school. Billy was good at everything and respected by everyone. He was big, tough, and fast. This message all took place in seconds, but a new sense of confidence flooded my mind. The snap took place and I jammed the offensive tackle in the hole, I was not to be moved. Billy took on the lead back, threw him aside, and tackled the tailback. We had won the moment! However, better yet, something bigger had happened. A memory and confidence had been created that I could hold my ground. I don’t remember much more about the rest of that day, but I vividly remember that moment. Shortly after that day, I broke my thumb and was out for my 6th grade year. I continued playing junior high football in 7th/8th grade and started both years.
I look back and realized that what Billy did that day was leadership. That great defensive stop wouldn’t have happened without his ability to lead. He also reached down, spoke his confidence in me, and made me part of the moment. I often like many have felt the fear of failure throughout my journey. Now I call on the Lord in these times and I can hear him saying “We got this, depend on me, we got this.” That day, Billy wasn’t God, but he was like one to that scared little sixth grader. He put confidence in my heart that I greatly needed. In the same way, God wants us to depend on his leadership in all we do. We may not always make the play, but we can trust in him and not live in fear of failure as we make our way through life! There is much to this story that comes to mind. I always wondered “Why was Billy on the scrub defense during the scrimmage?” He was the real deal. I want to think he stepped in to make things fair. He went on to be a successful two sport athlete in high school and eventually stepped away from football to become the drum major. I imagined as a kid that he could do anything he wanted. He probably doesn’t remember that day, but he led and I followed. I am sure those days were common place for him and he had many like it. The point is that we are to be like Billy that day. We are to lead by reaching out to others and instilling our belief in them. While bigger and better yet is that we are to trust in our Lord who gives us this same message. He instills confidence, hope, and we are to follow. I have found myself back in that sixth grade position at times and found myself being the leader. In both roles, the scripture Proverbs 3:5-6 always comes to mind. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct (lead) thy paths.” I don’t know where Billy Stone is today, but I owe him thanks and I remember those words:
“We got this, you and me, we got this.”
About the Author:
Milt Travis is a 38 year high school basketball coach and 13 year football coach. Coach Travis is retired from full time teaching and serves as a school interventionist in Rome, Georgia and basketball trainer in North Georgia. He and his wife have three married children (two coaches) and six grandchildren.