Lessons Learned from the WHS Football Family
As our football team closes its amazing season, I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to their dedication and success and share the blessing they have been to me and to many this season. I had the privilege of serving as an honorary coach the week of October 3 leading up to our home game against Fishers High School. When Coach Gilbert asked me if I would like to join them that week for practices, coach meetings, and preparations, I knew I wanted to do it but felt a little out of my element. Honorary Baseball, Swimming, Softball, Theatre, or Music Coach–I’d probably feel like I could offer something…but football…As much as I love the Friday Night Lights, my knowledge of the game was a little lacking. Fortunately, Coach Gilbert knew that was the case and he was fully prepared to give me a Football 101 lesson the Friday before the big week! As I have continued to reflect upon my experiences with the team this season, I not only have an increased love for the game itself but even more importantly, I have a treasure chest of memories and lessons they have shared with me about leadership, sacrifice, grit, and unity.
The first lesson can be found on their helmets where they have boldly printed the word FAMILY. The team is family. It doesn’t matter if you are a star player or you normally stand on the sidelines– if you are a freshman, a manager, a coach, or in my case–a principal just learning the ins and outs of football–you are family. I got to see them asking one another about academics and how they could help, upperclassmen mentoring the underclassmen, and I saw them lift one another up when a player was injured or going through a family tragedy. When there are almost 200 in the family, it can be easy for one to feel like an outsider. But seeing this large, diverse team come together in their team room– that they have clearly outgrown– to huddle together, celebrate their successes and listen intently as their coaches give instruction or insight was a sight that will stay with me for years to come. The coaches emphasize that when one teammate suffers, we all suffer. When one teammate learns, we all learn. And above all else, we all serve one another. For it is upon this foundation, that the rest of the lessons are built.
The second lesson is an extension of the last. Every teammate matters. Unique to how many high schools see their athletic programs, Westfield recognizes that the program begins at the younger levels. Coach Gilbert shared how he has been with many of his players since they were just in grade school learning the fundamentals of the game. Our coaches do not just coach one level. They support the younger grades who await their day as future WHS Rocks players. They are present and active at each high school level. From freshmen to seniors, each player knows each of our coaches. While many specialize with freshman or JV or Varsity, they practice together and they are all present actively coaching on Friday nights. From the scouts to the freshmen team to JV to our student managers and trainers, everyone knows their role and they know their value. They are all in. One of my favorite experiences from the week was when I got to join the team on the sidelines for the Friday night game. To watch each person take pride in their role and collectively support one another toward victory made me know I was standing in the midst of something very special.
Success is always preceded by hard work and sacrifice. I think it is safe to say I knew the football coaches and players worked really hard, but I didn’t truly understand the level of dedication and sacrifice until I was looking at the meeting and practice schedule and joining in on a Sunday morning Zoom call. Coach Gilbert and his coaches know that to be the best team you have to out-practice and out-perform like you are the best team. He told me that if his practices were more efficient than our conference schools-we could get double the reps in–thus out preparing our competition week after week. The coaches were meticulous with their film watching, their data-keeping, their goal setting, and their practice structures. Players were conditioning each day, watching film, practicing hard, and then getting back up again the next day to repeat it. And it’s a year-round commitment. The team’s theme this season was “Compelled.” They knew they were to get as far as they got, they couldn’t just be committed, they had to be ‘compelled.’ And that is what I saw–a team ‘compelled’ to grow, ‘compelled’ to compete, ‘compelled’ to win.
If it matters, you measure it and you celebrate it. Coach Gilbert made sure I was able to experience a Monday in the team room following their weekend games. Their team room is full of their philosophy cornerstones posted all around the room from “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” to “Weather the storm” to “Confidence and Refocus. Play the Next Play.” Then there is a giant scoreboard where they track specific goals each week. If the players hit the goals, the managers give them a shamrock sticker for their helmets. Some of the goals they measure coincide with the offensive line, others the defensive line, some special teams, and other accomplishments involve the entire team. To see the excitement in the room as the team cheered one another on and received their new stickers for the week left me speechless. It also taught me the importance of setting tangible goals, celebrating achievements, and being committed to learning when we miss the finish line. What would our team look like without the intentionality from the coaches to set data goals, track execution, and celebrate team accomplishments? I don’t know exactly what it would look like, but what I can tell you is that we probably wouldn’t have been beaming with pride as we cheered them on at Lucas Oil this season. They get results because they expect them. Following my week with the team, I set more specific goals for my team and we are learning to track them and celebrate them weekly. Because if it matters, we measure it.
Rocks Football is a source of immense pride in our school and in our community. The last couple of years has brought some uncertainty, loss, and uncharted territory. Yet when those Friday Night lights came and we saw our students running through the tunnel ready to play their hearts out and never give up, I think we all came together and cheered in harmony. No matter what life had brought us that week, we took a deep breath, lifted our voices, and hung on to the hope that there is still much to be thankful for, much to celebrate, and that no matter our differences, we are the Rocks family.