Of all the aspects of being a head coaching family, I think I was/am the most unprepared for dealing with the massive amount of disappointment we experience on a regular basis. I am a really positive person; the glass is almost always half full. Disappointment is just a big, fat bummer in this football life that paralyzes me sometimes.
Disappointment is defined as: the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the non fulfillment of one's hopes or expectations. (source)
In sports, disappointment can come from the obvious cause of losing a game. That, though, I was prepared for. Losing is expected to some degree. No team or coach will win every single game they ever play. It's just not reality. While it hurts, sometimes for a while, good coaches learn how to grow and improve from losses.
The disappointment I am talking about is the daily kind that shows up unexpectedly. Many times it feels like it comes as a flock of flying birds, hitting us one right after the other. These disappointments can be anything from injuries, player misconduct, suspensions from school, players missing practice, administrators that just don't get football, coaches who leave, kids who experience a major tragedy... I really could go on and on and on. In fact, in Coach's first 2 years as a head coach, I joked with him that he should write a book on how to deal with every possible challenge a coach could face. It really feels like we've dealt with just about everything.
I think the reason is these disappointments are so overwhelming is because they stop me in my tracks, bringing with them a whole slew of other negative thoughts:
Why do these things happen to us?
Could a different decision prevented this?
Is there something I can do to change this situation?
Are we even doing what we are supposed to be doing?
Why is this so hard? Can’t something go right?
When I allow these questions to fester in my mind and heart for too long, they can interupt nearly every function of my day. It feels like I’m wearing this heavy coat of negativity that I cannot figure out how to remove. I’ve recently realized this is a problem and am learning how to deal with it. More on that in a minute.
While I’ve been working on this post, I asked Coach about this topic of dealing with disappointment and how he has learned to cope. What we both recalled was that in the early days of being a new head coach, or even new to a particular program, everything is in fact, new. Even with years of experience as an assistant and coordinator, he was not prepared for all the daily decisions a head coach faces. From my perspective, one of reasons the disappointment is so debilitating at times is because coaches just want to coach. They don't want to have to deal with all the other crap thrown their way. But alas, it's part of the gig.
Fortunately, with time comes many blessings of hard work. In any position, there’s a moment when you start doing your job from the wisdom of your experience and not from learning on the fly. When you reach this moment, it is life-changing and each disappointment takes a little less of your emotional energy than it used to.
This spring began Coach's 5th season as a head coach. I have to admit this has been the first off-season that actually felt like an off-season since he began as a head coach 4 years ago. There has been a period of respite from the intensity of football season. I have observed Coach become a more experienced head coach. While he still had a lot of stuff to deal with, and even major disappointments, he is more prepared to handle them. Unfortunately, he is probably less surprised too when something lets him down.
Me on the other hand, I still feel like I ride the emotional roller coaster of every disappointment. Sometimes I get angry at whoever or whatever is messing with my man. I want to fix the situation for him, but rarely is there anything I can do. Other times I'm frustrated that my husband can't just freaking relax at the end of his day or enjoy time with our family because something has gone wrong or someone HAS to talk to him. And in some cases I still feel resentment that this life we are called to is so much work and often times painful.
Interestingly, in the middle of writing this post yet another disappointing event occurred. A player made a bad choice in handling an interaction with another student at school. The consequence for his actions could impact his ability to attend school and thus play football as well. When I heard what happened I was just so very sad. Sad because he made such a terrible choice. Sad because it could impact his ability to play football. Sad because while it is shocking, it's not that surprising.
Disappointment. It happens all the damn time.
As I have been writing this post I've really been wrestling with a point. What are my "take-aways" for dealing with disappointment? How am I working on handling it better in my own life? Disappointment is a major energy sucker and if I don't work on my emotional response, I allow it to strip me of the joy I want to experience in my life.
I'll be honest, I don't have all the answers. But recently I have realized that maybe I need to seek some answers for this challenge. If I don't start approaching disappointment differently, it will take me down. Maybe you deal with disappointment in your life too. I hope these ideas might encourage you and give you some new tools for walking through hard emotions.
Let the storm pass
Anytime Coach texts or calls during the day with some horrific news about football (in the early days of head coaching it felt like this happened every day) my first reaction is to fix it. I so desperately want to say the perfect thing to him or offer the solution that will change his circumstances or emotions. Truly, I want the negativity and disappointment to go away and move on with the more fun aspects of football. Who has time for negativity?
While there have been times that God has given me the perfect thing to say in the moment, I rarely have the nugget of wisdom that will make Coach feel better. Time, and many mistakes, have taught me (and I still continue to learn) that most of the time he just needs to vent to someone outside of the program. I am the person he calls first, which is great, but it also means that I get the brunt of his emotions too. Sometimes it's hard for me to not take it personally and internalize his negativity, but I am working on training my mind to not do this. I say things to myself like “this is not my fault” and “his anger or frustration is understandable but it’s not directed at me”.
Instead, it seems that it's better to just let the storm pass through our lives. Acknowledge the struggle and emotions the situation brings and then give it time to pass, because IT WILL PASS. Some storms are very quick and the negative emotions are gone quickly. Some storms keep him or I up all night and wake us early the next morning. This is no fun but this storm will pass too.
A friend reminded me of a common meditation practice where you watch your emotions float through your mind like clouds, coming in and out of the frame of vision. You see the emotions, you acknowledge and feel them, but you are not defined by them. They pass. This is an excellent practice for dealing with disappointment.
As I am writing this out, I'm also reminded of James 1:19 - Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Perhaps this is exactly what I am learning.
I've written before about the importance of having good friends to vent to yourself as a way to survive the season. I still absolutely believe this. This year, however, I realized that my conversations with these close friends seem to be very similar year after year. My struggles have become more like habits that I am stuck in. No matter how much venting I did, I just couldn't shake some of the negativity I was allowing to take hold of my heart.
I'm not OK with this.
Since I have not been successful in working through some of the junk in my heart on my own, I've decided to start seeing a Christian counselor. I'm a couple of months in already and I am really glad I made this decision. I feel like I have someone on my team who is completely removed from any of my circumstances. They offer guidance and skills on working through situations that I did not realize I even needed. They are walking me through the mental patterns that I feel stuck in and giving me new skills and practices to implement. I think even this post is an outpouring of what we are working on.
So, if you maybe feel stuck in some of the same patterns in your life too, I highly recommend finding a counselor. It doesn't mean you have failed at anything. It just means you might need a fresh perspective on your life. Welcome that.
Stay grounded in who you are and remember what is out of your control
I probably should confess that this is something that has come out of my counseling sessions. I am really trying to dig into this idea that my worth and value has nothing to do with circumstances, emotions, or what I produce or do. This is so crazy hard. I've recognized that I allow a lot of the disappointments we face, and how I handle them or fix them, to define my value. There's a lot of different avenues to go down within that last statement but I will keep it simply for brevity sake: I internalize way to much.
In reality, I have very little control over many circumstances in my life. Control is actually an illusion and trying to maintain it usually comes at a cost. I have realized that I am giving up way too much to attempt controlling either my responses or Coach’s responses to these disappointments. Ultimately, they have nothing to do with who I am and my value as a person. I’m working on letting that sink in as deeply as it needs to. I’ve been reading an excellent book that is helping a lot too. I highly recommend The Life of the Beloved.
Choose the ‘way of faith’
I am a big believer in having mantras to speak to yourself. I have many tucked away in my mind that help guide my behavior in different situations. Recently I’ve added a new mantra that I got from Galatians 3:12 in the New Living Translation. It says,
The way of faith is very different from the way of the law.
Choosing the way of faith is sometimes very hard and not natural for me. Faith is what supports all the suggestions above. Despite what I may strongly feel or strongly believe at any given moment:
I have faith that this storm will pass.
I have faith that circumstances don’t determine my value.
I have faith in God as my foundation and not my feelings.
I have faith in my marriage and that we will get through it.
Faith is very different than the way of law (or, cultural beliefs, logic, family stories, or even understanding), and it is crucial to remember that in the midst of disappointment.
Feelings are very strong but that doesn’t mean that they are true.
My friend, thank you for reading this post. Honestly, I feel like taking a deep breath as I come to its conclusion. All in all this took me about 3 weeks to write because it’s so deeply personal and I’m still in the middle of working through all of this for myself. I hope you found something in this that encourages you, no matter the profession you and your partner are involved in.
On this same line of thinking, my brother and his wife just did this video on walking through chronic pain as a couple. It’s really good, really honest and has some powerful nuggets of wisdom in it. I think it is another, specific example of dealing with disappointment.
Please leave a comment with any thoughts or share this post with a friend.
Clinging to faith in the midst of disappointment,