Good morning this morning! :)
*now, good evening, this evening!
A year ago this month my best buddy, Dustin and I decided to start coaching flag football for both our sons' football team; we are the Saints. To say anything less than fulfilling would be an understatement.
Our quiet little league is still new and is growing through its growing pains. Since wearing the whistle, we sometimes feel like it's our team that gets to "be practiced on" lol! There's an art to being patient, getting dragged through the mud, sometimes kicked in the mouth simultaneously, WHILE keeping a smile on your face. :) Evermore important when dealing with our impressionable youth.
We now have four seasons of play experience and three of them are with us coaching. Our team consists as a 10 person team - when enough kids enroll. The majority of our players have played with us for at least two seasons, some all three. We're grateful to have earned such trust with our players and their parents that they willingly sign up for repeat seasons and ask for us as their coaches.
This creates a super tight nitch of comradery amongst our players. This also sets a unique bond and foundation for any new players.
Each season has been challenging in their own right. Largely from what feels like being practiced on. haha. Our boys are amazing and their parents are incredibly supportive to our intentions while also being equally patient growing through it all.
Since we started coaching we have found our spot being on the back end of a losing season. We've got heart, great sportsmanship! but in this 10-12 year old age, the boys are in that prepubescent age. Some kids have hit their growth spurt, some are still looking for theirs. We have been on the normal side of things. Not only in physical size and build, but how we coach and work our team functions like a team. There's not one amazing powerhouse player that carries us to a winning season. Truly, the team has a cooperative cohesion that when the team wins, it's the team that wins.
That being said, all of our seasons have been at the losing end being beat out, dominated by just one highly leveraged player, or a pair of taller kids just smearing us with their physical size. Compound the "being practiced on" through the league with lessons learned, it's been a different kind of grind.
Our current season, Winter 2023, we held out until the later days of registration contemplating coaching or not. Being vulnerably transparent, it was largely me. Over the recent months I've found myself in a shitty spot mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. All different and unpleasant feelings leading into a new season.
I was reluctant to commit my time due to the life demands I was putting on myself as being the family provider and growing my businesses at the same time. How to split the time needed was a concern. In past flag football seasons there had also been many league challenges that my willingness to sign up for a continued season weighed heavily in my decision to return or not.
Our league is new and with anything new, especially in business, there are lessons learned that as difficult as it is, is one of those things you have to grow through. Each season has had its fair share of stressful growth. Combating a predictable loss each Saturday for the last seasons was hard to sign up for, in addition to the growing pains - man, I was smoked!
It wasn't until the coming days of registration that it was clear Tristan wanted to play. The league's predictable tension touched more than us coaches, it trickled down to the willingness of the players too.
Honestly, it was Tristan's interest in his willingness to play again that threw gas on the fire that changed my perspective. That change was that if the universe was going to bless me with the opportunity to coach my child again, while being alive and able, why would I not choose that opportunity? There will be a time when as much as I'd like to, I likely will not be allowed to.
So with a gut check, we went all in again this year.
AND I"M SO HAPPY WE DID!
Despite the vulnerable state I was in, going to practice with our kids, kids that really want to be there, and want to practice, has been SUCH a stress relief! The chemistry has tightened deeply with the boys who've been with us for multiple seasons. Along with that, we've been able to watch them develop and mature over the recent year.
Like a ring found in a tree stump, a child is no different. We as coaches have an opportunity to leave a defining impact on each one, in their own way, that done effectively, will stay with them forever.
That is a gift. One that we do not take for granted.
To our fortune, this year has been a very stress free time for our kids to play. We have a diversity of talent, team tenure, and a mix of special needs. All of which really balances out the culture and work ethic. As things within our adult life become stressful, getting out and selflessly giving your time limited or not, to the small creatures of our future is a joy I struggle conveying through words.
This season's registration was limited in our 12U division, leaving us with only two teams to compete against:
Saints vs Steelers.
Although the team size is a 10 man team, only 5 can play at a time. We're not super green coaches, nor are we incredibly seasoned. However, in all of our seasons, we've only ever had 10 kids, one time; our first season. A player quit after the third game, then our only QB broke his wrist at home (just after we had traction) and that left us with only 8 kids. We pretty much started over mid season. The following season we had less than that?! and Tristan had strep throat 7 times throughout and hardly played. All of which really left us with 6'ish kids to play the entire game... not much for rotation... So we know what it's like being short.
In Saint's fashion we held up as best we could, being dominated by or not, we still made forward progress even while losing.
Into this season the Saints and Steelers were equally matched. Considering seasons past, the ebb and flow was nice and competitive. Our first game was so much fun! With back and forth throughout the hour's play, mixed with clutch moments, we left with our first win?!
As the weeks would continue, we would come out on top having one every game. This was a different kind of feeling. One that we did not let go to our head, nor take for granted. In light momentum, the Steelers started out with 8 players, to our 9, however injuries and availability would mount against them. A few games ago the Steelers only had 5 players. That meant NO BREAKS! for anyone.
Having survived this kind of shitty deal in the past, to be fair, have fun, and be a team player in the bigger picture, we donated two of our best players to play defense against us for the entire game. That meant one of our boys for each half did not take a break, pulled our flags and almost intercepted passes from their own team. The beauty in it is that they did so willingly to help the other team. This gave the Steelers an opportunity to breathe between plays allowing for game player rotation. That game was a riot! It was fun to watch our boys play with us and against us. Although our two volunteer players, Landen & Slim, played just as hard with and against us, the Saints still won that game.
Now, there was only one game left before the championship!
To keep things fun and competitive, that following game we decided to let our defense play as the starting offence. We wanted to give the boys opportunities to play different positions. There was also a new face on the other side of the field. One that we hadn't seen before. When the game got underway it had a different kind of flavor. There was a powerhouse player on the Steelers that we had not seen all season.
As the intensity of the game evolved, our very own plays started to be implemented from the Steelers, against us... interesting?! Saints found themselves on the receiving end of our own creative play making. Our defense couldn't keep up with the shift in pressure. The Saints were on the losing side of the game momentum as the Steelers leaned forward into the winning momentum. Sadly, we were not losing by the Steelers, this was again, losing by a single powerhouse player.
Great for the Steelers, not good for the Saints.
As the game continued we lost our gitty up, started missing more flags, and threw a lot of interceptions. The losing mindset started to root deeper into the effectiveness of our efforts. Come game's end, it would have taken two touchdowns to shift the tide, but the clock ran out. The Saints lost our first game all season.
Next game, Championship.
Come to find out the league made an exception to allow a new player to come in just before seasons end. Rosters and registrations have closing dates for a reason. However, due to the shortage of players on the Steelers, the league allowed a new player to come in to compensate for the shortage. Although we can understand why, we didn't agree with how. Especially having counted 7 players on the Steelers sidelines, and watched there be little to no player rotation????
Having lost the game didn't help process the decision making any easier. The intentions were good however the execution of justified action was entirely arguable. That didn't make the loss go away. Our stance was that we can only take it on the chin and look forward,
The Saints were once again in a spot of decision making that we had no control over. Such as life. The only thing you have control over is how you respond to the situation.
As awesome as finishing a season undefeated would have been, me and my best buddy, Dustin, saw the loss as a learning opportunity.
This was not going to happen again.
Rolling into the last week of practice we had a different kind of energy... the loss felt like an unprovoked shove, a sudden slap in the face, like some asshole pouring cold water on you while taking a relaxing shower. In the spirit of that kind of aggravation, we leaned into it. Doing so inspired a number of new game plays that motivated us to creatively mislead the competition; no more copy-cat action!
When word got out that we had new plays, the boys were jacked with excitement! When they showed up for practice, dropping bags and drinks off at the staging table, they unprovokingly announced in their own and separate ways
No mercy this week, coach!
Turns out middle school shit talking started to happen. The new powerhouse player had words and gestures to share on the regular. The real life outcome of Cobra Kai was literally starting to happen. Crossing paths in the hallways brought out the us/them dichotomy.
Having seen the show, being an adult, it's hilarious connecting the dots between the kids. *THANKFULLY! There is no Cobra Kai action between us opposing coaches! lol!
Nonetheless, at every practice we focused on two key problems. One, not needing to give energy towards why this new player was there. Two, we cannot let the shit talking distract us in our playing efforts. Play with intensity not with anger. Gosh damn I feel so cliché! The damn ass show doesn't make me feel any less like a coaching-dork!
Joshua'son! hahah! Considering it was the final week of the season, it was important to celebrate the overall success as a team. Nothing's better than breaking bread (pizza) together - siblings included.
The team decided to practice an extra day - even after being rained out!
Of course we did so at a dryer field!
The boys were super focused on executing the plays well. Although they occasionally tom'dicked around, some players would kick in, redirecting the bunch as it's time to focus.
READY! Saturday, Championship Game Day Coin toss, 9AM
Each week we nominate three new captains to lead the team for the game. Considering this was our final game of the season, we chose our only three repeating original Saints team players: Tristan QB, Dylan WR/RB, and Landen RB/WR It's crazy to see the measurable growth here!! Just one year this month, Tristan and Dylan had their very first season. Both our boys were just happy to play! Today, they lead the charge heading into a hopeful season's win!
*In memory of Tristan's Papa John, my bonus Dad, we both rock the last name CERINI on our jersey and shirts Steelers win the coin toss They picked offense! Steelers ball! Let's go DEFENSE!
As anticipated, Steelers leverage their powerhouse player almost exclusively! Defense was ready! Downs 1, 2, 3, happen quickly! They make it to their first down and send a floater into the end zone! BAM!! Slim was there waiting! Interception right out of the gate! THE VIDEO HERE:
First down! Coach Dustin opens the play book and asks which play they want to execute - NEW PLAY SELECTED! Check! Tristan: Set HIKE! Nathan hikes the ball into Tristan's hands and takes off deep into center field! T steps back twists around showing his back to the defense, Zach and Landen peel off the line of scrimmage heading towards Tristan splitting him in two. Tristan fake handsoff's to Zach, then hands off to Landen!
Landen tucks the ball deep as all two boys rip off to the left like a cavalry charging into battle! Steelers bite on the double fake handoff and swarm in on the trio! WAIT!! OH SHIT!!
Dylan was behind Tristan the entire time! Ball in hand, Dylan breaks right, hits the turbo button and hauls ass almost the entire field length for the TOUCHDOWN! DUDE!!! It was AMAZING!! This combo of plays set the stage for the game! Saints were jacked! THE VIDEO HERE:
This kind of focused intensity is sustained throughout the game! We knew what we were looking for! We knew what we had prepared for! Saints were ALL IN! Before half time! Tristan sets up, ready HIKE! Nathan puts it in Tristan's hands, Gives to Dylan! Dylan gives to Zach! Zach gives to Landen! WHAT?!
Landen kicks up the hip action, jukes left, jukes right, breaking defenders ankles repeatedly, destroying all the Steelers defense, in for a touchdown!! THE VIDEO HERE:
The Steelers continued to rely on their star player to get some kind of traction. Play after play, he was used endlessly. As we anticipated it, they started to use him as a distraction to mislead our defense, taking us deeper into the back field. No factor! Saints defense held! Slim was reading the outcome of each play like a radar! He'd coordinate the defense keeping them on point! Michael and Landen helped double team their star player grabbing flags left and right! Each Saint held their own! Nothing but 100% class despite the middle school hallway/cafeteria taunting shit. There were no sideline complaints from the boys, no diffusing situations from the refs, nothing! Both teams were playing clean and competitive!
We now found our groove and the Saints were a train'a'coming! We assessed each situation with intentionality. We rotated the boys on and off, we wanted zero predictability! We moved our starting center, Dom, to starting defense, those long gangly arms blocked repeated passes almost scooping up his first interception! Here during the last third of the game: Tristan sets up under Nathan, Set, HIKE! off the go Nathan launches into the field and breaks left!! Tristan backs up and hands off to Zach! got you! Triple fake!
Zach takes a step back and zings it into the left end zone pocket. Steelers try to block!
Nathan in for the grab! Falling touchdown catch! THE VIDEO HERE:
The momentum is palatable!
Saints are scoped in like a sniper!
Each boy is communicating with one another, uplifting each other, the team was a well oiled machine!
There's psychology in this game. One of which is reading what's happening across the field in addition to our own sidelines. I called in a switch of players. Landen has been playing almost every down, defense and offense. I called him out. Although momentarily frustrated, he was understanding. I dropped to one knee and pulled him in. I said, "do you see that they are always running plays through their one key player? Panting as he caught his breath he said yes. Placing my hand on his head, I said the kid's exhausted and is struggling to keep up. You're very important to the team, Landen, but we do not want to do that to you. Have some water and take a minute to yourself. We need you, but you need a break. Without argument, he understood and jetted over to the table and took some swigs of water.
One of the biggest challenges in being a coach is sharing playtime with everyone. Dustin and I talk and share perspective throughout our games to ensure that all our boys get an opportunity to make a contribution. The struggle sometimes comes when picking the right time for key plays designed around the right opportunity. There are kiddos that always have a smile on their face - regardless of their abilities. To see the joy or pre-excitement light up with the understanding that "you" are getting the ball is so wonderful to see happen.
Here our buddy Rylan makes the longest run of his season and we catch this on film. All I can see is his glowing face as his passionate elbows go forward and backward as he makes strides towards the end zone!
When he made it to the sidelines exhausted, he was grinning ear to ear!
As we closed into our final 3 minutes I called our last timeout. It wasn't an opportunity to develop a key play, it was a moment to bring ALL our boys into the huddle and talk.
Take a breath, collect yourselves.... You guys are doing amazing! Keep your head up! We only have 3 minutes left. Play tight! Stay focused! Work as a team!. Breathe :)
And like that, 40 seconds were over!
The boys took the field and kept the throttle to the floor until the final whistle blew. The Saints were so focused on the execution of effort, that there were uncommonly no questions of what the score was?! They all kept their heads down and efforts WAY up! After sixty minutes of 120% effort, the Saints secured the championship victory!
Saints win! 36 - 6
*Left to right, Landen, Tristan, Zach. **Fair and wonderful Refs behind! Coach Dustin and I weren't sure how Saturday's game would shake out. Our boys were vulnerably defeated the week prior with a surprise player. Even after the parental response of the new Steelers' clutch player was introduced we did our damndest to express theirs and our coaching concerns to the league regarding their last minute decision. To no avail, nothing changed.
*Before I close, I do need to clarify, in light of the league challenges and growing pains mentioned throughout my post, it's important to understand that we are happy to call this place our home. None of the decisions are recklessly decided or executed. They're called growing pains for a reason. The league leadership hears our perspective and equally grows through their lessons learned. **team effort all the way through! :) Regardless of the league curveball the Saints received, all of us responded with class and sportsmanship executed through excellence. Coach Dustin and I proactively committed to the decision to personally buy our boys game trophies at the risk of delivering these golden plastic cups of accomplishment through the lenses of defeat. In the spirit of leading our team through uncontrollable circumstances, our boys showed up with tenacity, of which allowed us to deliver these golden cups of accomplishment through the unfiltered eyes of victory.
We are The Saints
We are the 12U Winter Champions!
Left to right: Me - Coach Josh, Dylan (coach Dustin's Son), Zach, on his knees - Landen, Slim (AKA Landen *red mouth piece **showed up with bleached hair like Slim Shady!) hidden behind Slim, is falling catch receiver Nathan! :) Coach Dustin, Tristan (my son), Dominic, and his brother Rylan (in front w/his head down and big ass smile!) and Michael! *If you look closely at Michael, the tree in the background makes his hair look like a green mohawk!
Until next season! We will keep after it! *Forgive any grammatically misconstrued sentences... I started this post Friday morning, which was touched on before our game on Saturday, now concluded Sunday night. I'm also fighting a mild fever, stupid head cold shit, and at 41 years old, I've got one, ONE wisdom tooth left, (all others gone) which is pushing
it's lame face through my gum line creating a hell of a toothache. ***Special thanks to my bride, Chas! I've been in the office since 9:30am! - it's now 7:30pm?! Lord, I have a problem. lol!
Have a grateful Sunday! You can't reach a level of success without being linked together to a common cause without a like minded team.