“Are they even going to have enough kids to play?” asked one of the other fathers.
“I don’t know. They need six, right? Well, it looks like they have four,” I replied.
We were getting ready for another one of my son Tyler’s flag football games and it was raining like heck, cold and windy. As usual, though, the kids and parents were geared up and ready to go, but the other team looked a little short on players.
Our team’s coach, Frank — a fellow dad of one of the players — came back from a quick conference with the other team’s coach.
“Well, it looks like they have one more coming, so they’re going to have five. We’ve got our full roster here of eight so,” he said sheepishly looking at our team, “Does anyone want to go over and play for the other team today?”
“Noooooo,” all the kids said in unison.
“Ok, I get it,” said Frank with a smile. “Well, like I said, they only have five so we’re only going to play five. We’ll just have to do a lot of subbing in an out.”
For a second, I was a little surprised with his decision. I mean, teams are supposed to field six kids, which means it makes good sense to have at least seven or eight on the roster in case someone can’t make it. The Patriots (who we were playing) were 2-0 having blown out their opponents, while we were 1-1. If we can play six, we should play six, I thought.
At that, the referee who was in charge of our game came over, and made clear we had that option.
“Listen,” he said to Frank in front of the other coach. “You can play six if you want. It’s up to you.”
Without a doubt, without hesitation and without missing a beat, Frank replied, “No. We’re going with five.”
And so we played the game. It was a hard fought game (well, at least as hard fought as a game of First Grade flag football can be), with the score changing hands at least four times. Ultimately, we lost, taking our record to 1-2 as the Patriots moved to 3-0, with very few the wiser about what Frank had done.
I was disappointed that we lost, but not with Frank’s decision, because I knew it was the right one, and it taught the right lesson. Perhaps Frank sensed some of the disappointment, as we received this email after the game:
“Thanks to everyone for braving the ugly weather yesterday. It was very impressive that all of our kids came and stuck it out in that weather.
“We are off this week for Mother’s Day and then resume the following week 5/15 at 12pm. We are scheduled to play 5/22 (Sunday at 12). The playoffs would start 6/19 if we make it.
“And just on that, while it is great to introduce competition and standings, the win at this stage is not about winning a game or making the playoffs, it is about sparking an interest in athletics and having fun out there. I can’t tell you how many great examples we have of these kids developing just over the past few weeks — from a player learning to scan the field and throw to the open receiver, to a player conquering his fears of running the ball, to a player hustling full speed to chase a run play from the backside and take the perfect angle to try and make the stop. And there are many other examples. All great stuff to see…
“I hope the kids are having as much fun as I am. See you a week from Sunday. Thanks,
I was really impressed (though not surprised) and so sent Frank the following message:
“I have said it before and I will say it again — I think you do a truly amazing job with the kids, and both they (and us, the parents) are lucky to have you.”
And I surely meant it. I may have arrived at the right decision after false-starting down the wrong path, but it was clear Frank never did. He knew what he was about, why he was there, and what he hoped to achieve, and with all that established, took not a second to decide the right thing to do. Now that’s impressive, because that’s leadership.