I drive past a ghost every day of my life. It says nothing. It remains silent. It does what a ghost is supposed to do – haunt you. Ghosts are supposed to scare the hell out of you but by their very nature, ghosts aren’t all bad. A ghost has its good side too. When this ghost was alive, it made ‘us’ feel alive, those of ‘us’ who were called to it.
This ghost is an empty football field. The football program is dead. It died a few years ago. What used to be vibrant and full of life is now dead. It’s a cemetery, where even the past struggles to stay alive. It’s a part of our past that no one wants to kill. It’s the part of our past that we want to keep alive forever but somehow gets buried underneath the junk that piles up day-by-day. It’s part of our past that fights like hell to find its place in our past, present, or future, all of the above, or none of the above. The irony is that the rest of the city has joined the football field. The rest of the city is a ghost town. What used to be an uplifting city that enriched the lives of the poor who moved there to find hope, the anabolic agent of any community and the lives within it, is now a haunting ghost town, a relic of the past. Hope is what lets communities live and what keeps them alive.
During a week when pro football has sunk even further towards Gong Show level, this ghost that I drive past every day reminds me of what pro football isn’t and never will be for me, but what this ghost was – sacred. This ghost is the field where I started my volunteer assistant coaching career 40 seasons ago. It’s the field where I started my volunteer head coaching career at the age of 26. It’s the field of the high school program that was a laughingstock, an underdog by the truest definition of the word. Becoming a high school head coach had been my dream career since I was 10. And being head coach at that particular high school was a dream with a dream. My goal for 16 years. I thought about it every day. What you focus on grows. My five-year career as head coach at my dream job produced sacred memories. Then I moved on. And on. And on. And on. I left my dream job behind because I heard something calling – the next play or blind ambition. I’m still not sure which it was.
I have been blessed with countless sacred coaching experiences at every new place I coached at after I left my dream job behind, the unpaid job that paid off the most. But my first head coaching job still haunts me. For years, every time I drove past that field to get to all the other new fields where I was coaching, I wondered if I made a mistake by leaving it behind. The feeling never stops. There is no way around it, literally or figuratively. I have to drive past that field every day. It’s in my way. There’s the key – it’s in my way. Dual meaning. Is it in my way as a sign to keep the past alive in the future? Or is it in my way as an obstacle that is blocking the future by trying to bring back to life what’s supposed to be dead? Questions that form the vicious cycle of guilt and #peace – all caused by the same ghost.
If I had not left, it may not have died. Guilt by disassociation. But the same ghost gives me #peace with reminders of what I learned in the heart and soul of that ghost town – don’t ever count out an underdog. Don’t count out a team that’s left for dead. There is nothing more lifting than an underdog that lifts. The best way for misfits to fit in is to lift. Lifting makes the unfit fit for duty.
Every season was perfect. My teams did what the underdog does – call out the best, then call out your best. It’s the purest way to find out how tough you really are. No artificial ingredients. All natural. We won games we should have lost. We lost games we should have won. But the place was so poor, it was a miracle we won any games at all. It was one of those places where very few gave a shit about football, the same way I no longer give a shit about the pro football soap opera. The irony is that the ghost of my past interest in pro football doesn’t bother me. Guilt-free even though my interest in pro football is in the same shape as that football field I drive past every day – dead.
I never once in my life felt the same about any paid profession and workplace that I worked in as I did about that football field. I have been blessed to work in dream professions. I loved each profession but I never loved the workplaces. The ghost of the empty football field reminds me of perfection – the perfect workplace. No conflict, no drama, no negativity, no darkness, no depression.
Making the right call is the heart and soul of every job, every career, every profession. I believe every job, paid or unpaid, is a calling. The ‘call’ applies best to the profession of coaching. The word ‘call’ defines every coach’s career at every level. But the word ‘call’ has multiple meanings that determine the extent of career development. The quality of the experience for both your athletes and you depends on ‘call management,’ how you manage the call you have to make and how you manage the biggest call of all – the calling to your profession.
The essence of coaching is ‘making the call’ – who to start, where, for how long, and what play to run. What to lift, when to lift, how hard to hit, how often to hit. Each call you have to make as a coach affects lives. Every call is truly a life-and-death decision, physically and psychologically, because football is the epitome of the H.R. department – High Risk, the department of life that makes immeasurable impact on the lives of student-athletes. Every call you make is another step toward the evolution of your coaching career – who you are now and who you are supposed to become. And it’s part of the evolution of each individual athlete – who they are now and who they are supposed to become.
Despite all the call coaches have to make, the biggest call is the one you have to answer. Every job, career, profession is a ‘calling,’ a vocation that requires us to embark on and then carry out a mission. ‘Discernment of calling’ isn’t always easy. There are signs that have to be read along the way. Never-ending questions to be answered starting with: “What do I want to be when I grow up and after I grow up?”
After you answer the coaching calling, discernment of calling doesn’t end there. Career calls never stop – when to move up, down, or around are all decisions that impact lives, yours and athletes. Then there’s the toughest call – when to answer the call outside of football.
Discernment of calling is the equivalent of a quarterback reading a defense or a defense reading the offense. Read the signs. Identify the keys. What’s real and what’s a disguise? What’s leading and what’s misleading? It’s easy to misread the signs because of Play Ambiguity – often it all looks alike and happens so fast that you’re rushed and pressured to the point where you almost throw it away.
Hail to the underdog. Hail to the ghost of the underdog. May you live on, may you live long, may you live strong. This is a copyrighted excerpt of a new book about soul-lifting. I host a Podcast called Blunt Talk. The objectives of each episode are to lift people, to help them reach full potential with Good Inspiring News Only. We have a wide range of guests who share experiences and insights into topics including but not limited to athletics, business, fitness, and career development. There are ten additional episodes.
One of our guests is Charles Coiner owner of First Down App. He discusses his calling as it relates to his NFL coaching career and current business endeavors at FirstDown App. Additionally, he gives advice to parents and student-athletes about the reality of reaching the next level. The link to Blunt Talk Podcast is at: https://ginoarcaro.com/blunt-talk/#.VUfQxGd0zwo
Coach Coiner’s interview, episode 5, is called ‘THE CALL.’ We invite comments and questions to help you in your coaching journey and to share your insights with our brothers and sisters in coaching.
Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc., Level 3 NCCP (Nat’l Coaching Certification Program)
Head coach – Niagara X-Men Football
Owner – X Fitness Inc.
Blogs – www.GinoArcaro.com and www.SWATFootball.ca