On a rare 70-degree, late October day in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, quotes from Nelson Mandela and Sir Andrew of Scotland provided the pre-game motivation spurring our team to a 48-14 victory over our rivals in the 117th playing of “The Game.”
As we noted last week, these two small towns have one of the longest-standing rivalries in the country, and both communities turned out to continue the legacy of competition and camaraderie.
Two nights before the game during our team’s traditional steak dinner, I shared a quote from Nelson Mandela with our team: “Do not judge me on my successes; judge me on the times I fell down and got back up.” The quote perfectly describes our season that began with two monster wins against state powers, only then to be derailed by a rash of injuries and subsequent losses.
I followed by letting our players know that it was during those defeats and not the wins that I saw the true character of our team. We played hard regardless of the score or time left on the clock. No one pointed fingers. Teammates, staff, and fans alike encouraged the back-ups who were thrust into starting positions due to those aforementioned injuries. In some cases, a player’s first experience saw him lined up against a larger and stronger veteran opponent, yet able to muster the courage to meet the task at hand. I told them how proud we all are of their commitment to the team, each other, and our Hilltopper culture.
A father of one of our seniors, who was serving dinner to the players that night and was also inspired by the Mandela quote, shared one of his favorites in an email later that night: “Fight on my men,” Sir Andrew said. “A little I am hurt, but not yet slain. I’ll just lie down and bleed a while, and then I’ll rise and fight again.”
The next day, on stage in front of a packed auditorium, I shared both of those quotes with our student body during our pregame pep chapel. Later that evening at the alumni social, one teacher told me she had never seen the auditorium so quiet and students so engaged as they were during that speech. No phones… no side chatter… just focus.
The words from those two great men inspired our players on the field, but more importantly, I hope they continue to inspire them and their classmates for many years after they leave the Academy.
Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at email@example.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!