The Medal That Hangs From My Mirror
“Dad, why do you have that second place medal hanging on your rearview mirror? Second place stinks. You should take that down,” protested my 10-year old daughter. If you know my daughter, you’d understand. She’s very black and white, goal oriented, driven, and is willing to work for what she wants. She’s also not much for overt displays of success or drawing attention to herself. For her, displaying a first place trophy would seem a bit pretentious and self-serving, so to display a second place trophy was bemusing.
“It’s a daily reminder of my mistakes as a coach, father, and Coach-Father,” I replied.
Inquisitive as ever she asked “How?”
“This medal is a representation of me behaving, coaching, and parenting in a manner that I was not proud of; acting in a way that goes against my personal philosophy and what I believe you needed from me in a very specific moment.”
Small tokens, visuals, inspirational words, pictures; they can all be reminders of an impactful moment in our lives. The medal that hangs on my rearview mirror, to this day, is a reminder of my personal failure as well as a reminder that I can overcome and continue to grow. I would be lying if I said I still don’t make similar mistakes in the present, but I can honestly and proudly say they are fewer, farther in between, and much less egregious than on the day I earned the medal as a failing Coach-Father.
That word, “failure”, can be defined and misconstrued in a myriad of ways. Failure is part of the natural path to success and enlightens growth. It’s like miracle grow for our souls, when used correctly. The problem with failure is its been demonized and abused. I’m sure you’ve heard a quote similar to this: “I’ve never lost/failed, I’ve only learned”. That’s a far different philosophical use than the parent that berates their child for making a mistake or the negative self talk we often engage with ourselves. The medal that hangs from my mirror emphasizes a mistake that does not define me, but liberates me to be a better coach, father, and Coach-Father.
As adults, we often have a blind spot when it comes to admitting our own failures. Furthermore, most of us are pretty abysmal at reflecting and taking personal inventory on our failures, why they happened, and what they mean. Often times we buy into this myth that we are to be finished products. That’s a laughable and sad way to live life. Life, in all capacities and avenues, is not a singular destination, but an ongoing journey with peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows, heartbreak and euphoria. Each season of life, each experience, every failure, and every triumph is a lesson that we can either ignore to protect our personal ego and psyche, or use to continually grow and transcend our past self. There’s a difficult personal intimacy about taking a long hard look in the mirror, addressing your failures, and attempting to surpass them.
As for the opening story, it’s in relation to a 3-day softball tournament my daughter played. I’ll never forget it, in the first 3 games she was 6 for 7 with 3 doubles and 2 triples. After that she fell on some hard luck for a few games. A couple hard lineouts & groundouts, a bases loaded 3 run double, a flyout, and a strikeout. After her strikeout I could see her frustration. As a parent it’s difficult dealing with your child’s failure. Anxiety sets in. We begin transposing our own experiences and insecurities into what we think our child must be feeling. Our egos feel attacked. Frustration turns to anger, and before we know it all logic has been replaced by emotion.
After a loss (in a double elimination tournament), I could see her anxiety and frustration increasing. She was starting to put the weight of her team on her shoulders and she struck out her next at bat, something she rarely does. Her strike out rocked her to her core and on her next at bat she abandoned the approach she normally took and “just tried to make contact”, which resulted in 3 weak swings and a second consecutive strikeout.
This is when I failed her both as a coach and a father. I could sense her disappointment, fear, anger, and frustration. Like an uncontrollable force I was overcome with these same feelings. Emotionally I felt I had to protect her; which in hindsight is classic self-projection, as I was really trying to protect myself from these uncomfortable feelings. I began to spew an abundance of cues for to think about before the next at bat. “Hold your heel in the ground. Swing hard. Load.” All these cues did was destroy her natural in game flow, disrupting her ability to stay in the moment. I single-handedly wrecked her ability to slow the game down and play one pitch at a time, something I promised myself I’d never do. The shame of my failure became overwhelming and further impacted her performance negatively.
The beautiful thing about this happening though is I was able to reflect on my own personal failure and how I failed my daughter. I developed a personal plan to help correct it. I doubled down on the philosophies I had adopted and told myself I needed to step away when I felt angst in my daughter’s failures. Her failures are not my failures, and to act as if they are is egomaniacal and narcissistic; two character flaws I refuse to model for my own children. The key was having a plan. I had to develop methods to read my daughter’s frustration, read when I’m starting to feel anxious, and then do whatever was necessary in the moment to slow those feelings down, remove the emotion, and think logically before acting.
The next day on the way to our tournament games we talked about all the good things we both did the day before, and I admitted my mistakes and told her my mistakes led to her struggles at the end of the previous day. We talked about positive self-talk, staying in the moment, playing 1 pitch at a time, and developing a plan or method to slow the game down when we felt frustrated or anxious. That day she didn’t go 6 for 7, but she did hit well. We ended up making it to the championship game, which extended into extra innings. In the bottom of the last inning we were down by 1 run with two outs and runners on second and third. My daughter stepped to the plate and looked as though she had ice water in her veins. The opposing team had just switched to their best pitcher, a towering flame thrower. As cruel as fate would be, she worked the count to 3–2 before fouling off a couple more pitches. The pitcher hinged back one more time and as the ball reached the plate my daughter struck it flush with all her might. She hammered a deep fly ball to straight away dead center, the furthest ball she had ever hit up to this point of her life. The ball travelled a good 180'. No sooner than she hammered this pitch, the opposing centerfielder opener her hips, turned her head, and sprinted straight back. I thought “No way a 10-year old hit the ball that far.” And in my mind there was even less of a chance a 10-year old tracked that ball down and caught.
As my daughter sped toward first base the crowd erupted! We were going to win the championship and it was off the bat of my daughter. The ball continued to travel, the centerfielder dove, extended her arm over the side of her head, hit the ground, rolled from her shoulder to her head and onto her side where slowly wiggled around. We were all looking for the rolling ball, but just as we worked ourselves into an even greater frenzy the centerfielder jumped up presenting her glove with ball in tact! Dejection would be an understatement. The majestic hit was hauled in by a magnificent catch, ending our preemptive celebration.
So, you can see, after several months of this medal hanging in my truck, my daughter was baffled why it was still there, reminding her of the heartbreaking weekend. When I told her it was a reminder of my failures as a coach, father, and Coach-Father, she understood. Not one for heartfelt words, she didn’t offer any goose bump evoking one liners, but the look she gave me let me know she understood that Dad may not have all the answers, and he may not always act right or make the right choices, but she knew I was always going to fail forward and learn from my mistakes.
So the medal that hangs from my mirror is my daily reminder that I want to be better. A reminder that I may continue to fail, but I must constantly strive to learn from that failure and make decisions based on what is best for my daughters and not what fulfills my emotional, reptilian brain in the heat of the moment.