BARTH KECK

It was a challenging football season, the kind that makes a coach stop and wonder why he coaches.

Two wins out of 10 games, three losses by a total of seven points, two losses after building considerable halftime leads. That old coaching cliché certainly applies: “Some teams find ways to win; others find ways to lose.”

So why do I coach?

The immediate answer is “Because I can.” That response is not always a given, especially in these times of COVID. Last year, for example, the high school football season in Connecticut was ultimately cancelled after some serious hemming and hawing by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. It was an unpopular opinion that sparked protests, but it stuck.

All of that drama now seems a distant memory. The regular football season was played in its entirety this fall, albeit with a few disruptions along the way, including teams needing to quarantine players and one program that had to shut down entirely due to excessive injuries unrelated to COVID. Now 32 teams will begin the state playoffs this week. Football is back.

Coaching this year was a return to normalcy of sorts, reminding us how things can be once again if we remain vigilant and continue to fight COVID with proven strategies like vaccinations and masks. That is certainly one reason to coach.

Another reason, while related to wins and losses, is not solely about winning. Indeed, one of the lessons I learned while playing sports from childhood through college is that very few teams go undefeated. In fact, more is usually learned by losing than winning – especially with the help of a talented coach.

High school athletes, typical teenagers who often view the world in black-and-white terms, quickly equate losses with failure. End of story. A good coach, however, understands there’s more to sports than winning and can turn losses into the learning experiences that kids will face throughout their lives. Despite the struggles our team experienced this year, most of our players seemed to learn this lesson. 

“The leadership of upperclassmen and coaches felt like we were not just a team,” wrote one player in the team’s end-of-season survey. “We were like a family. Everyone enjoyed playing with each other.”

Like life, football comes with risks, rewards, jubilance, disappointment, and the constant opportunity to make individuals and those around them better. As a teacher who works daily with impressionable teenagers, I find those traits manifestly positive.

“The best parts about this program were having fun, and the union I felt this year,” wrote another. “I felt connected to this team and I felt the love that everyone had for each other.”

Not exactly the responses you’d expect from a team that finished 2-8. But a clear indication that a winning season does not always require a winning record.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to win. Winning is fun. I relish working with other coaches as we draw up game plans to put our team in the best position to prevail. For sure, making the football playoffs is special – something our team experienced in 2018. But very few teams win it all, so the motivation for coaching must go beyond winning. For me, it comes down to teaching.

I’ve learned a great deal about the game of football through 16 years of coaching at the high school level. Most importantly, though, I’ve learned how to share my knowledge with kids in ways that truly work. 

In short, coaching makes me a better teacher, and teaching makes me a better coach. Whether our team goes 2-8 or 8-2, there will always be valuable lessons I can teach on the football field, a fact I’ve noted before:

“Like life, football comes with risks, rewards, jubilance, disappointment, and the constant opportunity to make individuals and those around them better. As a teacher who works daily with impressionable teenagers, I find those traits manifestly positive.”

So, congratulations to all high school athletes in Connecticut this fall – you have competed successfully, and you have done so amid formidable challenges. A special thank you to the coaches who have led the way. From time to time, you might question why you do it, but ultimately, you know the answer: It has everything to do with helping kids to grow and learn. In the game of life, these are the coaches with the real winning records.

Barth Keck is in his 31st year as an English teacher and his 16th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him at keckb33@sbcglobal.net.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or Regional School District 17.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.