Did I hear a collective sigh of relief after Notre Dame narrowly beat the USC Trojans 30-27. The Irish were outscored 24-13 in the second half, but the Notre Dame defense does continue it’s 19-game streak of keeping opposing teams under 30 points. The Irish, now 5-1 and ranked in the Top 10, have the week off before heading up to Ann Arbor to play the Michigan Wolverines.
So, Notre Dame football is on a bye week. What will you do to fill your time?! Here are a few of my thoughts on moving forward throughout the year and playing each game like it's a “trap” game. Hope you enjoy.
A few years ago while I was playing professional baseball in the Seattle Mariners organization I had a coach ask me a very interesting question while fielding ground balls. He looked at me and said, "Evan, what is the easiest ground ball for you to field?" I was not quite sure how to respond so I answered, "The ball right at me." This seemed like a logical response to me, but, this of course was the wrong answer.
What he said next had a profound effect on my approach as a player, a teacher, a coach, and as a person. He said, "Evan, there are no easy ground balls. Every ground ball is the hardest play you've ever had. It is only easy once you field the ball and finish the play." What he was trying to impart to me is that each play takes the highest amount of concentration and focus. And that the "easiest" of plays could become the most difficult if I took my eye off the ball or faltered for a split second.
The sport may be completely different, but the thought process remains the same for the Irish players: there are no easy games, and each game is a trap if it is not approached in the correct manner. Each week is a new entity, with new goals, and a new process. The best teams are able to have short memories. This means that they celebrate the win or move on from a loss and then get back to work.
Celebrating success and learning from disappointment is essential to the makeup and confidence of a team, but there must be a balance between success and the reality that you are only as good as your last game. The national media, and fans for that matter, have a short memory. A huge win one week can easily be erased by a poor performance a week later. Unlike baseball, which is played every day, football players have to wait seven days to change minds and perceptions.
There are three perspectives to take into account as it pertains to the weekly process and avoiding let downs: the coaches, the players, and the team leaders.
As a coach, it is vital to encourage players to appreciate the process which usually means sticking to the basics of hard work. This must be a daily challenge to the team, after all these are college aged "kids." Distractions occur, it is impossible to avoid the noise completely.
How do players avoid the noise? It’s easy to start to read your press clippings and get lost in the shuffle. In high school I experienced a high level of success, however, I grew complacent at times and was happy with the amount of success I was having. I had to remind myself, with the help of my coaches and parents, that my goals were not yet met. In order to continue my progression I made a concerted effort each day. Everything I did was a process and it reminded me of what I wanted to accomplish.
Over my career, I have played on many very successful teams. The team leaders made it a priority to stay on an even keel. That is, never get too high with the highs, or too low with lows. Oftentimes, teams that have not had a consistent amount of success forget how they got to the point of success. A team takes on the attitude of the head coach, however, a good team becomes great when leaders step up and make the team their own. The best teams I played on, both football and baseball, had a great core of self-less leaders that respected the process, lead with their hard work, and were visibly passionate about winning. Once everyone bought into that idea, success was infectious.
Coming off a bye week can be dangerous at times. I am excited to see where Coach Brian Kelly has the team when we see them play against Michigan. Go Irish!