One of my favorite movies is Peter Weir’s “Dead Poets Society” in which an influential English teacher played by Robin Williams transforms the lives of a group of students by coaching and encouraging them to see their prep school experiences from a new, more daring and passionate vantage point. In one pivotal scene he compels his students to stand boldly on his desk and survey the classroom as a metaphor for experiencing life, and the language used to define it, from a new perspective.
It was a semi-conscious channeling of Williams’ actions that provided my memorable moment for 2011.
Reese Stadium is a beautiful facility and is home to Yale soccer; it is an impressive, resolute edifice that stands alongside the playing surface and, while not necessarily a fortress, is a great backdrop for collegiate competition. It was in the seats of Reese Stadium that I had my own personal soccer-related special moment of 2011. It would be reasonable to think that a Yale coach would be more likely to have something significant happen on the sidelines during an important game and, while there were numerous evocative ups and downs during the course of matches, it was a more peaceful non-combative moment that takes pride of place.
But, I warned them, that view was reserved for those that were not afforded the privilege of having the best view of all, which is on the actual playing surface. There is no better place to be in any stadium than on the field whether you happen to be in the game or on the bench; it is still better to be a part of the action, with all its attendant joys and pains, than to be viewing the proceedings with the general public. Most people in the stands, given the chance, would rather be in the competitive trenches on the field but few truly committed athletes would ever seriously want to trade places.
I further asserted to them that being a college athlete is a temporary privilege worthy of seizing each day and summoning up one’s best effort and attention whereas being a spectator is a lifelong consignment to which everybody, like it or not, will eventually concede. Given that their college careers are a mere and fleeting four seasons long it was incumbent on them to play boldly and confidently and make the best use of their opportunities with no doubts or regrets.
Coaches, leaders and teachers like Robin Williams’ character in the movie are always focused on solid attainable outcomes but we also live for occasions such as these and can work hours, days, weeks, months and even years trying to fashion or fabricate a genuine and meaningful moment of insight and togetherness among those we lead; it is an important but often underestimated part of what we are paid to do and tangible success is sufficiently challenging and infrequent that in this case it actually trumped a lot of other spectacular events and accomplishments that occurred during the year.
As we look forward to 2012 there will be many opportunities to see to what extent that quiet moment was able to take root; hopefully there will be ample evidence in the performances of the players and the outcomes of games but if not, there are plenty of other vantage points in Reese Stadium to look at who and what we are.