san diego chargers lack mental edge and i want to cry

As I watched the debacle that was the Chargers vs the Jets AFC playoff game earlier today, what struck me was the lack of fire, lack of determination and lack of leadership from both the players and the coach(except the Defense, they rocked it most of the game) . What I witnessed was a bunch of talented players with bad attitudes, in their heads rather than present in the moment and on the field. They made mistake after ghastly mistake, like missing field goals and displaying unsportsmanlike conduct. Then they hung their heads on the sidelines, sulking like school boys, next to a coach whose expressionless demeanor was just as lackluster as the players’ actions. It was everything pathetic and nothing champion-like. Most disappointing to me was the lack of leadership from their star players like LT & Rivers who seemed deflated rather that determined.

Photo credit: AP/Yahoo Sports

It takes extraordinary talent and skills to make it to the playoffs of any sport, at any level, but once the playoffs begin, everyone is extraordinary and it takes a much more intangible skill set to go all the way. Championship teams are made of heart and soul, not just mad skills.

Amidst my feelings of disdain and disappointment towards my beloved San Diego Chargers, I cannot help but think back a few (20+) years to a very important person and time in my life who taught me the meaning of sportsmanship and competition, and what it means to be a winner.

Back in 1984, I was very naive 7th grader with lofty aspirtations of being a high school cheerleader. One pivotal day in particular, I was stalking hanging around the highs school cheerleaders, trying to learn their dance routine to “Raspberry Beret.” The girls were all humoring me, teaching me the steps, and boy, was I getting that number down! Step right, hip, hip, turn.

But somewhere between “the out door, out door” and “old Man Johnson’s Farm” I heard a deep, distinct voice yell, “Burt, get over here.”

It was the deep, distinct and persuasive voice of Mr. Cook, my 7th grade Geography teacher, who also happened to be the high school volleyball coach (and who also happened to be extrememly hot!). With my gangly legs and girlish giggle, I ran over to him. “Burt, (my maiden name) what are you doing with those cheerleaders? You’re too tall to be a cheerleader, you’re going to be a volleyball player.” 

Despite my protests, he took me under his wing, kicked my ass in a vollyeball camp to teach me the basics, and two years later I was a freshman on the varsity volleyball team, headed down a road of “no guts no glory” to a CIF State Championship. It was a journey that would teach me about determination, dedication, teamwork, and trust; and it would forever change my life.

John Cook, who has since gone on to coach countless winning college and even Olympic teams, inspired a team of young, eager, competive teenagers and taught us a few important life lessons that went beyond the bounds of the volleyball court.

He had us keep a journal of our progress both on and off the court; he led entire practices comprised only of teamwork & trust exercises; and we finished off nearly every practice with 10 minutes of visualization. He was tough on us, and he expected us to bring our “A” game all the time, whether we starters, or bench warmers, and even when we weren’t in the gym. He explained how much of winning is mental and he pushed us all to our limits so that we could reach our potential and that we could WIN under pressure. For three consecutive years, our team won the State Championship title (2 under his tutelage, and the 3rd because we were essentially the same team as the year before).

Coach Cook currently coaches volleyball at the University of Nebraska (where they’ve won 2 NCAA championships under him), boasts countless accolades such as the Big 12 Coach of the Year, and speaks at coaching seminars all over the country imparting his knowledge on how to create winning teams. A former classmate of mine who now coaches high school football says that Coach Cook is revered and legendary within the community of coaches for his techniques and methodolgy of going above & beyond mere physical capabilities.

Granted, NFL football is an entirely different, more severe and more rigorous sport than indoor college volleyball, but it is still competition, and it all boils down to the mental edge a team has in order to be the BEST. I’m thinking the Chargers need a little John Cook schoolin’ before next season. Or maybe just a swift kick in the ass. They need something. Seriously. This just hurts.


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