Mr. Maes, my kindergarten teacher, was very patient with me. I spent many weeks failing to translate the numbers on the digital classroom clock to hands rotating around a circle. Sitting in my classroom, he’d tell me that it’s OK to fail because that is how we learn. After weeks of frustration, I finally got it, yet I was much older when I grasped the truth of his lesson.
I grew up playing the usual recreational soccer with my neighborhood friends – the fathers drawing straws for who would coach the Jet Fighters each season – and graduated to lacrosse in middle school. It wasn’t until I came across a video of a college football kicker doing trick kicks that a sport really seized my interest. It was enough for me to ask for a kicking tee for my 14th birthday. My dad would take me out to the bumpy grass of the spring practice field, chasing after my diverging footballs, three at a time. I was, in a word, terrible. But there was something about the stillness, the focus, the singular feeling of my foot moving through the air and precisely striking the ball opposite the laces. It captivated my attention like nothing before. Prior to freshman year, I reached out to the kicking coach. He agreed to give me 20 minutes of his time to watch me and decided to give me a chance, saying I looked “coachable.”
I worked hard all summer, attending practice and kicking on the weekends. We bought more footballs and a kicking bag to increase my leg strength. It turned out there were 3 kickers, all of us new to the sport. As the first freshman game approached, my hard work paid off – I had won the starting spot. At the game we scored four touchdowns in the first half, a dream come true for any kicker – four chances to kick a PAT.
And I missed my first three kicks. One was close. The others were so bad that the opposing team thanked me for missing. My mom had to leave the game before she had a nervous breakdown watching me miss again and again. At halftime, I got benched. The backup kicker took over in the second half and made all three of his kicks. I wanted to run home and never think about kicking another football, but I had to stay and watch the rest of the game. On the car ride home, my dad mentioned something about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I felt pretty close to dead.
I went back to practice, and the next week I had won the starting job again. Still, I missed both of my kicks. Eventually I made my first ever successful kick in a game. I went on to finish the season with three out of nine PAT’s. I knew that this was better than missing all of my kicks, but I could do better. Despite the doubt of the team, the crowd, and myself, I still woke up thinking about the quiet joy I felt with the football and the tee, the pleasure of a precise and accurate kick. That offseason I practiced daily and gained 20 pounds of mostly muscle. I continued to work hard leading up to my junior year. During that season, I won my first start in a varsity game and went a perfect eight for eight on PAT’s.
I believe that while life is not the same as kicking a football through the uprights, there are some important similarities. It’s hard no matter how much you practice. The outcome is never certain. Resiliency is the product of accepting today’s failure as tomorrow’s challenge. And while I was a little slow on the uptake, I know that learning from the losses can make a winner. Just in time for college. Thank you Mr. Maes.