Coaching Through Crisis

Like many sports fans, I was glued to the TV last Sunday night as we watched football player Damar Hamlin receive life saving care on the field and then be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. His teammates and coaches were visibly shaken and upset. Players on both teams were in tears. From their responses, fans in the stadium and at home could tell that this was not a situation where we would see a “thumbs up” from Hamlin as he rode away in the ambulance. He was fighting for his life.

While watching the emergency situation unfold, I kept thinking about the coaches. Leading in a crisis is not easy. I was impressed with how the head coaches on both teams advocated for their players and told the officials that they were not going to finish playing the game after it was suspended. They focused on Hamlin’s health, honoring his humanity and dignity. They also cared for the rest of their team and staff by acknowledging that the team was not in a mental state to play a game after seeing a teammate and friend go down. 

We saw the coaches remaining calm and doing their best to do the next right thing for their team. I don’t know exactly what was going through their mind’s last week, but I have been in situations before where I have had to call 911 and ride to the hospital in an ambulance with a player. For me, I can feel all emotions switch turn off in my brain and I focus on the task at hand. I keep in mind that other staff members and players are watching me and I try to model bravery and a positive outlook to keep people calm. I don’t know if this is a good or bad technique, but I do know that when the situation winds down, and I am alone, I feel all of the adrenaline and emotions come back to me to process. Trauma doesn’t just go away, even for head coaches, and I hope the NFL coaches were able to take time to process what they went through last week.

Football was not important that night and the coaches led the way. This moment was bigger than sports. It reminded us that athletes put their lives on the line everyday while playing a game and the unexpected does happen. This danger is hidden because sports are considered entertainment. We usually only remember the glory for the team and not the pain of the individuals. While some may argue that athletes are highly overpaid, when we remember that one hit or move can take their life, the risk feels much bigger than sitting in an office job. Last week solidified for me that they should be compensated accordingly, both men and women. 

Photo Courtesy of buffalobills.com

I have been thinking about Damar Hamlin and his family often this week, sending them love and healing. It is crazy to think about how quickly a 24 year old’s life can go from living his professional athlete dream, to a nightmare. I hope he continues to recover and is back to full health soon. We are all rooting for #3!

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A special thank you and acknowledgement to all of the medical staff who quickly administered life saving care. This is what they are trained for and it is critical to have athletic trainers on the sidelines at all levels of play. As coaches, we must advocate to have adequate medical personnel on our staff for the safety of our players. 

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