You may not have been following Georgia Tech football in recent years. Suffice it to say, it’s been rough. Rough– as in three consecutive three-win seasons. If you are not an American football fan, it’s important to note- there are a lot more than three games in a season. Last month I walked by a man and his family looking at the field and overheard him say, “When I went here they played football down there. Now I hear they host some good concerts.” So, bottom line- not good.
As a result, a little over a week ago, our head coach was fired, and assistant head coach and Tech alumnus Brent Key was named interim coach. In his first statement to the press, Coach Key stressed the importance of playing to win versus playing not to lose. His point was our players were worried something would go wrong and were playing tight as a result. He wanted them to feel empowered to make things happen versus waiting for things to happen. Well…in his first game as head coach, the Yellow Jackets (a double-digit underdog) traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the #24 Panthers. Clearly, Coach Key had unlocked (yea, I went there) something in his players.
- Trust yourself. Playing to win means believing in your preparation, intuition, and ability. Lots of seniors right now are stressed about their essay with EA/ED deadlines looming. Listen- you can write. And you have valuable stories to tell and perspective to share. There is no perfect essay topic, so don’t let that give you anxiety. Admission readers want specifics from you. They want to read something uniquely yours. Playing not to lose would be convincing yourself you need more multi-syllabic words or angsting over possibly missing a comma splice. Playing to win means being prepared, I.e. writing multiple drafts, having one or two others give you feedback, and then hitting submit with the confidence that you have done your best work.
In the year ahead, I also hope you will trust yourself when it comes to the colleges you chose to apply to and those you decide not to pursue. To hear yourself you may have to tune out other voices. When you are deferred, waitlisted, or denied, trust other good things are coming your way. Success in college admission is not getting into your “top choice,” but being prepared, excited to play, and ready to take advantage of the opportunity wherever you end up. Playing to win will mean quiet confidence when the day comes to put your deposit down or close apps at other schools. Trusting yourself means knowing the choice is authentically yours.
I hope your senior year is characterized by building friendships, preparing academically, and enjoying a unique time you’ll never be able to repeat. Take time to thank and appreciate the people around you who believe in you.
2. Be Proactive. In the Pitt game and going forward, Coach Key wants his players to make plays, rather than waiting for the game to come to them. Good high school students, good college applicants, and good college students do the same thing. What is not done today that you need to take care of? Are you procrastinating on finishing your application? Figure out what it’s going to take and execute that plan. Are you nervous or unclear about what test optional really means at a college you are considering? Reach out to them. Do you need a teacher to write a rec letter for you, or your neighbor who is an English teacher to look over your essay? TODAY is the day! The college admission experience, if you will let it, can teach you lessons about how to succeed in college and beyond. Playing not to lose means hoping, worrying, and being tight or nervous. Playing to win means being proactive.
I hope this is how you approach the rest of your senior year too. A year from now your parents, teachers, coaches, boss, and the other supporting adults in your life won’t be there in the exact way they are currently. Are you waiting on them to provide, guide, decide, or drive? I hope you won’t spend the year looking around waiting for others to create opportunities for you. To make a play you must move. What do you have to lose when you are playing to win?
3. Have fun. I Googled fun and did not see pictures of people answering short answer prompts, brainstorming essay topics, or taking standardized tests. But let’s flip the script here. You don’t have to apply to college. Unlike the vast majority of the world’s population, you get to apply to college. We often call it an admission process, and that can make it feel like a grind. I believe that term makes this all seem transactional versus being transformational. Don’t lose sight of the big picture here. If you are reading this, YOU ARE GOING TO COLLEGE. That’s amazing! That’s exciting. Where? I don’t know. You don’t know. So, yea, there’s some uncertainty and mystery. Again, flip the script. Instead of that being what has you nervous, get excited and commit to having fun with the adventure of discovering.
Ok. Let’s play this out and assume you won’t get into a couple of the schools you apply to. Playing to win does not mean everything goes your way or you control every down or play. Instead, it means you are on the field. You are in the arena. You get to see how and where your preparation, effort, ability, intuition, and excitement lead. That. Is. FUN.
And again, same for your senior year. Enjoy. Have fun. Laugh, smile, do things you want to do. For the love of all things holy don’t let college admissions dominate this final year of high school. Playing to win means being relaxed, confident, trusting yourself, being proactive, and absolutely having fun. And, as always, hug your mama.
Will Tech beat Dook (you run your spellcheck and I’ll run mine) on Saturday? I am not putting $ Down. But I know they’ll be playing to win- and I’m hoping the same for you in the days, months, and year ahead.