Mike's Reviews > Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood

Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx
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it was amazing
bookshelves: character-education, sports, coaching, matters-of-faith

Season of Life, by Jeffrey Marx, is about ex-NFL player and current minister, speaker, workshop-leader, and part-time HS football coach Joe Ehrmann. Season of Life offers Marx's mini-biography of Joe Ehrmann, as well as an explication of Ehrmann's philosophy of 'strategic masculinity' and developing character in student-athletes through sports.

The PE staff, coaches, students and parents with whom I have met in recent years to discuss Ehrmann's 'code of conduct' have found many themes in Season of Life that resonate for us. One of these resonant themes came from the author's Jr. High basketball coach:
'He instilled in me a simple but powerful philosophy--'No Regrets'--that became the core of everything I wanted to be,' writes Jeff Marx. 'In basketball, no regrets meant that as long as we did all we could to prepare, as long as we practiced and played as hard as we possibly could, then we would never have to worry about the outcome of a game. Win or lose, we would never have to experience the emptiness of regret because we would always know that we had given our best. But when Mr. Spano taught me about no regrets, he was not really teaching me basketball. He was teaching me life. He was teaching me that as long as I always expended maximum effort in whatever I was doing, as long as I always acted responsibly, as long as I always conducted myself with class and pride and extended kindness to others, then I would never have anything to worry about. No Regrets--that's what I'd want on my tombstone.' (pp. 121-122, emphasis in original)


On p. 3 of the book, readers are introduced to the familiar question-and-answer sequence that Coach Ehrmann uses with his Gilman High School players before every practice and game:
'What is our job as coaches?' he asked.
'To love us,' the boys yelled back in unison.
'What is your job?' Joe shot back.
'To love each other,' the boys responded.
The words were spoken with the familiarity of a mantra, the commitment of an oath, the enthusiasm of a pep rally.

We later learn that Ehrmann has also started a foundation (called 'Building Men for Others') through which he 'teach[es] boys his own definition of masculinity, and a code of conduct for manhood' (p. 29).

Rather than an impoverished definition of manhood (or one 'based on all the wrong things--money, fame, [and] power'), Joe espouses a different vision by offering his own 'profound understanding of what it really means, really ought to mean, to be a man. First and foremost,' he asserts, 'is the ability to enter and maintain meaningful relationships' (p. 30).

On p. 36, Ehrmann discusses 'the three components of what he term[s] 'false masculinity': athletic ability, sexual conquest, and economic success.' His paradigm of 'strategic masculinity,' by contrast, is more 'other-centered, other-focused,' and measures its success 'in terms of [the quality of one's] relationships' and 'the importance of having a cause beyond oneself' (p. 124).

Or, as his alter ego and fellow Gilman football coach Biff Poggi explains it to their players: 'the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people's lives' (p. 48). Ehrmann and Poggi thus actively foster a very inclusive culture and atmosphere within their team and school.

They also stress the biblical 'parable of talents,' in order to emphasize the importance they give to every player's fulfilling his own unique potential to the utmost. 'Some of us get paralyzed when we feel we don't have 'as much as' or 'as good as' someone else,' Coach Ehrmann says. 'But the person we really want to honor is the one who maximizes whatever it is he has' (p. 51).

Ehrmann's and Poggi's philosophy of coaching is easily summarized: 'teach 'em, love 'em, let 'em have a good experience.' They also have a very long-term view of how to evaluate their own effectiveness and impact on their players. As Poggi puts it: 'I won't really know how successful they're gonna be till they come back to visit in twenty years. Then I'll be able to see what kind of husbands they are. I'll be able to see what kind of fathers they are. I'll see what they're doing in the community' (p. 53).

'Win or lose,' as Jeff Marx notes, the Gilman coaches 'play down the significance of the outcome' of their games. Rather, 'the main thing' they want to see is 'good effort and sportsmanship' (p. 57).

Since Ehrmann debunks 'the societal-based, age-related progression from athletic ability to sexual conquest to economic success' as 'false masculinity,' he touts the value of empathy as 'the single greatest trait of humanity that separates us from other animals....All the power and prestige and possessions in the world will never make up for failed relationships,' he points out (pp. 97-99).

Men and boys might also be especially drawn to Ehrmann's discussion of 'father longing' and his description of men's and boys' frequent 'inability to put emotions into words' (which psychologists sometimes call 'normative male alexithymia') on p. 100. As Ehrmann puts it, males tend to 'compare and...compete, but we never really connect' (p. 101).

As we learn on p. 140, 'Joe's code of conduct revolves around four 'strategic masculinity traits' that form what he calls 'the moral and ethical foundation of a man built for others:

* He accepts responsibility.
* He leads courageously.
* He enacts justice on behalf of others.
* He expects God's greater rewards.'

'Wherever there is injustice,' Ehrmann insists, we ought to show up, stand up, and speak up.... Whenever we can show up, stand up, and speak up, that's when we start changing the world. . . and all of us need to do that' (p. 145)

Amen, Coach & Rev. Joe!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 27, 2008 – Shelved

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