By Tim Hayes

When my oldest daughter was in elementary school, she played soccer with the area youth league.  One year I was pressed into service as her team’s assistant coach, which really wasn’t all that big of a deal, if it hadn’t been for one parent. 

One famous parent.  One famous parent who also coached football, albeit the American version. You may have heard of him.  His name was Bill Cowher.  And this was circa 1998-99, while he was Head Coach of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, before he became an in-studio analyst for CBS Sports.

Yeah, THAT Bill Cowher.  The Jaw.  The intense, driven, in-your-face, Super Bowl-winning motivator whose icy stare could burn through sheet metal.  Yes, this was the lunatic who would stand on the sidelines while I was trying to get a bunch of silly, unfocused third-grade girls to run soccer plays.  No pressure there, right?

But you want to know something?  For as wild, severe, and passionate as Coach Cowher appeared on Sunday afternoon as he led my beloved Steelers, he was just another Dad on Saturday morning watching his little girl play soccer.  He never said a word to me or the other coach about the games.  People gave him his space, waited in line and chatted with him at the refreshment stand, helped him unload bottled waters and sliced oranges from his car when it was his family’s turn to bring snacks.  “Hey, Bill, how ya doin’?”

One story I heard about Coach Cowher and his wife, Kaye, some years later helped explain this seeming dichotomy.  Bill and Kaye both played sports at North Carolina State, where they first met as students.  As Cowher moved on to the NFL as a player, assistant coach, and eventually head coach, he and Kaye made a pact.  They promised each other that after any major event – whether winning the Super Bowl, or losing it (both of which Cowher did while coaching the Steelers), or anything in between – the celebration or the despair could only last 24 hours.  No exceptions. 

You could set off fireworks, turn cartwheels, and pop champagne corks all you wanted, but for 24 hours only.  You could throw rocks at empty beer cans or shout at life’s indignities and unfairness until your throat was hoarse, but for 24 hours only.  After the earth made one twirl on its axis, though, it was time to move on and get back to work.

After I heard about that agreement, it really made a lot of sense to me.  It can take a long time and lot of hard work to get to a moment of truth.  If you succeed, of course it’s right and proper and deserving to celebrate.  Conversely, if you fail, it’s okay to feel bad and lick your wounds.  Either way, you’ve earned as much. 

But the Cowhers were on to something really smart.  Neither the highs nor the lows can or should last indefinitely.  Nobody likes an insufferable braggart or an unrelenting downer.

I can see this principle holding just as true in business, politics, academics, entertainment, or any other field you can think of, as it does in sports.  I’ve had days of pure joy and pride in having accomplished something terrific, and I’ve had days I’d rather never think about again, thank you very much.

As with most things, it’s a matter of keeping it all in balance.  That’s how the willful, forceful man who had led other willful, forceful men to two Super Bowls kept his cool on those dewy mornings watching our kids chase that crazy soccer ball around.  It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.  Thanks, Coach.

Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting