I might be the last person in the USA to watch The Greatest Showman, the movie loosely based on the life of P. T. Barnum.
I sat and watched with a lump in my throat wondering, “Why is this familiar?”
And then the song “Never Enough” started, and as the song lyrics repeated, I realized I recognized this story.
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough for me
Never, never, never, never.
While this song is considered a love song by most, I think it’s important to take note that the story line reveals the character is pursing the one thing that is out of reach.
A few months ago Jordan wrote an article about a high school coach resigning, and we all clapped and cheered because we needed someone to speak up for the frustration many coaching families are dealing with at every level of athletics. Her reminder for athletes to work hard at their craft, to overcome adversity, and to be excellent teammates was true and important.
The issue of parents owning their children’s successes as their own has been in the news a lot lately thanks to Operation Varsity Blues, but I think there is space for everyone in athletics to take time to self-reflect. Chasing spotlights, popularity, fame or prestige in the athletic arena is a multifaceted issue that can cripple any team or coaching staff or coaching family.
Athletes don’t need their parent’s help to chase the spotlight these days. The dream to make it big in athletics is fed by social media and sometimes local community attention which can feed a false narrative about the realities of the recruitment process and the likelihood of going D1 on a full ride.
The hunger for approval from the masses is so prevalent with athletes, NBA players are acknowledging their addictions to social media and closing accounts and NFL players are writing about divisions in locker rooms due to social media.
If professional athletes are unable to create a healthy balance with athletics and social media, why would we expect high school students to avoid the hunger of this approval from fans?
We can start by helping our athletes understand from a young age that they are more than their athletic abilities. While it is true some will go on to compete at the highest levels, many more will take the principles they learn from competitive sports and apply them in their careers.
Our athletes will serve in the military, become teachers, lead fortune 500 corporations, build small businesses, and they will be excellent co-workers and bosses because they were taught by coaches that you don’t quit when things are hard.
We need to teach our most talented players they thrive when they elevate everyone around them instead of encouraging them to grab the spotlight for themselves. A great receiver only catches a ball because it is thrown to him. A quarterback who runs play after play does so because his offensive linemen consistently block well.
Coaches are not immune from a "never enough" stance. We all know that many times our moves are forced because our coaches are fired with teams being taken in a “new direction.”
I want to be very clear here that pursuing new jobs is not the discussion point. The red flag comes when, just like parents or athletes, coaches chase status, power, or whatever else they deem most valuable.
The saddest part about the truth of the song "Never Enough" is that the honesty is communicated ... to me. I’m chasing something that won't fill me — it will never be enough.
In Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 King Solomon writes, “I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.”
In The Greatest Showman, P.T. Barnham figured out the spotlight was meaningless when he almost lost his family. You may think that Ecclesiastes are the writings of a depressed man or the explanation of a cruel God. But In Exodus 20:3 the first of the 10 commandments is clear and straightforward: "You shall have no other gods before me."
Every decision we evaluate will be different, but I wonder if it might be time to learn a lesson from P.T. Barnham or perhaps an Operation Varsity Blues coach.
No one is immune from chasing the wrong thing.
Thankfully, there are amazing resources available to coaches and coaches’ wives these days to help us keep our priorities straight.
We need wise peers as well as elders who will remind us that athletics is an avenue to develop strong character traits in our youth and glorify God with our abilities.
Since we cannot give away what we do not have, it’s always best to start with ourselves.
So, while it’s likely easier to see the hunger for the spotlight in our athletes, it never hurts to protect ourselves, too.
Here are a few tools you might consider adding to your toolbelt. I know my husband and I have found many of them very valuable through the years.