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The Full 90 with Mike Avery

Usually 90 word reflections on coaching. (Not as easy as it sounds, but neither is coaching).

But today is my birthday, and today I am bending the rules. Straight to added time. 90+

Happy birthday to me!

Do me a favor, watch the video below first, then come back.

Great, here’s my birthday story...


I was fifty when my father died.

It was at the end of another long recruiting day and I was alone in another hotel room when I got the first call that he had fallen and was unresponsive. His heart had stopped.

In real time it was probably less than hour from the first call to the next when he was on his way to the hospital to the final call when I was told he had passed, but it felt like an eternity.

I wanted to drive home right away, to at least be with my wife and my boys, but an ice and snow storm had settled atop Indianapolis, so my wife convinced me it was safer to wait until morning. She’s usually right, so I waited.

That was a long night.

I enjoy a beer or a glass of red wine with friends, but other than that, I try not to drink much. Especially if I am alone, and especially if I am upset. We have a little of that devil in our family history and I have seen it up close often enough to know it is best for me not to venture down that path. But there was a mini bar and dad liked a whiskey now and then, so I sat on the hotel bed, thinking about my dad, toasting him, telling him all the things I wished I could have told him.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and it kind of shocked me how frail I looked in that moment. Just little me with a little bottle and my sadness in that little hotel room.

My armor had fallen off.

But nope, I wasn’t having any of that. You don’t stay down, you get back up. A life in sport had taught me at least that much.

Piece by piece, I put the armor back on.

By the time the sun rose I was geared back up. I pinned my shoulders back for one last look in the mirror, chin up defiantly, and drove home to see my family. Ready to be strong for them. I never liked anyone feeling sorry for me and I was determined to show everyone I was ok.

I’m good, let’s go, next play.

A few months later I flew out to California to attend my father’s celebration of life party. It was great to be with family and to meet his friends that I hadn’t known before. It was a wonderful celebration.

My dad had retired up in the mountains of Northern California and as I drove back down after the party toward Sacramento to catch a flight home, I suddenly had to pull over. With the emotion of the day, my armor had cracked open just enough to allow some heavy tears to escape. Fearful I was having a panic attack, I stopped the car on the side of the road and cried real tears for the first time I could remember. Maybe for the first time ever.

I felt pathetic, weak.

I loved my dad, and I know he loved me, but we weren’t really close in the final years of his life. I went away to college at seventeen and never really went home again. I was busy. An important man. A successful coach.

I cried that day because I wished he knew me better, and because I wished I knew him better.

I also cried for my mother. Mom had died a few years earlier, and again, we weren’t very close in my adult life even though I knew we loved each other.

I wished she knew me better, and I wished that I knew her better.

It was on the side of a hillside road, fifty years old, that I really realized for the first time that my parents were gone. I felt alone, and without my armor, it was the first time I felt not only alone, but lonely.

Of course, I knew full well that I have an amazing family - brothers and a sister and extended family - and of course I knew I was blessed with a beautiful wife who is not only my partner, but also my far better half, and two boys that mean everything to me. Still I cried that day because I wasn’t sure if they really knew me and I wasn’t sure if I really knew them.

Then I started putting the armor back on.

I was fifty-one when I lost my job.

It wasn’t my fault, it was just a case of getting caught on the wrong end of a business decision, but it hit me hard. Way harder than I ever suspected that it could.

My whole life had been in the context of a silly game, half as a player and then half as a coach. I’d been on a soccer team every day from the age of four until that day 47 years later, and all of a sudden I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.

The armor was there, but broken badly and barely hanging on.

I could have just taken on another coaching job - I’d changed jobs many times before as one does when climbing any career ladder, but this time it wasn’t that easy. My family wanted and needed to stay where we were for a lot of reasons, all of them more compelling to me than my own ego, and while I know they would have left with me anyway, I couldn’t ask them to do that.

Instead, I needed to reimagine myself.

And, I realized that I needed to throw away the armor.

Scary stuff.

So here I am today, 52. It’s my birthday.

Another year of life, for which I am grateful. I’m still reimagining myself, still figuring it all out, but this life has taught me a few things - and especially these last few years. I’ve been around the block a few times now, and for whatever reason, I feel as if I might be finally getting the hang of things.

The armor is in the closet. I glance at it from time to time, but I don’t wear it anymore.

I’ve realized now that I am far tougher without it.

I don’t need armor. I’m tough. Tough as nails really.

My guard is down, and I’m taking all the shots, but I’m still standing.

So wide open now, in fact, that even my scars are on full display. Where I once wanted to hide them, now I’m learning to celebrate them. These scars, they’re mine. Some I earned and others given to me, but I own them. They tell my story.

I’ve allowed myself to share things from my past with others, like I am doing now with you. As I have opened myself up I find I am remembering things I had long tucked away, some pretty and some not so pretty, but also all mine. I share my stories now to help others on their journey.

If toughness is kindness, and I now think that it is, then I am emerging as one of the toughest kids in the yard.

I’m realizing that every connection I make gives someone else something they might need, and that every connection gives back to me something I definitely need. People are amazing, and I find that my amazement in their stories further strengthens me. I’m no longer interested in just teaching, coaching, or even in trying to serve. That was really just me being about me. I’m just trying to share this life with you and everyone else. For me, that’s a much better path.

If you read this far, thank you. You’ve given me an incredible gift.

For my birthday, I am giving a gift back to you.

Me. You. We.

I am right here, and I see you right there.

I ‘m not wishing for a better year ahead, or even a better day - I am just thankful for this day, come what may, and I think together we should share it and make something incredible happen.

Now, go watch the video again. Does it make any more sense?

Let’s share it.

Happy birthday to me.


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Thank you for these words and encouragement to uncover and embrace my own gold. This was beautiful and vulnerable and honest - so needed in my world and the wider world right now. I’m so proud of your work and your pursuits around equity and connection and taking off armor.

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