There are few people who get a chance to be a positive influence on a young person’s life. There are few people who get a chance to shape a young person’s character and make them a better individual. There are few people who by their example alone inspire young people to strive for a higher goal guided by ethics, morals, and fairness. There are few people indeed, who get the opportunity to teach young people the value of hard work, the sting of sacrifice, the courage to stand tall when they’ve failed, to be able to gather strength from defeat and to strive to overcome adversity when the odds are against them. There are very few who get the chance to teach young people how to get up off the ground and keep going when they know that they’re going to get knocked down again. Unfortunate though it may seem, many are not taught these things at home and sadly, in our educational factories, they are not taught these things at school.
But there is one person who has the opportunity, the privilege, the honor, to teach each and all of these valuable lessons and ideals, these values, to our youth.
It is the coach. The baseball coach, the football coach, basketball coach, volleyball coach, it does not matter the sport. When these young athletes come before you, volunteering to be part of a team, a team under your command, then you have accepted a responsibility that goes far beyond your duties to teach them how to play the game, or to produce a winning season. The greatest coaches have always taught more than just the mechanics of how to play the game. They all taught the lessons of life. In spite of their impressive records, they measured their success not in the number of wins in their record but by the number of winners they had produced. Their concern was more about the young men and women who had become better persons after the season or after their careers, than they were before they had come under their mentorship.
These coaches, these mentors were always more concerned about producing the better individual than the better athlete. Athletics was just the vehicle used to impart and to give their wisdom and guidance. Coaches like John Wooden, Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi were not only great coaches, they all set themselves as examples of integrity, honor, dedication and inspiration. The ability to inspire came as natural to them as walking down the street, because they lived the high standards that they demanded of their athletes.
I once heard an interview with retired Green Bay Packer, Forrest Gregg. He was asked about the influence of his coach, Vince Lombardi. What he said was this, “I loved my Father as much as a son could ever love his Dad. My Dad passed away 5 years ago and Vince passed away five years ago. I don’t think of my father every day, but I think of Vince Lombardi every single day of my life.”
As a coach, you must realize that outside of the family, outside of Mother and Father, you have the potential to be one of the greatest and longest lasting influences in a young person’s life and you must use your precious time with them wisely in striving to produce, true and lifelong champions of them all.
Children are not fragile vessels made of delicate crystal. Children are like fine clay. They can be molded, contoured and shaped into an end result that can be fired in the kiln of hard work, sacrifice and discipline, creating a lifetime of solid values, genuine self esteem and ultimately, the ability to overcome adversity or failure and not be defeated by it. They can take fair handed criticism; they can take a chastisement for bad behavior. They can take failure without having to be consoled for it, and they can take the discipline of rules and order.
You can create a true champion of every one of your players and then, no matter what the scoreboard reads at the end of play, you are the winning team. And know this, a coach who sets a high standard of discipline, a high standard of sportsmanship and inspires a champion’s attitude, is the coach that these young athletes, these future leaders will remember for the rest of their lives and in turn, pass that legacy on to future generations.
A speech delivered at an international instructor’s conference.