On Friday, opening day of the London Summer Olympics, I began what I hope will be a long run of speaking engagements for The Champion’s Way, the book that I co-wrote with swim fitness expert and former U.S. Ski Team conditioning coach Dr. Steve Victorson. I spoke at a Lion’s Club luncheon in Union County, where I coached cross-country for three seasons with success athletically and academically, as our boys and girls honors students regularly qualified for individual and team bids to the state championships.
I began by reviewing the central tenets of The Champion’s Way – the 11 distinctive characteristics common to all great champions, and how they apply to any and every endeavor in life once we recognize our inherent potential. However, given recent events at Penn State, and the complete perversion of an influential adult’s role in a young person’s life that occurred under the long shadow of the football program for many years, my talk turned to a simple question: what more can we do, as educators, coaches, community and business leaders, parents and caring adults, to bring out the best in young people and also to bolster their self-esteem and focus on excellence?
The answer to this question begins by understanding the relationship between athletics, academics, the community and the student-athlete – and the responsibility coaches, educators and adult citizens have to students, both in shepherding them toward adulthood and in helping them identify their potential greatness. In my opinion, our responsibility begins with two questions: What can I do to bring out the best in this young man or woman – whatever that latent talent might be? And how can I integrate my life experience, victories achieved and lessons learned with the sport or curriculum at hand in a way that impassions and motivates one to strive for excellence, whether at sports, music, art, mathematics or small engine repair?
Everyone is potentially great at something. What is it? That’s the 64-million dollar question. It wracks many of us throughout our adult lives as we seek greater meaning and purpose. What is that special niche, whether God-given or self-developed, where we can make a unique imprint on the world and benefit others the most? Here’s a follow-up: who showed you how to identify latent potential in yourself, and develop it with a focused eye on excellence? Chances are, the face of an old teacher, coach, pastor, parent or other concerned adult will pop up in your mind. It’s a question that smart parents, educators, counselors and coaches help their children, students and athletes ask and answer.
It’s one thing to ask a young person what inspires and motivates them. It’s another to help them develop that latent skill, talent or passion. That’s where our other responsibility comes in: commitment to drawing out that ability. And showing young people how to translate that focus, drive, perseverance, skill and effort to every activity in their lives.
For my part, I always try to recognize the first flash of potential. It might come as an accident; it might only last 30 seconds. However, if I’m doing my job, if I’m truly committed to helping a boy or girl identify, understand and commit themselves to excellence, then it is my duty to recognize the first signs. I’ve seen some wonderfully revelatory moments on the sports field and in the classroom. As the young people involved know, off we went to the races from that moment forward, whether it was running intervals to increase speed or learning to write strong personal narrative.
Want to make a difference in a young person’s life in an unforgettable way? Be the one who recognizes the inherent greatness and potential within them, and shows them ways to develop it. Be the one whose mantra for all young people is, “To facilitate a lifelong love of learning,” or “To facilitate a drive to be the best, to put 110% effort and purpose into every activity.”
This is the sweet spot of coaching or educating. It is also what we are supposed to do as guides to help our young people prepare for purpose-filled adulthood. When we can approach students or athletes like this, committing ourselves solely to helping them develop their fullest talent and skills, then we, too, are bringing excellence to our jobs.