Thursday, December 15, 2011

16 Characteristics of True Champions

The 16 Characteristics of True Champions
By: Don Yaeger

It is fascinating to me that when these Great winners were asked what separated
them from others, they almost never pointed to a physical trait.  They talked
about doing what some might think are common things—but doing those uncommonly
well.  And they told me that they worked on those non-physical traits just as
diligently as they did their bodies because each of the characteristics needs
the same attention and development as any muscle.

It seemed to me that what set the truly Great athletes apart were small, almost
imperceptible things that made them dramatically different from their peers.
There were incremental improvements in who they were and how they acted.  These
were the tiny changes, the ever-so-slight differences that gave them an edge in
competition and in life.

Greatness readily accepts blame, and acknowledges responsibility and ownership
of a situation.  It requires action and dedication, not simply patting one’s
self on the back.

Greatness does not make excuses—it makes progress.  It recognizes that there
will always be obstacles in one form or another, and it uses those challenges as
a means of growing stronger and wiser.

Greatness lies not in what we’re given, but in what we do with what we’re given.

Greatness is defined by the very struggle it requires, because the desire to be
Great is the first step in achieving Greatness.  It can be reached no other way.

Anyone who desires to be Great must understand that failure, disappointment, and
letdowns are a part of life.  The Great ones learn from those experiences and
become stronger as a result.

The Great ones hate to lose more than they love to win.

When Coach Wooden offers advice on what makes the Great ones Great, the lesson
is sure to be a valuable one. When I asked that question a few years ago, Coach
explained to me that among the most important things he looked for when trying
to get a sense of a person’s capacity for success was who that person included
in their inner circle.  “Their associations told me everything I needed to know
about them,” Coach said.  “I could tell what their future held by how important
it was to surround themselves with the right people.”

Like so many Great winners, Tony Dungy’s faith has been central to his success.

Evaluate your life honestly and consider how you live your faith in terms of
your decision making and your priorities.  What do you believe in?  How do you
take a stand?  Where do you turn in times of trial?

The truly Great strive to keep their faith at the center of all they do.  Faith
in God—by whatever name you use—determines how we treat people, how we react to
circumstances, and how we view the opportunities that we’ve been given.

Studies estimate it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at any skill.
That’s ten years of practicing three hours a day, seven days a week.

The Great ones understand that there is no off-season; there should be no lapse
in activity that can break your stride, because only further practice can lead
to better results for the next go-round.  Only effort can launch you into the
realm of Greatness.

Stopping negative thoughts is important, because visualizing failure is as
effective as visualizing success.

The truly Great find opportunity in the worst of times.

Adversity is one of the most potent forces in life, one that can bring out your
best or your worse.  Ultimately, it’s up to you.

The key is that once you’ve realized you’ve made a mistake, you simply move on.
Don’t dwell on it.  Fail fast and go forward.  Risks are everywhere in life, and
you won’t get far without taking them.

How you deal with failure is ultimately what will help you succeed.

On their road to success, the truly Great find a detour that bypasses each
roadblock.  When all else fails, Greatness finds a way to be successful.

Greatness is assuming whatever role is necessary for the team to win.  By
placing the needs of teammates above their own desires or preferences, the Great
ones are willing to take on different responsibilities in order to positively
affect the desired outcome of their team’s aspirations.

If you are ever to achieve Greatness, you must realize that the highest level of
success can never be accomplished alone.

It is up to each one of us to determine if we are going to look beyond our own
lives to see the countless people whom we can help or encourage, or if we are
going to be content with lives focused only on our own interests.

The question that each of us needs to consider very carefully is whether we are
going to be people of apathy, selfishness, and blind ambition, or if we are
going to strive toward being people of action, people of kindness—people of

It is one thing to act with integrity when circumstances call for it, and
another to live with it each and every day of your life.  Through challenges,
tragedy, or triumphs, when everyone is watching or when no one is around,
integrity is living with honor and respect, and acting for all the right

Integrity isn’t just about honesty.  It isn’t always righting a wrong—though
that’s certainly something a person with integrity does.  Integrity is simply
holding oneself to a high standard and consistently adhering to it no matter the
circumstances.  It is unwavering standards that don’t change with the
circumstances—audience or not, public or private.  A life of integrity is
honest, good, fair, and consistent.  It is rare, but it is powerful.  In short,
it is Great.

The truly Great embrace the idea of being a role model and act accordingly.

Honesty and loyalty will translate into longevity and success for anyone in any
field, but more important, they are qualities that can influence others and make
a difference in people’s lives.

There are the choices we make quietly each day, and there are the choices we
make because we understand that we have a responsibility to model right living.
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity,” Dwight D.
Eisenhower once said.  “Without it, no real success is possible, no matter
whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

Author Mark Twain said that the truly Great “make you feel that you, too, can
become great.”  We all need someone in our lives whom we can look up to.
Without Great men and women to follow, we would not question our limitations or
dream as big as we do.

Don’t get caught up pursuing honors—trophies and plaques are all just trinkets
that will mean nothing in the long run.  Instead, pour yourself into something
that will have an impact, something that will last.  Greatness is not achieved
through titles and awards; Greatness is achieved by becoming the most complete
person you can be, and then reaching beyond yourself to lift others.

The truth is, when your career is over, it’s not about how many awards you have
or who you know, but what you did that will last longer than your name.

The truly Great understand that their legacy is much bigger than anything they
will ever do in athletics and that their careers are a means of introducing them
to new opportunities for growth.  That’s how it should be for all of us:  our
careers are the door-openers that allow us to do something else.

The truly Great have heartfelt pride and special humility.  They are fierce
competitors and generous givers.  They are tremendous individuals, and they are
the ultimate team players.

Wooden's Seven Point Creed: "Help Others"

One of Coach Wooden’s favorite role models was Mother Theresa, whose quote, “Unless a life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile,” served as the bedrock of Coach’s lifetime commitment to helping others. After reading about her tremendous work among the poor in Calcutta, Coach resolved to do one kind thing each day for someone who could never return the favor; and he often put that same challenge to others. Coach realized that not everyone could bring hospices, orphanages and schools to underprivileged people like Mother Teresa, but we could still make a difference in someone’s life every day. Whether serving others’ needs physically or emotionally, even the simplest acts of kindness can have a tremendous positive impact. As Mother Teresa often said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Abraham Lincoln, another of Coach Wooden’s mentors, was also an inspiration to him in this regard. Lincoln’s once remarked that, “The worst thing you can do for those you love is to do the things they could and should do for themselves.” This piece of wisdom inspired Coach to help other people find balance in their own lives. When Coach Wooden’s granddaughter was in high school, she was also working part-time to buy a car. Coach probably could have just purchased a vehicle for her, but in keeping with his philosophy, he suggested that he and her other grandfather match whatever monies Christy earned to help her save towards her purchase. From this experience, Christy learned that one can help others by helping them to help themselves, thereby making them better, stronger people.  As usual, Coach gave us some great maxims to illustrate this point:
“Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”
“Forget favors given; remember those received. “
“Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you.”
The block on the Pyramid of Success that is the best reminder of helping others is Team Spirit. Coach Wooden defines Team Spirit as: “A genuine consideration for others. An eagerness to sacrifice personal interests of glory for the welfare of all.” If you think of the human race as your team, having team spirit means helping your fellow man to succeed in life.
So, how can you start helping others today? Perhaps you might begin by being more observant of the people and situations around you. Pause each day and really look around. Do not wait to be asked for help – the very best time to help others is before they have to ask. Consider taking out the trash or making the bed or doing the laundry. Compliment a co-worker on a great idea; a pat on the back is always appreciated, and a great motivator. Mentor a child, or teach a youngster to ride a bicycle. Volunteer an hour of your time at a senior citizen’s home, church, hospital or homeless shelter. Even the smallest gesture can mean a lot.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thy self.” One way that Coach Wooden’s gave freely of himself was that, although he was arguably the most famous coach in American sports, he never had an unlisted phone number. If you wanted to reach out to Coach Wooden his number was always put there in public for anyone to find. He was committed to being available to visit with anyone who cared to pay him a visit. Similarly, Coach Wooden’s players did not leave the locker room – either at home or on the road – until (as he put it) “the orange peels, gum wrappers, towels and soap chips are off the floor.” Of course, Coach also helped with cleaning up himself. He viewed this as a common courtesy to the cleaning staff. Being considerate of others makes you naturally inclined to help others.
Strive each day to be considerate of others, giving freely of your time, energy, and resources to help them –and expect nothing in return. Trust that the joy you will experience in doing so cannot be matched. Opportunities to help others are all around you, every day, all the time. You need only to take a moment to notice them, and then act.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Coach had a great appreciation for the value of friendship. In the 1960’s Coach received a letter from his elementary school principal and coach, Earl Warriner, requesting tickets to the upcoming game UCLA was to play at Notre Dame. Mr. Warriner also included a signed and dated check but left the amount line blank. When the tickets arrived in Warriner’s mailbox, he found that the check was with them, and on the amount line Coach Wooden had written: “Friendship far too valuable to be measured in dollars.”

Coach often emphasized that we can accomplish a lot more if we open our lives to others. He often commented on friendship in speeches he gave after retirement from coaching by urging his audience to “Work at it. Don’t take friendship for granted. If you do it may not last. And don’t just work at it from one side. Friendship comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. Just as in a successful marriage, both sides must work at it.”

When speaking about friendship, Coach often emphasized the importance of initiating the effort to make friends; in his own words, “You may have to prime the pump first.” Perhaps his favorite illustration was the experience of a friend named Bob, who had traveled to California from Indiana to visit the Wooden family.

“Johnny, these people in California aren’t as friendly as they are back home,” Bob lamented. “Coming over here this morning I met a lot of people and not a single person spoke to me. That would never have happened back home.”

“Did you speak to any of them?” Coach asked.

“Well, no,” Bob said. “I didn’t know them.”

Coach was also inspired by historical examples of the power of friendship; he especially admired Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy on the subject. After the Civil War, many of Lincoln’s constituents felt that he was being far too generous in his offers of reconstruction and reparations to the Confederate states. One man admonished him, “Mr. President you are supposed to destroy your enemies, not make friends of them.”

Lincoln replied, “Am I not destroying an enemy when I make a friend of him?”

This was a lesson Coach took to heart. He chose kindness, instead of anger, as his reaction towards critics in the media, referees he felt were unfair, rude fans of rival teams, and even the rare disgruntled player or assistant coaches.

Two of his favorite maxims addressed this very subject. The first was a simple reminder: “Be more concerned with: Loving than being loved, Giving than receiving, Being a friend rather than having a friend.” The second was a kind of proverb: “There is a wonderful mystical law of nature that the three things that man craves the most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace—are always attained by giving them to someone else.” Both are lessons we can all live by.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Inside Out Coaching

By:  Joe Ehrmann

Coaching can satisfy the human urge to belong to something that provides
identity and meaning.  That’s why sports can attract a coaching type that I call
the misfit.  The misfit-coach needs his players’ acceptance and obedience.  He
needs to feel a part of the team even more than his players do.  This type of
coach gravitates toward youth league sports because status and title are easily
obtained there.  You are instantly dubbed “Coach,” and you are handed a group of
young developing minds heeding every word you say.  Parents generally fall in
line, not wishing to jeopardize Junior’s playing time.

Raising kids is the most complicated job in the world, but untrained coaches get
easy access to young developing brains.  Because most youth and recreation
leagues are largely dependent on volunteers, there is usually little screening
of the coach and training is rarely provided.  Between their deficiencies in
emotional intelligence and their lack of knowledge of player’s developmental
needs, misfit coaches can snuff out a player’s enjoyment and development before
preseason ends.

Knowing our children and listening to what they say about a coach are
fundamental to protecting them and helping them make sense of nonsense-making

A misfit-coach thinks the ball fields and courts are places for him to fit in,
find an identity, climb up the social ladder, or simply feel needed.  Either
way, his goals and behavior can be destructive to a young athlete.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Joe Ehrmann, President, Coach for America
Former Baltimore Colt

The reflective and regretful six words uttered by Penn State Coach Joe Paterno,
“I wish I had done more,” could very well summarize what each of the men
indicted or fired at Penn State must be feeling for their role in not stopping a
predatory coach from sexually victimizing young boys.  Arguably, each of these
men is a “good man.”  But that’s part of the problem – it’s not enough to just
be a “good man” – you have to engage in what is around you and become a man of
action.  An involved man’s voice and actions are in alignment with his moral and
ethical beliefs.  Moral courage enables us to stand up for what is right even if
it means standing alone or risking rejection or negative consequences.  But as
Edmund Burke stated, and the shameful inactions at Penn State illustrate, “all
it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  Evil prevailed
at PSU due to an extremes lapse in moral courage.  What keeps us from being
conscious and courageous enough to protect the hearts, souls and bodies of
children?  How could it be that for over fifteen years, at least nine boys were
sexually abused?

I want to suggest three steps to demand accountability for the safety and
protection of every child everywhere and to help good men and women become
involved persons of action in the war against child abuse.  My hope is that by
implementing these steps, adults will become better protectors of those who
cannot protect themselves.  May we stay ever mindful of Joe Paterno’s parting
words, “I wish I had done more.”

Step 1) Teach, model, nurture and develop moral courage

As I write in Chapter 6 of InSideOut Coaching:  How Sports Can Transform Lives,
moral courage is what sustains the basic freedoms and responsibilities of life
in community; we belong to each other; we need each other; we affect each
other.  What is painfully missing in this horrific story at Penn State is the
lack of moral courage displayed by men who spent a lifetime in education,
leadership, sports, coaching and working with young people.  Courage can be
divided into two types:  physical and moral.  Of the two however, physical
courage is the more recognized virtue in the world of sports.  Coaches talk
about physical courage, encourage it, and hold up examples to the team often in
the context of fighting through injuries, rehabilitation, and pain.  There is
far too little emphasis, teaching, modeling, nurturing and developing of moral

Since moral courage can be likened to a muscle; it can be strengthened and
developed through training and proper nourishment.  I challenge each coach,
teacher, parent, administrator, and all of us, to seize this unfolding story of
PSU as an opportunity to evaluate the strength of our own moral courage and
start integrating practical skills that build and strengthen these muscles to
act in the face of injustice into your daily conversations, lesson plans and
practices.  Every day young people are tempted to break moral codes over a
missing homework assignment, engage in gossip, and boast about some sexual
proclivity of themselves or others.  Think of the myriad of other academic, peer
or social pressures on young people to conform to self-preservation at the
expense of their own moral well-being.  This is an opportunity to engage young
people in an age appropriate discussion of moral courage and the devastating
results when the muscles of moral courage are atrophied and impotent.  It is
time for every individual and institution to take responsibility for the
development of moral courage.  Institutions leaders cannot build moral courage
into others when the strength of that leader’s courage is weakened.  How an
institution holds its adults accountable for the growth and protection of our
children should be a measure of its own moral courage, not what is politically
safe.  If we are taking responsibility for our young people, let’s have the
moral courage to back it up so the next time a crisis occurs none of us will
ever have to say, “I wish I had done more.”

Step 2) Create policy, procedures and accountability to protect children

We must demand the highest standards of accountability at every level
individually and institutionally.  Coaches by the very nature of their power,
platform and position in the lives of young people must be screened and educated
to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to threats of child abuse and then
held accountable to enact them.  In fact, every Institution should have policy,
training and accountability built into its culture to protect children under its
care.  However, we are, or should be, painfully aware of the institutional
self-protection and denial of the church and other institutions that allow
predators to abuse young bodies and souls.  Each day, we are reminded of the
long list of institutions over the course of history that preferred to protect
themselves rather than protecting children.  This institutional
self-preservation has historically permitted pedophiles, molesters and abusers
the access and sanctuary to destroy the hearts, minds and souls of millions of
children.  When there are no guidelines or protective procedures, teams and
leagues literally open the door for abusers.  And in our ever expanding
competitive youth sports universe, there are too many schools, leagues, teams
and programs that have failed to place protective barriers around our children.

Every youth sports program should have policies, training and sexual abuse
awareness in place for players, parents, coaches and administrators.  If they
don’t—demand it.  It is not enough to say you have a policy.  If coaches and
volunteers don’t know the policy or are not held accountable to its rules, then
it is just a set of words on paper.  Every principal, board member, athletic
director, coach and parent should demand these protective procedures are in
place and being practiced.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and find out what
protective procedures are in place.  “I wish I had done more,” never needs be a
final statement since, “we always can do more.”

Step 3) Act morally courageous and responsible to prevent child sexual abuse

As a nation we seem to be paralyzed by beliefs and feelings around the subject
of child sexual abuse.  It appears too shameful, uncomfortable or impolite to
talk about personally or publically.  I know as a survivor of child sexual abuse
since I carried a shame that silenced me for almost 50 years before revealing my
abuse in InSideOut Coaching.  Since the book was released in August, I’ve been
amazed at how many people have emailed, called or approached me to share their
own stories of abuse or the abuse of loved ones.  Adult retrospective studies by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6
men were sexually abused before the age of 18.  This means there are more than
42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.  Too many of us are
silent because we have not sought the help needed to overcome the social stigma
attached to sexual abuse.  I know for me and this part of my life journey I will
continue to find my voice and stand up, show up and speak out in hopes of
preventing another tragic story of failed moral courage and human

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of man is not where
he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.”  In the face of this tragedy, and in prevention of
future crimes against children, I think each of us should ask what we can do to
help prevent child sexual abuse so we never have to hear ourselves lament, “I
wish I had done more!”

As I emphasize in InSideOut Coaching, the defining, developing, and
demonstrating moral courage must be woven into the fabric of coaching, teaching,
parenting, and leading youth.  At Coach For America, we believe that sports is a
dynamic arena in which moral courage is and can be demonstrated every day.  This
is what we are striving for and in that striving will come the end of many of
our social ills and the regretful response, “I wish I had done more.”