What An Opportunity

Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

What makes a leader great?

In Sports on November 15, 2012 at 10:26 am

What makes a leader great? Are the qualities of dynamic leaders tangible, or is their presence more intangibly but still keenly felt? Do personal traits carry the greatest weight, or is it simply a leader’s actions that have the most profound impact? I contend that each of these questions must be answered, “Yes.” Leadership is an all-encompassing, comprehensive state of being, which radically transforms the circumstances in which a leader lives. I know this because I had the privilege of experiencing powerful, transformational leadership on an extremely personal basis during my sophomore year of high school.

In the most impressionable time of a young man’s life, his high school authority figures often have a profound impact. Administrators, guidance counselors, and teachers all play an integral role in shaping him into the adult he is becoming. But for a high school athlete, I believe it is clear that the coach is the most influential. Consider this: in high school, while each of my teachers had me in class for fewer than forty minutes a day, varsity basketball coach Seth Edwards had my rapt attention for well over two hours. And he took full advantage of that time. Though he unfortunately left for a different coaching position after my first season of varsity basketball, his impact was profoundly felt on our entire team for the remainder of our careers. Seth was an extremely effective leader because of his competitive fire, dedication, passion, and loyalty, and I was privileged to experience his leadership as my coach.

These characteristics became apparent immediately; in our first meeting as a team, I was struck by the powerful presence that Coach Seth brought to the team. He had led the school to two conference championships in three years, including a 23-4 record the season before, and even sitting in that cafeteria, you could feel the tangible sense of just how badly he wanted to win each and every game. That competitive fire rubbed off on all of us immediately, and I know we left that meeting energized and fired up to get after it the next day. It’s a good thing, too, because that desire to win was the only thing that would help us save face at all that year. Eight of our eleven players had never played high school basketball, and that kind of inexperience often makes for an extremely long season. But Coach Seth’s competitive fire was contagious, and soon we would hate losing as much as he did. Still… that didn’t change the fact that we simply had no skill.

I’m sure that fact became apparent the first day of practice. After the stacked teams Coach Edwards had put on the court in previous seasons, I can’t imagine how we must have looked to him. But he took our severe lack of skill in stride, gulped, and started at the very beginning. From the opening tip-off of the season to the final buzzer, I was amazed at the constancy and quality of his instruction. We literally began at the very foundations of basketball skill – learning what to do with your feet on defense and how to make a proper layup – and our bunch of misfits learned a whole lot about basketball in four months. He showed up fifteen minutes early every single day for practice. Did I mention that he was twenty-six years old? He had started coaching straight out of college. Chasing awful basketball players around a gym seems like a rough way to spend your evenings as an athletic, charismatic twenty-something, but he never even blinked. In fact, I think he became more dedicated as the losses piled up… and that dedication sustained us more than anything else could have.

We started 0-9. Then we stemmed the tide of losing by beating the only team in our league worse than ours… and followed this massive step in the right direction by losing seven more games in a row. So we were 1-16 at that point, but after being laughed out of more than a few gyms early in the season, we had gradually begun to make some games close until the end. Coach Seth’s passion had more than a little to do with that. I remember we were playing a particularly poor game against a conference rival that he particularly disliked; I believe we were down 22 points at the half. As we sat in the locker room, we began to discuss what we were doing wrong until Coach entered, enraged at our lack of effort. He screamed until his face turned purple and the veins burst out of his neck, then grabbed a Powerade water bottle holder and shattered it against the wall. Plastic shrapnel flew everywhere. We played the second half as if our behinds were on fire… and almost came back. He nearly scared us to victory. But we lost, and I will never forget practice the next day. We literally wrote out our living wills beforehand in anticipation of our collective death via exercise. I could have sworn we were going to run until we collapsed. But instead of taking out his frustration at our poor effort out on us, his passion for success led him to change up our practices to create competition within the team, so each of us could make the others better in scrimmages and drills. That practice was the most fundamental, most intense, and most passionate I have ever been a part of, in any sport. His passion was rubbing off on us, and from that point on, we would be no easy out.

Make no mistake about it… we were terrified of Seth. He had a temper and he was not afraid to lose it. His competitive fury threatened to boil over at any point. He was extremely hard on us and had incredibly high expectations for our performance in every area. He expected us to dress well, arrive early, perform well academically, and hold each other accountable for these things; but if we held up our end of the bargain, we knew he would do anything for us. His fierce loyalty transformed our attitudes. You could see that he put his heart and soul into the season; everything he had was on the line for us. So we responded. He created a brotherhood out of eleven guys that had never even gotten along outside of the gym. He created an us vs. them mentality that gave us an edge and brought us more closely together. By the end of the season, we were playing some really good basketball. Our defense was fearless. We played our last regular season game on the road against the #2 team in our conference, who had wiped the floor with us in the season opener. We played our best game to that point in the season and beat them by seven points. That win eked us into the playoffs as the last seed, and as Coach Seth so aptly put it as he romped around the locker room with us, “Cinderella’s going to the dance!”

Our playoff game vs. the #1 seed in the conference was one of the most fiercely competitive games I have ever been a part of. We had not played them within shouting distance in either of our first two contests, but the playoffs were a different story. We came within a missed last-second 3-pointer of winning the game, as we played the most gutsy, hard-fought game you can imagine. Coach Seth had taken our team of nobodies, a team that had started from ground zero, and through his competitive fire, dedication, passion, and loyalty, we had come one shot away from shocking the world and taking out the #1 seed, who went on to become conference champions. Seth got a new job the next year and moved to Florida to teach and coach at a high school down there. But he had laid a foundation, and three seasons later, three freshmen members of that 2-17 team cut down the nets as senior captains in Binghamton, NY, as not only conference champs, but state champions. Though I only played one season for him, I know that I will never forget the impact that Coach Seth had on me and on my basketball career. And as I sit here six years later, still remembering so keenly how he affected my life, I think that is the unmistakable mark of a truly dynamic leader.


In Life on November 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm

These leaves of gold scatter the earth

Priceless in their simplicity. Kissed by the sun.

Reflecting the nurturing consistency of nature.

Seasons rise and fall with varying intensity and grace.


Let the sun peek through, leaving remnants of iridescence

Let those hands slip into pockets as the air breathes through

Let the clear sky and the foliole be lost on the display spectrum

How does one measure that which cannot be explained?


Walk with me across this road not taken,

And recount those many fears.

Then let it go for,

There is no better feeling than knowing you belong.