In 1986, I was position coach for Georgia Southern under head football coach Erk Russell. That year we played the University of Central Florida in the NCAA I-AA Division national championship and won. We were also champions in 1985, when we defeated Furman University, 44-42, in the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington. Our team scored in the last 10 seconds of the game to pull off the victory (you can watch this YouTube video of the game, the final touchdown can be seen at 2:22).
It’s rare for a team to achieve two back-to-back championship wins like that.
The guy who made this team excel and believe we could defeat anyone was our quarterback, Tracy Ham. He led the team on and off the field by his words, but mostly by his work ethic. Tracy consistently pushed himself and those around him. He expected each position player to complete his responsibilities that would together make us a successful team.
The team’s success didn’t start on gameday of the championship, but back in August 1985. It was in 6:30 a.m. weightlifting sessions five days a week. It was in two-a-day practices, at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., six days a week. It was in watching films of our opponents in the evenings before going to study hall that I supervised. And it was all done in 95-plus degree heat, where the only person yelling your name was a coach pushing you harder to be quicker and faster. There were not 50,000 or 100,000 people in the stands cheering you on.
The only thing there was a drive inside your gut to excel and believe in yourself, your coaches and your teammates.
I have often used this personal example in describing how I dealt with the grief that came along with the death of my child, Abbie. Many leaders credit their success in life to being involved in sports.
In any type of personal trauma, your success — or the ability to find a “new normal” — doesn’t start when you’re told that your loved one has died. It doesn’t start with the crowd who comes to show their love and respect for you and your family at the funeral. It doesn’t start when the crowd starts to get smaller as the days go by. It doesn’t start when your family members stop by every now and then to see how you’re doing.
It starts just like the first day of football practice in August when no crowd is there, but it’s hotter than hell and sweat is rolling down between your legs and you don’t know if you could take another rep or chewing out from your position coach.
This is when you are by yourself, crying so deeply because of the pain that your heart and soul feels to the inner core of your body. This is when the inner drive inside your gut keeps you moving forward and believing in yourself, your faith in God and your spouse.
This is when you take death, hell and self-pity by the throat and choke the life out of them before they defeat you. You must play this game every day for the rest of your life.
You can win this game every time if you have the greatest coach as your leader and savior.
Who will you choose to play for?
Donna Hellmann says
Thank you Jimmy.