The title of USA Today op-ed is "Coaches teach lessons about life."
What do shoes and socks have to do with how I do life?
My father played basketball under the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who became a friend of our family. Bruins fans from that 1960s-70s era won't be surprised to know the first thing Dad ever taught me was to put my socks and shoes on properly. Coach Wooden told his players that wrinkles cause blisters and blisters steal time. He said getting socks and shoes right was the start of everything they'd need to know for the rest of their lives.
I know sports helped me get life right, in ways I'm still learning. In Hollywood, just for starters, my basketball years taught me to manage rejection. From getting cut from my local team to losing the state free throw shooting championship to not making the summer camp all-stars, I learned to hear the word no and keep going.
Attending Coach Wooden's summer basketball camps, I learned to stay in my game, focus on execution, and ignore the scoreboard. Now in the film industry, which runs on box office receipts and ratings, that concentration still serves me.
From Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success, meanwhile, I know that every new project progresses from cooperation and loyalty to skill and confidence. I can't recall when I didn't know from him that winning demands character or that character is the win.
A pro basketball star, Charles Barkley, once said, "I'm not a role model," but all of sports is a role model. Kids in the stands are looking for leaders. They long to hear for a call to courage, a higher bar. Great leaders know that and use it.
My teenage son, Bo, is a gifted gymnast but he was sick of practice and ready to quit. At the time, I was researching the lead role for a movie about football Coach Bob Ladouceur. I took Bo with me to a football practice at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. Drills were looking rough that day, and the coaches halted practice. All Ladouceur said was, "A lot of you seniors are a bunch of posers and are not getting it done." The boys' eyes took on a thousand-yard stare and they took off running. Coach Lad put his arm around Bo and said, "They don't like practicing, either. You've got to want it."
Bo finished his season.
Coach Lad retired last year after a 34-year career that included a 151-game winning streak spanning 12 seasons. Playing Coach Lad in a movie is the closest I've come to playing Coach Wooden. Both men knew X's and O's stand for real lives, for "more than here, more than now." In Ladouceur's case, the lives were 14-to-18-year-old boys he taught not to be guys but men — and disciplined team players who rose above me for us. Despite offers to coach at the college and professional levels, Ladouceur chose to remain at the high school, which he considered to be the boys' defining years. He was committed to getting his players each season on the right course in football and beyond.
In my own high school years, I once sat with my basketball teammates and coach in a Saturday matinee of the movie Hoosiers — a story about a small-town Indiana high school team that rallies to win the state championship. That night my team went on to upset a bigger, stronger team to get into the state finals. Yet, as with Coach Lad's kids, what I learned didn't stop there. I took with me into life that movies, also, can be role models.
How many ways can sports affect a life? The coaching staff at De La Salle High School once received a package from a former player, now a Marine, sending several of his medals. The card said something like, "You taught me how to earn these." Coach Lad is the winningest coach in all of sports history, in any sport, any team, yet the school posts no "winning streak" banners or signs. Not one. (Winning also can teach humility.) When he heard about the Marine's package, he said, "OK, that's success."
From peewees to the pros, sports is life. The lesson that starts with socks and shoes winds through coaches, teammates, opponents, practice, victories and defeat. They come to life as we do life. Or maybe I put it this way: we make the team, and then the team makes us.
What's important not to forget--and is depicted so well in "When the Game Stands Tall"--is the evil perpetrated by parents who live their dreams through their children. Those parents may believe they are assisting their children to mature, but they are not. They're not only harming their children psychologically but also destroying the possibility for their children to have a terrific relationship with their parents.
The roots of this particular sin is the sense of inadequacy these parents experience and their consequent neurotic need that their children (unconsciously, for themselves) succeed, receive accolades, and be "someone" who makes a mark on the world and stands tall. This is a truly despicable--mortal, as in "deadly"--sin because every child deserves better.
Strong language? No. Seeing this phenomenon unfold, especially in competitive high school athletics (but this sin isn't just limited to athletics, think about those child beauty contest), is to watch a child--who desperately wants his or her parents to love and respect him or her--grow to hate his or her parents. The mortality of that sin can last a lifetime. But, it always begins as parents sacrifice a child on the altar of parental ego.
The Church teaches that parents are the "first and best teachers of their children." Unfortunately, the first and best lesson that some children learn is to hate their parents for making it difficult, if not impossible to love them as parents.
Let the discussion begin...
To read Jim Caviezel's op-ed in USA Today, click on the following link: