The other day-completely out of the blue-I met some random guy at a birthday for toddlers who knew my High School volleyball coach, who is a coach himself in the region and had nothing but good things to say about my former coach.
Then, literally, that night I got a text message from that very same coach-my coach from High School!
So he was just reminding me (and I imagine maybe over 300 others) about an upcoming alumni volleyball match, but I responded and then we had a back and forth over the next hour…
It was the weirdest and coolest thing and it got me thinking about rock solid, tenured coaches… and what makes a great coach.
The first confession I have (besides to humbly confess being a totally hopeless glory days guy) is that I have a huge respect for people who have committed to their calling, piece of work or particular endeavor really for any length of time over 10 years, but when you start getting into the 20+ category I’m just kind of awed.
To do something, to do one thing, do it well and do it for a long time…to me, this is one of the ultimate tests of legacy. And this applies to all given commitments: work, family, faith… over time we may become legacy leaders in them all.
Having that chance encounter with an old coach, mentor, leader made me think of his traits… I’m hoping they are transferable for us all.
So what made Conti so good…?
He cared about character and integrity…
It was apparent to me that Conti’s main objectives were not necessarily success, winning, producing or even championships. His aim seemed to be deeper than that… he was up to something-almost like he was trying to get at something-he was a miner of character.
To this day (after 10 years!) I have no idea what his religious affiliation is, but he is one that I would put in the category of: he seems more Christian than some Christians I know.
While I’m not laying out some form of “he was just a really good guy” moral relativism, what I will say is: you could see his heart, you could see the value he carried and his consistency in it all makes you think, geeze if only so-called ‘Christ-followers’ were as much a shining example in the world just imagine what kind of influence we could garner
The beauty of this principle is for 99% of my readers-who are not clergy by the way, who don’t work for an ostensibly faith-based organization-is that from wherever you are, you can make the intentional decision to let your standard operating procedure reflect huge amounts of character and integrity. (Which, by the way, can be an explosive platform for having faith discussions!)
He made us work our freaking tails off…
At the time I seldom ever enjoyed it, but it resulted in a section championship our senior year amongst many many other intangibles. We had 6am weight training, work in the sand in the afternoon in the off-season. And when season was in high gear it was 3-4 hour practices each afternoon/early evening. It was sprints, it was strict enforcement, it was limit-testing, it was challenging and competitive, it was a brilliant environment for testing and building grit.
I’m not a fan of over-working folks and no one is a fan of forcing people into burn out seasons, but the principle here is this: when you build the discipline and grit of ‘go long’ seasons you carry a certain resilience and character that will inform every other area of your life.
He was, and is now, simply tenured…
He’s worked for my alma mater for 22 seasons now that has produced 6 sectional championships (runner-up in another 7) and 2 state championships. But its what’s behind the facts and figures that make him the man and coach he is today: consistency and commitment… above average amounts of it I would say.
The attribute this makes me think of is follow through. As I’ve mentored men over the last couple years it’s actually been one of my favorite mantras of real manhood. I’ve tried to inspire in others the basic principle which is simply that a defining character trait of real men is keeping their word and seeing things through.
Being where you say you’re going to be, keeping commitments, showing up consistently well over extended periods of time. That’s a legacy to stand on.
Great leaders have excellent follow-through… it’s the hallmark of a tenured coach, mentor or people developer.
He kept his cool…
I don’t ever remember him becoming emotional in any kind of ill-tempered way, he never raised his voice above what a mid-game, high intensity moment required.
I have come to learn (as I’ve worked under great leaders and, conversely, seen the negative tendency inside myself) that all great leaders and coaches have a tremendous ability to remain unemotional.
And I do not mean that they don’t have or express feelings. I’m talking about crossing the inappropriate bounds of becoming angry or impatient (and hence partial, irrational… perhaps even nonsensical!); this includes the passive aggressive in us all too.
Conti wasn’t that way… In fact, what I have also learned about myself over the years is that I want to appease people through my achievement and performance.
I, like maybe some of you, have a chronic fear of somehow ending up in my supervisor’s cross hairs of rebuke or criticism, because I did something wrong. And one of the few times that I ever I got called out on that team was when I became too emotional in the middle of a game-lashing out at another player for their mistake.
Great leaders are emotionally strong this way. Not guarded and impenetrable, but they don’t ‘go red.’ I think you get the metaphor, but actually it was a personality inventory that I was reminded of recently… it explains the processing pathway of all people when faced with pressure or stress. Everyone has different pathways and stages of arriving at an emotional level. It’s just some people flash much quicker and more directly to ‘red’… as leaders we can’t let that be us.
He took the long view…
He clearly must have understood that his job was about developing minds and young men far more than any win or championship, because even in our most rivaled and playoff losses it seemed like he had something else in mind.
It was never just about the game, it was never just about winning. It was about the journey, the development and the learning. When we showed up to practice late, we’d have a punishment but we’d also have a principle… Coach would say, “do you think when you get a real job one day they’ll just let you come in whatever time you like…?!” That was about developing us into young men, it was about preparing us for future realities. When you take the long view, it’s understanding that all this work on the ‘here and now’ is really an investment in the ‘then and there.’
I’ll put it this way: our legacies as ‘people developers’ is in the small moments. The pressing ‘here and now’ stuff in the traffic of everyday life is never just about that moment. It always has the potential to build into something much bigger, broader, deeper.