Champions for One Another

By: Will Baggett, @W_Baggs

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Coach John Wooden

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Coach John Wooden

We have all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what value are we to assign to the experiences that allowed for such images to be captured? Coaches often speak about the importance of “the process” in pursuit of individual and/or collective goals. Said process can take on various forms and differ between people and organizations alike. Similarly, while some process-driven results may present themselves as measurables, others may be equally valued in picturesque form, as with the images to the right.

In the case of the Abdul-Jabbar/Wooden tandem, they were able to produce on both fronts. Not only were they able to win multiple championships, but they became champions for one another long after their coaching/playing days culminated. Their accomplishments may in some ways be described as a dynasty, but what must not be overlooked is the fact they were propelled by the power of dedication. 

True mentors create memories⎼ those that mean so much to us that we find it difficult to describe our appreciation with words. Thus, we find ourselves opting to express our gratitude with action.

For instance, we could attempt to describe the juxtaposed images of Coach Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pictured above, but once the layers are peeled away, we are left with one overarching principle: relationships. Although I was not present to witness either of the two instances shown above (or even alive for the former), I did have an opportunity to take part in an encounter that closely mirrored the image to the right. It was one that I will never forget.

In January 2016, I had an opportunity to work my fourth consecutive American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention. This particular conference would be a bitter sweet one; however, as Executive Director Grant Teaff (pronounced “Taff”) would be retiring after leading the Association for 23 years. Prior to his AFCA appointment, he served as head coach of the Baylor University football team for 21 seasons. He will be celebrating his 84th birthday this November, and has dedicated his life to advancing, not only the game of football, but the sport industry as a whole.

I had the pleasure of both working and volunteering for Coach Teaff from 2012-2016. While under his tutelage, I came to find that real leaders have a way of making you forget about your compensation level, or lack thereof. In short, he is someone I immediately and wholeheartedly bought into, and that remains so to this day. I fully recognize that I am not alone in this regard, and there were numerous times at which I witnessed others demonstrating this principle. While I could point to any number of instances, the one to follow stands out above the rest.

As the AFCA’s Coach of the Year dinner approached, essentially the grand finale of the annual conference, I was charged with my usual duties of serving as Coach Teaff’s special operations assistant. As we entered the line-up area for the honorees’ forthcoming processional, I saw someone in person that I’d only ever seen on television previously. It was former Baylor Bear and NFL Hall of Famer, Mike Singletary.

It should come as no surprise that Coach Teaff was delighted to see his most storied player in attendance, but after exchanging pleasantries, I was taken aback by the request Coach Teaff made of his beloved, former player. It went as follows:

Coach Teaff: Now Mike, I need to go speak to a few people, and I need you to keep an eye on Mrs. Teaff.

Coach Singletary: You can count on me, Coach.

Being that Coach Singletary is a man of high moral integrity and character, I was not surprised by his agreeance. I was, however, surprised by what ensued when I offered to lend a hand.

Me: Coach Singletary, I’m sure there are a lot of people you want to see, so I’m happy to take care of Mrs. Teaff for you.

Coach Singletary: Now son, Coach Teaff gave me a job to do, and I intend to do it. Our relationship has endured because of trust, and I’m not about to sabotage it now. He always kept his word with me, so it’s only right I do the same for him.

Talk about commitment! As Coach Singletary carefully, yet sternly relayed his intent to me, I could see the nostalgia and reverence in his eyes for his beloved mentor. What I saw could not have possibly been put into words, so I quickly understood why Coach Singletary had to answer the call with action.

How many of us have encountered pretentious individuals who have no reason to be? Conversely, how many of us have been around people who have every right to be, yet opt for the selfless approach?

There are obviously numerous elements at play in the preceding story, but I have yet to come across a more salient display of longstanding buy-in at such a high level. It goes without saying that creating this type of relationship is a two-way street, not to mention sustaining it in perpetuity. But how is such a connection established and ultimately maintained?

In The Blueprint for a Successful Career, we detail the importance of connecting to develop mutually beneficial relationships. This helps you and those you connect with become champions for one another.

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