By Wes Simmons
It was my senior year in high school and our community was buzzing with excitement for another great year of football. We were the reigning Missouri 4A State Champions and expectations were at an all-time high. The same was true for me personally, as I was picked as one of the “Top 10 Players to Watch” in the Kansas City metro that year. Was this the year that my dream of being a Division I athlete would come to pass? Only time would tell, but I entered my last year of high school athletics with a great deal of hopeful anticipation.
As the glory and splendor of fall in the Midwest began it’s annual fade to grey, my hopes and dreams began to follow suit. By late October, it was clear there would be no shot at defending our state title. Our 8-2 regular season record wasn’t good enough to make the playoff bracket. Because one of our losses was a district game, we ended up 2nd in our district and were therefore left out in the cold. That dream was dead.
As the glory and splendor of fall in the Midwest began it’s annual fade to grey, my hopes and dreams began to follow suit.Click to tweet
While I was heartbroken for our team, especially for those who had played their last game of football, I still remained hopeful for my career beyond high school. After all, I was still getting calls and handwritten letters from several Division I schools. The excitement of the recruiting process kept my hopes high while sufficiently dulling the pain that marked the end of my high school career.
As Christmas break approached, the last of the autumn leaves finally let go and fell to the frozen Missouri ground. In parallel fashion, so did my hopes and dreams of becoming a Division I athlete. As winter’s grip fully took hold of the landscape, the time had finally come to take my official visits. Here was the “problem”… my only options were Division II schools.
In reality, I knew nothing about Division II. All I could see was that it wasn’t Division I. Because my focus was on what I DIDN’T have (DI offers), I went into every DII visit with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Instead of appreciating what I DID have, my focus on what I DIDN’T have blurred my vision and drained my passion. By the end of the process, I was pretty well jaded and my tank was on “E.” I couldn’t wait for the process to end.
The last visit I took before signing date was to my parents’ Alma Mater, Northwest Missouri State University. I intentionally set it up the last weekend because I knew there was NO WAY I was going to go there anyway. I had enough rebel in me as a 17-year-old senior that I wanted to go at least 500 miles away from where my parents went. I wanted to chart my own course. But I figured I might as well take the trip, if nothing else just for the fun of it.
There was something different when I showed up in Bearcat country. The coaches were different. Consequently, so were the athletes. They preached family like many of the other programs, but you could sense a level of authenticity that seemed lacking on my other visits. At that time, Northwest hadn’t had back-to-back winning seasons in two decades. Not only that, but their athletic facilities were awful. While there were no trophy cases full of championship hardware, there was a family of coaches and athletes who were full of confidence in the culture they were creating. I was immediately intrigued, and I wanted in on the ground floor.
It turned out to be MY WORST scholarship offer by far. The funny thing is, I couldn’t wait to sign. The beauty of what was being created there was too alluring. I made up my mind that I would defy the misguided logic of extrinsic motivation that is usually used to attract athletes to a program. Rather, I was going to follow my heart and join this newfound family. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only did I discover lifelong mentors in the coaching staff, but I found lifelong brothers in my teammates. Success became a byproduct of the process and Northwest turned into one of the most prolific college football programs in America over the past 25 years.
It turned out to be MY WORST scholarship offer by far. The funny thing is, I couldn’t wait to sign. The beauty of what was being created there was too alluring.Click to tweet
Fast-forward to 2009. In January I heard a presentation on 3D Coaching for the first time. It was an “A-ha!” moment for me because for the first time someone had given language to what we experienced as athletes. While they may not have self-identified as “3D” coaches, Mel Tjeerdsma and his staff were very three dimensional in how they architected the Bearcat program. In the fall of 2009, Northwest won it’s 3rd National Championship and Coach T was named the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year for Division II.
As part of the prize, Liberty Mutual pledged to give $50,000 to any non-profit/charity of the winning coach’s choosing. At the time I worked for FCA, and Coach Tjeerdsma chose our local chapter as one of the primary beneficiaries of this generous gift. I had the opportunity to fly to Newport Beach, CA and be a part of the celebration. I got to meet the other C.O.Y. recipients from the other divisions and rub shoulders with some high-profile people like the master of ceremonies, Archie Manning.
While all the glitz and glam of the event was certainly thrilling to be a part of, it was the plane ride with Coach T that I found to be most significant. I’d known him for 15 years, but this was the first opportunity that I had to really connect on a deeper level in an extended conversation. What a gift. I asked him all sorts of questions about how he transformed the culture of Northwest football. Something he said on that plane will stay with me the rest of my life.
“As a staff, we made a conscious effort and commitment that we would not focus on what we DON’T have. Rather, we were going to focus on what we DO have. Once we began focusing on what we had, we realized we had the right people so we had everything we needed to start changing the culture.”Mel Tjeerdsma
As a staff, we made a conscious effort and commitment that we would not focus on what we DON’T have. Rather, we were going to focus on what we DO have.Click to tweet
What a simple yet profound statement. As leaders, if we can apply this truth to our lives it will profoundly change our perspective. This change in perspective will ultimately change our trajectory, but it all starts with what we see. We tend to see what we are looking for. Are we focused on what we DO have? Or are we focused on what we DON’T have?
How about you? Is your vision blurred like mine was when I was locked in on what I didn’t have? Is your tank empty and do you feel like you are running on fumes? If so, perhaps it’s time to put on a new lens.
Here’s the deal. What we see is what we pursue. In many ways, our vision IS our future. Hope is tied to our preferred vision of the future. It’s function is to keep our present reality open to a future possibility. As leaders, it’s important to always be casting a hopeful vision for those we lead, but it starts with what we see in the present.
What do you see?
I’m forever grateful that we had 3D Coaches who helped us see through the lens of purpose. That’s MY 3D Coach.
P.S. – Here is a great story from our local news station that sparked this blog. If you find it worthwhile, would you give it a retweet or share? In-so-doing, you are helping to honor a man that made a huge difference not only in my life, but in the lives of many.