Stay the Course

After reflecting on a post-WWII era in which the U.S. had emerged victorious from the war and positioned itself as a global superpower, Winston Churchill issues a simple, yet poignant challenge:

“America, it is a great and strong country, like a workhorse pulling the rest of the world out of despond and despair. But will it stay the course?”

Churchill issues this challenge knowing full well that staying the course is the key to sustained excellence. Anybody can set out to achieve a goal, but only the few are willing to do what it takes to accomplish the task at hand.

Stay the course: Accomplishing the original goal, regardless of how difficult it is or how long it takes. Staying the course requires:

  1. Doing things the right way — day in, day out.
  2. Doing things the right way 100% of the time.

To provide context, studies show that 44% of Americans make a new year’s resolution. Of those resolution-makers, only 12% are expected to maintain or accomplish that goal by the end of the year. One interesting caveat is that more than half of resolutions revolve around adopting a healthy lifestyle through exercise, weight loss, and balanced diet. If only 12% maintain their commitment to a healthy lifestyle by the end of year 1, can you imagine what % of folks maintain this commitment through year 5? Year 10? For the rest of their life? Staying the course requires doing things the right way 100% of the time over the long haul.

While staying the course may seem easy at the beginning of the journey or when things are going well, it’s incredibly tough. And it’s tough for two reasons:

  1. Instant gratification is expected. Patiently waiting for things is not.
  2. When we discover a shortcut to get to the desired destination, it’s often too tempting to resist.

The first tempts us to give up after a certain amount of time and the second tempts us to do things the right way only a certain percentage of the time.

In order to attain a certain quality, it’s most effective to have a role model who exemplifies that quality. Luckily, I’ve been blessed to have Bobby Clark, Head Coach of the Notre Dame Men’s Soccer team, teach me about the importance of staying the course.

A few weeks ago, Notre Dame won the 2013 NCAA Men’s Soccer title, the first national championship in our program’s history. While I was incredibly excited for our soccer program, I was more excited for Coach Clark, who after 27 years as a head coach at the college level, won his first national championship.

In an era where coaches are measured and defined by the number of national championships they win, Boss (as Coach Clark is affectionally known) has continued to emphasize there is a greater goal: to develop boys into men both on and off the field.

Right after winning his first national championship, Coach Clark alluded to this point:

“I think this has been, I imagine, a dream of the teams…I don’t think you judge yourself purely on championships. I think you’ve got to be very careful with that.”

Boss had a unique way of imparting his quirky sayings to teach his players to win the right way. To give you a taste:

“Festina Lente” (Latin for “Hurry Slowly”): play with urgency and conviction, but always remain calm and collected.

“Who you are, where you are, what you represent”: each of us represents more than ourselves (our religion, family, friends, country, school, workplace) and by representing more than ourselves, we have a responsibility to act as professionals.

“What’s good for the geese is good for the gander”: put the team above yourself.

These sayings are the greatest lessons from my college years and have proven to be great pillars to lean on as I grow both personally and professionally. By imparting these life lessons, Boss not only taught us to win the right way, but more importantly, he developed us into men both on and off the field.

What’s remarkable is that I’ve met other former players of Coach Clark (even players from his Dartmouth and Stanford days) who can recite the same sayings! In effect, two things become apparent. The first is that Boss’ sayings serve as a great opportunity to reminisce on our playing days and imitate Boss’ Scottish accent. But more importantly, the sayings serve as a reminder that Boss has stayed the course throughout his 27-year coaching career and hasn’t wavered from his original goal of developing boys into men.

So this is an ode to Coach Clark for having done things the right way for the past 27 years and continuing to do things the right way 100% of the time. I know how competitive a person Coach Clark is, and how tempting it may have been to sacrifice and give in a little:

To relent and take on higher profile recruits and transfers who may have been athletically superior, but may have not been the right cultural fit.

To relent and place less of an emphasis on the student aspect of being a student-athlete.

To relent and pursue a more lucrative, higher profile position as a professional coach.

Thank you for teaching us that doing things the right way is truly the only way. And that in due time, we are rewarded for staying the course. Enjoy your first national championship because you deserve it.


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