Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

Here’s to the coaches

“Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender” read the plastic sign next to the locker room door. Coach King never explicitly instructed us to slap it on our way to the court. We just knew.

Coaches have that kind of power. They hold sway over athletes because they have what athletes want: a spot on the team, playing time, scoring and winning opportunities, the prospect of recognition, even fame.

So, when Coach King said to run at 6 in the morning, I ran. When he said to take notes during team meetings, I wrote. When he said to dive for loose balls, I skinned my knees.

Coach had come to Nashville from rural Pennsylvania to be a country music songwriter. When the industry treated him the way it treats most artists, he fell into teaching and coaching.

He wasn’t your average teacher and coach. He quoted Meatloaf and used words like “denouement”. He was probably the only head high school basketball coach in America who also served as the English department chair. All that made him all the more memorable.

Naturally, I remember what Coach King said. For example,

“Nothing great has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances.”

Athletes arguably spend more direct time with their coaches than they do with any other adult, even parents. Sports fundamentals fill much of that time, but life philosophies also shine through. That’s partly what makes a coach’s influence so profound.

“When the Game Stands Tall”, in theaters now, profiles a high school football coach in northern California who prepares young men for life after football. He also happens to win a lot of games. 151 in a row at one point.

Coach Bob Ladouceur preaches love and becoming someone others can depend on. Like coaches across the country, he uses sport as a means to an end.

“The game by itself doesn’t stand tall,” Ladouceur told author Neil Hayes. “Without intangibles, in a certain sense, it’s barbarism. The violence isn’t what attracts me to it. It’s getting kids to play together and get along with each other. The game should be a teaching tool. It doesn’t stand tall on its own.”

Historically, Boerne has been blessed with coaches that inspire excellence on and off the field. Largely credit athletic director and long-time boys basketball coach Stan Leech for this.

I spent a week this summer with one of Leech’s basketball coaching colleagues. Jason Sweatman gave as much energy and effort to coaching underprivileged 10-year-olds as he does to coaching his high school players.

On the gridiron, Boerne High football coach Mike Dormady preaches passion, trust and discipline, the three traits blazoned on his program’s crest.

Dormady’s son, Quinten, plays quarterback for the Greyhounds. He is set to play college ball for the University of Tennessee next fall. One might expect some cockiness from the rising star considering the elevated status Aggie fans now give SEC football.

But while his six foot, four inch frame stands a head taller than most other players, the well-coached Dormady only uses his height advantage for the positive. He’s constantly  slapping the tops of his teammates’ helmets in gratitude for their efforts.

And it’s a pleasure to see. Even in the age of the ego, great coaches remind kids it’s still all about the team.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at



What a difference a year makes

A year ago we San Antonians nursed our wounds. Tim Duncan’s chance at “one for the thumb” had slipped through the net like a Ray Allen three-pointer. With an aging core, a Finals return seemed unlikely.

Then, Coach Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA’s best regular season record and a triumph over all Western Conference foes.

And then, Mr Duncan promised redemption. “We’ll get it done this time,” he calmly pronounced after defeating Oklahoma City on May 31.

I had my doubts. The Spurs were again up against the “best player on the planet” and a Big 3 that took its talents to South Beach to win “not two, not three, not four…” but more championships.

Oh, but what joy that basketball inventor James Naismith concocted a team sport! And what a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, San Antonio entered a collective depression. This year, the celebration hasn’t stopped. Not even headfirst fall from a pickup can keep us down (Google “Spurs fan face plant”).

Last year, Manu Ginobili made more turnovers than an English bakery. This year, he dunked on Chris Bosh and resurrected moments of brilliance.

Last year, a once-dominant Duncan knocked hard on retirement’s door. This year, it looked like he could be an effective role player for another five years.

Last year, Patty Mills waived a mean towel from the bench. This year, he threw daggers that put a languishing victim out of its misery.

Last year, Kawhi Leonard was 21. This year, he was 22. And MVP.

Last year, Heat forward LeBron James rejected Spurs center Tiago Splitter in a series-defining play. This year, Tiago sent Heat guard Dwyane Wade packing.

Last year, the Heat’s supporting cast showed up. This year, they appeared tired of the LeBron show.

Last year, the air conditioning worked every game. This year, a warm June night separated the men from those who cramp.

Last year, LeBron swaggered. This year, he whined.

Last year, a yacht-owning Heat owner accepted the championship trophy. This year, a heavy equipment-dealing Spurs owner accepted it.

Last year, the Spurs ran a stale triangle offense. This year, Coach Pop changed to a 1940s weave.

That was about all Pop changed.

He still spoke concisely in interviews. He still graciously hugged LeBron when it was over. He still thanked the fans. (Last year, it was the thousand who greeted a losing team at the airport. This year, it was 75,000 who celebrated at the Alamodome).

Yet again, Pop represents all that’s right with the Spurs and the world. The love he has for his players. The lightness with which he navigates success and fame. The perspective he brings to the game.

When other NBA coaches would be straightening their ties for the championship photos, Pop took his off. It draped casually around his neck as if to say, “Hold loosely to things that pass.” Fittingly, this philosophy had put his team on the championship stage.

During timeouts, Pop would tell his players, “Don’t let it stick,” referring to the ball and the importance of frequent passing.

The principle orchestrated a Mozartian display of team basketball and a fifth NBA title. Pop knows it will orchestrate a fulfilling life, as well.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at


P.S. Related: An open letter to Pop, July 2013 –


Protocol for awkward moments

An etiquette expert came to my city’s chamber of commerce recently to help us with our “awkward moments.” I’m pretty sure my fly was down. By the end of her presentation, I was convinced again of something I’ve long believed but don’t always remember: most communication is non-verbal.

At one point, she had us make circles with each thumb and index finger while holding our other fingers straight out. She pointed out that the “b” on the left hand stands for bread; the “d” stands for drink. Formal dinner stuff.

(I actually prefer “BMW”: bread, meal, water. But then again, I’ve never been on The Today Show talking about how to hug your boss’s wife.)

Then, she said, “Hold your ‘d’ above your head. Now, bring it down to your chin.” I brought mine to my temple. Most of us did. Why? Because that’s what she did with her hand. The non-verbal trumped the verbal.

I sat up straighter. I just knew this protocol princess was reading me like a book. She’s about to turn my hereditary awkwardness into a teachable moment for the group.

Somehow, I nodded and smiled just enough to fend off her inclinations to expose. Then she asked us to think of a word that summarized who we’re trying to be. Her examples: powerful, authentic, confident. The only word I could think of was “less-awkward.” (Powerful people hyphenate, by the way.)

She went on talking about greetings (use “hello,” not “hi”) and hand shakes with the opposite sex (men, no limp fish; women, no tourniquets). She covered hand placement (not over privates), feet placement (obtuse angle) and name tag placement (right side).

People who don’t speak at a meeting are more noticed than those who do, she said. When you smile, show your teeth – even if you don’t have any. When you interact, first be interested, then be interesting. In a business meeting, keep your hands above the table most of the time.

I noticed a tension at play. On one hand, we should elevate non-verbals, pay attention to them. They’re saying (1) more than we think and (2) more than our mouths.

On the other hand, we should minimize non-verbals. Get them out of the way as much as possible so that our words mean something. Don’t let non-verbals distract.

As in much of life, the goal is unity. Let the words your mind conceives match your bodily actions. And let your body act according to what your mind has decided you want to be.

And, as in much of life, this union occurs only with practice. The way to overcome uncomfortable moments is to be willing to be uncomfortable for a time.

For example, when I feel awkward, I put my hands in my pockets, subconsciously seeking protection. Instead, the protocol princess wants me to rest my hands at my side or clasp them gently above my waist. Doing so feels awkward but I can see how it communicates greater ease and confidence.

Feeling awkward to overcome awkwardness. I do love paradoxes.

The protocol princess was Diane Gottsman of The Protocol School of Texas. She addressed the graduating class of Leadership Boerne, a program of the Greater Boerne Chamber.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

Joseph offers a model of faithfulness

A son nestled against his mother. A daughter rested across her lap. The mother’s unadorned left hand caressed the girl’s back.

The boy looked ten. The girl, seven. The woman was in her mid-thirties. An empty chair sat next to them, the lone vacancy in an otherwise full row of churchgoers.

The children’s father may have been working. He may have been sick. He may have religious convictions that took him to another place of worship. Not all married women wear wedding bands.

He may have given his life in service to us all. My hunch? He was AWOL, missing in action in a widespread war on the nuclear family.

I hear frequently of families’ succumbing to the divisive pressures of the age. Some you expect. Others come out of the blue. None are pretty.

The parties usually believe they are minimizing the effects on the children. I’m sure that’s what my friend’s parents thought.

Years after his parents split, while in his twenties, he faced anger and depression. A counselor’s touch pointed him to the root. He grew beyond the pain of the divorce. Today, he has a joy-filled wife and two handsome sons.

Most people are not so fortunate, or willing. They struggle through life from habit to habit, between relationship and loneliness. They never grasp how an early earthquake rocked a foundation on which their life was intended to build.

Another friend tells a story from his childhood. He travelled with nine other public school honor roll students to a prestigious academic contest in Boston. As they were touring some sites in a 15-passenger van, they attempted to identify things they all had in common. The most prominent commonality? They all came from intact families.

We all know half of marriages end in divorce. The federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics gives more detail.

According to its National Survey of Family Growth, 20 per cent of first marriages end in their first 5 years. Thirty-two per cent end by year 10, and 40 per cent fail by year 15.

So, it’s not just that marriages are failing; it’s that they are falling apart at a time when children need their stability the most.

Some will argue two peaceful homes are better than one filled with discord. I do not disagree when the choice is presented so simply. I do believe, with a little divine help, we humans are capable of more elaborate options.

Who should take the lead in finding better ways to resolve differences that can lead to divorce? I’ll go out on a limb: the man. God has placed a certain mantle of leadership on the masculine gender. It has been used at times to harm. It is intended to mend, bind up, protect, provide.

I know each circumstance is different. Emotional wounds, mental illness and substance abuse can wreak havoc not easily repaired no matter how capable the leadership.

But many situations are no more bizarre than one in Judea twenty centuries ago.

Joseph had reasons to take a pass. His fiancé? Prematurely pregnant. The baby? Not his. His young family? Virtually homeless, forced into two years of exile by a mad king.

But with strong trust and tender strength, Joseph, “a righteous man” (Matt. 1:19), led the family that housed the child that would one day overcome the Great Divorce. Let us follow his faithful lead.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

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