Top 3 Lessons I Learned from Football Coaches

Auburn University Football Coaches Clinic | Dow Smith Company | Smyrna, Tennessee

I love to learn to learn. Nothing energizes me more than gaining new insights and growing in wisdom and knowledge. I love going to construction industry-related conferences like the Construction Leadership Network and National Association of Church Design-Builder conferences. There is such joy in learning from my peers and colleagues, then taking that knowledge and applying to my life and my business.

But my favorite of all conferences is when I get to go to the Auburn University Football Coaches Clinic with the Smyrna High School football coaches. I know that I am not really a football coach, but I am the self-appointed end zone camera volunteer.

I must admit, the annual Coaches Clinic event makes me feel like an 8-year-old who has been given 48 hours of Christmas in March. AU Football is my team! Going back to my alma mater is like taking a trip back to a simpler time in my life. Auburn is my happy place. And when you get to go to the Coaches Clinic, you get access to top-notch coaches, players, and facilities. You get to see up close how Auburn builds and maintains a culture of excellence.

This is the third year I attended, and I took a dozen Smyrna High School Football coaches with me. These are 12 men who love their vocation and love the kids that they coach. Simply put, these coaches are changing lives—for the better! I can’t overstate the fact that the culture Matt Williams has built into the Smyrna High School Football Program is outstanding to say the least. It is a culture that I try to bring to my vocation.

At this year’s conference, we had the pleasure of working with Auburn’s coaching staff, including Head Coach, Gus Malzahn, Special Teams Coordinator Larry Porter, Offensive Coordinator Kenny Dillingham, Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele and Strength & Conditioning Staff Member Ryan Russell, just to name a few. They even brought in a few other experts, such as UAB Blazers Head Coach Bill Clark, William & Mary Offensive Coordinator Brennan Marion and College Football Hall of Fame Coach Larry Kehres, who has 11 national championships under his belt.

So, in no particular order, my top lessons learned on this trip are:

1. Healthy fellowship brings healing.

There is nothing more therapeutic than riding in a van giggling about silly stuff. Life is hard, and quite often we have to take it seriously. But it is so healing to just sit with great people and laugh. “It matters more who we are with than where we at,” Gus Malzahn remarked in his opening comments on Thursday night. He truly loves working with his staff, and I can totally relate to that—I have the best team in the world.

It has been my experience that as we strive for heath and balance, shared suffering brings healing. And that for us to be healthy and or experience healing, it begins with awareness. We must be aware that we cannot do it alone. That the phrase “be self-sufficient and independent” is a lie. 

2. “Love with accountability is a precious and powerful gift.”

These were the words of Larry Kehres, Athletic Director at University of Mount Union and CFB Hall of Fame Coach, when he spoke to us about his approach to his team and staff. He talked about how he communicates expectations and uses those expectations to evaluate performance. He also reminded us that we should hold the mirror up to ourselves, as well.

These words really hit home for me as I reflect on my most important and valuable relationships. The relationships where there is love and accountability are the most powerful and replenishing relationships in my life.

3. Nothing can be accomplished without effort.

Kevin Steele, Auburn University’s Defensive Coordinator said that he has only three expectations of his players. The first expectation is effort. Effort is talked about every day. The first thing they evaluate on film after practice and games is how much effort (or the lack thereof) was given by each player on each play. Each play, the player is graded on whether he gave 100% effort on the play. If the player receives a poor grade, it is referred to as a “Loaf.” “Loafs” are shown to the team on film and no words are spoken by the coaches. Peer pressure and knowing you let your teammates down usually fixes lack of effort issues. 

The second expectation is that players should be physically and mentally tough. That comes with the territory. If players are not in top shape physically and mentally, they will not be fully prepared and focused on the game. This is so true in our daily lives.

And, the third is tackle. We have to align our priorities and tackle the most important things to be successful. These three items are players’ responsibility. The rest of it is on the coaches.

Effort in other people is something I cannot control. So I focus on whether I am giving the full effort that is due in my vocation. Part of the Auburn Creed is; “I believe in work. Hard work.” This is so true. I believe that work is a form of worship—recognizing and celebrating God’s presence and the fact that he has given me special skills. How I work is a direct relationship with how I worship. How I work is a direct choice of my effort.

I should also add that “effort” should not be used as an excuse to be a workaholic or any other compulsive behavior. “Work smarter, not harder” should also be applied here.

I can’t wait until next March when Smyrna’s coaches and I will return to Auburn for another great Christmas…er, I mean, great coaching clinic.