Now the VP of Team Development at the Houston Texans, Jack Easterby—who was once labeled the Patriot’s Secret Weapon by USA Today—shared a story with me that blew me away. I asked him how he helped his players overcome the entitlement and other challenges that can so often come with big salaries.
He told me how after one high-profile player received a bonus, he invited him to the hospital. Typically, hospital visits by professional athletes are to the children’s ward, but this visit was different. Jack brought this player to hospital rooms where people had just passed away, and then they cleaned the rooms. They got on their hands and knees and scrubbed the room down.
In the hospital room the two of them were away from fans and attention, but were able to serve others in a meaningful way nobody would ever notice. Jack understood in that moment that player didn’t need a message about being grateful; he needed to just go out and be grateful.
In his first book, Love Does, author Bob Goff shares how he spent decades attending Bible studies to learn about his faith. One day, he had an epiphany that he had become someone who memorized facts about Jesus, but he didn’t really know Him. Goff says, “I love reading scripture and find tremendous comfort and perspective in exploring God’s Word. However, I stopped going to Bible studies a while ago. Instead, I go to a ‘Bible doing’.”
What’s a “Bible doing”? Well, he gets together with a group for friends, they read scripture, and then ask, “What are we going to do about it?” Then, they would go do it! The stories of how they go out and love and serve people in the community are pretty special.
I remember reading this and thinking that we approach character and leadership in a very similar way in sports. We have a lot of character and leadership curriculums that people invest in to help develop their players, and these are great, but at some stage, we need to stop studying and learning about it—and start living it!
No classroom session, team activity, or speaker will have the same impact as getting your people to put character in action. Don’t just study or talk about being selfless, kind, or patient—go out and do it!
Here are 5 special ways I’ve seen coaches put character into action with their team:
- Visit a Nursing Home. So many lessons can be learned from those who are often forgotten in nursing homes near the end of their lives. Get your players to spend time listening to and playing games with the elderly.
- Host a Camp for People with Special Needs. During the Christmas season, we’d host a mini-camp and scrimmage with special-needs youth in the community. This was not only an incredible experience for those young people, but also helped our players gain a new appreciation for their ability to play a game that they love.
- Visit Inmates in Partnership with Prison Ministries. Without a doubt, the most profound learning experience my students have ever experienced was when I brought a group to a prison. We partnered with a nonprofit prison ministry and got the opportunity to sit with men who were serving life sentences, hear their stories, and talk with them.
- Serve at Homeless Shelter or Food Bank. How often do our athletes get the opportunity to see and serve others in need? In doing so, they will be more grateful for what they have and find joy in serving others.
- Help with Home Repair or Building. Many organizations, like Home Works, understand the value of empowering young people to take the lead on service projects that help others.
We’ve discussed this concept in regards to leadership on Coaching Culture Episode 61: Let them Lead. It’s worth a listen.