I was sharing with one of my colleagues today about something I did with the high school lacrosse team that I coached for many years. Annually, we would do a “Lock In” in the main gym, where we would compete in non-lacrosse games, and throughout the evening, the coaches would share some life lessons with them in the way of videos, personal testimonies and challenges.
One year, I asked each of them to think of a single word that they hoped, through their athletic efforts and personal posture by the end of the season, would characterize them and not surprise anyone.
In other words, and how we can personally apply that: If you had one word to put on your tombstone that summarizes your entire life, what would you want it to say? Remember, your life, the way you lived it and executed it, will dictate the word through which those left behind with the dead body will choose to memorialize you.
My guys started with words such as, Baller, Stud, and The Dream. (Then a few figured out that when you are 89 years old, having Baller on your tombstone wasn’t “The Dream.”) Then I heard Honest, Hardworking, 100%, Faithful, Reliable, and the list went on.
I have two examples that I want to share with you that bring this point home.
The first: An 8th grade punk of a kid would hang on the sideline of the varsity lacrosse games. We let the young players help set up balls on the end line and just learn the game from the older boys and coaches.
At halftime, I asked Sterling to line up the balls on the end line before the second half began. He was cocky, arrogant and disrespectful to authority, and especially to me. He didn’t do as I asked, and the second half began.
At the end of the game, both teams gathered in the middle to pray together and congratulate one another on a well-fought game. I quietly left the huddle and met Sterling on the 30-yard line. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes, he was that disrespectful.
I simply said this: “Sterling, you are a great athlete, but you will never be a world-class athlete until you learn to respect those whom you don’t want to respect. Your disrespect will be what defines you, unless you make a decision to ‘rebrand’ yourself.”
I then added: “I won’t share with your father the example of disrespect that you showed toward me today; I’ll let you sort that out in your own mind.”
From that instance, Sterling became the person he needed to become to be a world-class athlete. Every time I saw him from that day to graduation, he honored me by calling me Coach Pinyot, which he never did before. He was a new person.
On his own, he shared the story with his father and mother, and they thanked me and began to respect me, too, as they also had some kind of chip on their shoulders. Sterling was granted a four-year ROTC scholarship and went on to play college lacrosse. Today, he helps coach the very team that his antics disrespected years ago.
The second: My son Jonathan (JP) was abruptly pulled from his lunch table in grade 6 for no reason other than an arrogant power-grabbing teacher wanted to make an example out of a sixth-grader. The reason? His hair was below his ears.
Without permission, the teacher cut JP’s hair, along with that of three other boys. Oh my, did it hit the fan with the other three parents. I knew better than to overreact, because there was a root problem that needed to be addressed. The other parents met with the teacher and went nuts on him. I waited and sent the teacher a kind email asking for a few minutes of his time. He agreed. We met in the afternoon on a Friday.
As I sat with him, I said the following, “I have 10 minutes only to deal with the haircut issue, and it’s the only time I’m devoting to it.”
I said that in preparation for our meeting, I had asked 10 people to tell me what word comes to mind when they hear the name Mr. Jones. To the person, each told me, “Hair Nazi.”
I said, “If I just spent 20 years teaching and all I was remembered for was for being a Hair Nazi, I’d feel like a failure. Unless something changes, that will be your legacy. Are you OK with that?”
The teacher looked stunned. I didn’t come to lecture him or threaten him. He did that to himself through his actions.
Mr. Jones, on Monday, turned over the responsibility of being the Hair Police to someone else, and from that day on, began to work on a new legacy and a new word for his tombstone.
What will be your legacy? What word will be on your tombstone? Are you living out that word today?