3 Leadership Lessons from College Football’s Opening Weekend

Labor Day weekend is a bittersweet time. As the sun sinks below the horizon earlier and earlier with each passing week, cooler temperatures and shorter days signal the pending end of summer. But as the seasons change, the leaves turn, and families head back to school, a new feeling is in the air. The feeling of an age old tradition, filled with passion, excitement, and pageantry.

Football season is here. The best time of year.

The opening weekend of the 2016 college football season did not disappoint, filled with surprises, upsets, and standout performances. But if we take a closer look, beyond the scores, highlights, and newswire headlines, we will find 3 stories—3 powerful, moving, extraordinary narratives—that provide brilliant examples of leadership and character for each of us to emulate in our own lives.

Great leaders live with persistence, patience, and presence—and we need not look any farther than 3 exemplary student-athletes to find examples of these leadership qualities.

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3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated From High School

o-HIGH-SCHOOL-GRADUATION-facebookI recently had a chance to speak to a group of over 150 senior scholar athletes from several high schools around Southwest Michigan who had earned over a 3.25 career GPA. I shared with them the 3 things I wish I knew when I graduated from high school. Here are the highlights of the message:

It was the game of all games. The game of the century…literally. It was the 100 year anniversary of the tradition-rich rivalry between Orrville High School—my beloved hometown in Northeast Ohio—and our unspeakable nemesis, Wooster High School. As if this Friday night under the lights could get any better, we were hosting this game for the ages. The stadium was standing room only and it was the perfect opportunity to finish the regular season in style before the playoffs began.

That night I threw 1…2…3…4…5…not touchdowns…but interceptions. Without sharing another word, you can probably guess the final outcome of the game.

But even though I gave the ball away 5 times, I also gained something that night. I gained a powerful lesson. A lesson I carry with me to this very day. A lesson that my high school football coach had the opportunity to share with me not once, not twice….but 5 times, after each interception. (Maybe that’s why it stuck with me so well!)

“The next play is the most important play.”

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10 Things Being an Athlete Taught Me About Leadership

NLP EncoreAn impactful leader in my life used to go camping with his dad growing up. His dad would always say: “Leave the campground cleaner than it was before.” While he meant it literally, he was also conveying a deeper message – leave your legacy by paying it forward for someone else. In Jesus’ words: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:48)

I’ve often asked myself: Why have I been given the life experiences I have? And while I still don’t fully know that answer, I believe a big reason is to use them to serve others. It is in this spirit that Next Level Performance was formed – to deliver elite sports performance training while paying forward the valuable leadership and character lessons athletics can teach. It is our desire that every Next Level student-athlete would use the platform of their sport to be a positive difference maker both on the field and in their schools and community.

So what are we trying to instill in our Next Level athletes? Here are 10 things athletics taught me about leadership that I hope to invest in each athlete we touch at NLP:

1. It’s not about me

I will never forget sitting in rookie meetings with the Indianapolis Colts and listening to Clyde Christensen outline that football is a brotherhood, not a family. “If we are a train going down the tracks and one of you falls off,” he began, “in a family, the entire train would screech to a halt, we would all jump off, pick you up, dust you off, and slowly start the train again. But this is not a family, it is a brotherhood. And the train is screaming down the tracks toward our first game in 21 days. So if you fall off the train it is your job to catch back up, because we have no time to slow down for you.”

It was a powerful reminder that there is no indispensable person. No one is above the team and we all have an important role and responsibility to fulfill.

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3 Things Leaders Do With A Position Of Power

3 Things Leaders Do With a Position of Power

3 Things Leaders Do With a Position of Power“Men, we have quite a responsibility to Michael,” Coach Murray said. He paused to let the words sink in, extending his right fist forward slightly toward the center of the locker room for emphasis.

“He’s listening every time we play.”

Meet Michael Kuras. Michael is 24 years old and lives in Southwest Michigan. An avid football and hockey fan, Michael never misses watching or listening to a game of his three favorite teams—the Detroit Red Wings, the Kalamazoo Wings, and the Western Michigan University Broncos. Even if they play on the same night.

“He’ll follow all three,” Michael’s mom Debbie told me. “He’ll have the Red Wings on TV, the K-Wings on one radio, and the Broncos on another radio. All at the same time.”

These days, in his early 20’s, Michael should be enjoying the fun, the challenge, and the adventure of the “prime years” of his young life—complete with plenty of hockey and football games. But Michael has been dealt a different hand. He is in the midst of a challenge and adventure that is anything but fun.

Michael is battling cancer.

I first learned of Michael’s story when a friend of mine connected me with Michael’s uncle. Determined to make a memory for Michael and provide him with some hope during the throes of chemotherapy, Michael’s uncle asked him, “What would you like Michael?”

The answer?

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4 Things To Do When Something You Love Ends

4 Things to Do When Something You Love Ends

4 Things To DoTis the season…for football coach firings.

Unless you have been exposed to the wild and crazy business of coaching, it’s easy to graze over the roller coaster ride many coaches and their families experience this time of year. At the collegiate or professional level, most coaches invest a minimum baseline of 80 hours a week (or more) into the game and profession they are so passionate about. Job security is non-existent as progress and success are defined by one thing—winning—and just a few bad bounces, often outside of the coach’s control, can lead to being fired. And being fired means the uncertainty of scrambling for a new position in a job market where a limited number of vacancies exist, while helping family navigate time apart, moving, and a new scene with new friends.

This holiday season I’ve reflected on this wild ride more than ever as I’ve watched it affect many of my friends in the coaching profession, as well as many men I played for during my career. One of those men is Scott Shafer, who made a meaningful investment in my life during his time at Western Michigan University. Coach “Shafe” is a quality man who coaches for the right reason—to take teenage boys and use a physically and mentally demanding game to build them into men ready for life. His Syracuse program finished 4-8 this year, losing to #8 LSU by only 10 points, losing a 3OT heartbreaker at Virginia, losing on a last second field goal to Pitt, and dropping a game to the #1 team in the country, Clemson, also by just 10 points. A different bounce of the ball in any 2 of those games and Coach “Shafe” is preparing for a bowl game right now. But despite his meaningful mission, “Shafe” was dismissed from his position and coached his final game at Syracuse just a couple weeks ago. True to form, he left with gratitude and class, as evidenced by an emotional and inspiring letter to his players.

At a personal level, I can relate to this rejection as I experienced the door closing on my dream of playing professional football over and over and over again. I had no plan B. In my mind, I was going to spend at least a few years in the NFL doing what I loved. The road had been long and challenging, filled with injuries and surgeries, but unless I was physically unable, nothing was going to stop me from achieving my goal. Or so I thought. I had to learn the hard way—despite my best efforts, there was a different and better plan for my life and career path.

But you don’t have to be an athlete or coach to experience these type of painful transitions. All human beings experience these life changes in some form. Whether it is job loss, retiring, a medical diagnosis, being denied entry to school, getting cut from the team, experiencing foreclosure and financial uncertainty, or something else unmentioned, we will all face these type of circumstances at some point during our lifetimes.

The harsh reality is this: on our temporary planet and in our fleeting lives, there is NOTHING this side of heaven we can do or have forever. Absolutely nothing.

So what do we do when something we love ends?

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