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About a week ago I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Bethany Hamilton in front of over 2,000 people at the “Think Big!” event at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Bethany’s incredible story has inspired millions around the world, as she overcame losing her left arm in a 2003 shark attack to go on to become one of the most successful athletes ever in the sport of surfing.
In spending time with Bethany, her husband Adam, and her son Tobias before, during, and after the event, one thing is clear – Bethany is a great leader and role model we can all learn from. Every opportunity is a chance to learn something new, and I believe Bethany’s story, her demeanor, and her character all present leadership qualities we can learn from and emulate.
Specifically, here are 4 leadership lessons we can learn from Bethany Hamilton:
“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?”
Tis 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?
Meet Nick Johnson. He’s probably the best leader you’ve never heard of.
Coach Johnson is the head football coach at Earlham College, a liberal arts institution in Richmond, Indiana. Earlham is home to just over 1,000 students, and its Quaker athletic programs compete in the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC). The Earlham football program’s results on the field can be summarized in a single word:
Since 1889 Earlham football has won just 36% of its games (360-605-23) and a dreary 24% of its conference contests (48-152). In the last five seasons, Earlham has gone 0-10, 1-8, 2-8, 0-10, and 0-10. This past year, the first under Coach Johnson’s guidance, the Quaker defense gave up roughly 58 points per game en route to the program’s second straight winless season.
But before you completely write off Earlham Quaker football, you must study the story behind the stat line. Just 12 short days ago, the unthinkable happened:
Coach Johnson was named the HCAC coach of the year.
In a statement announcing the honor, the conference cited: “respect for Johnson and his dedication to his profession, his program and his personal life” as key reasons for honoring the Quakers’ head coach. The statement continued: “Coach Johnson instills life lessons to his student athletes on the field while embodying real life challenges.”
How is this possible? An 0-10 coach named coach of the year?
Perhaps the better question is: How is it possible that Coach Johnson had the strength to coach at all?
Over the past two years, Johnson’s wife Melissa has spent over 500 nights in various hospitals—from the Mayo Clinic, to Indiana University, to the University of Cincinnati—battling a debilitating chain reaction of health challenges, ranging from severe intestinal problems to cerebral spinal leaking and brain swelling. From life flight helicopter rides to innumerable operations (Johnson said he “lost count after 13”), the Johnson family journey has been about anything but football. In addition to these unfathomable life challenges and the demands of a being a head football coach, Johnson is doing his best to raise Jayden and Jacob, ages 6 and 4, as their mother fights for her life.
When Johnson was offered the opportunity to take the helm of the rebuilding effort at Earlham, after serving as an assistant coach for the previous decade, he made up his mind to turn it down. His commitment and concern for his family outweighed his desire to fulfill his dream of being a head football coach. That is, until Melissa refused to take no for an answer. From her hospital bed she told her husband to fulfill his leadership calling—impacting the lives of young men on the grid iron.
But coach at Earlham? 3-46 in the last 5 years Earlham? Why would anyone want to take on what some might call an impossible challenge?
Strive: The Book
In Strive, former collegiate and NFL quarterback Tim Hiller leads you on a year-long journey, taking small steps each week on the path to making your life matter, developing into the person God designed you to be.
Our lives are short. Together, let’s pursue what matters.
From his platform as a champion, Tim has a natural gift for connecting with a wide range of audiences—from schools, youth groups, and churches, to student-athletes and business leaders. Submit a speaking request to invite Tim to inspire your group, team, or organization.
Next Level Performance
Co-founded by Tim Hiller, Next Level Performance develops the total athlete through elite sports performance training, club teams, and Beyond The Game™ Conferences. NLP’s proprietary leadership development process helps student-athletes succeed, both now and in the future.