I love a good sports story. Athletes in pursuit of a goal
make good examples of discipline and sacrifice in action. Even better is a
sports story that focuses more on character development than just wins and losses.
Such is the case with Joe Drape’s Our
Boys, A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen.
The first thing you need to know is that Smith Center is a rural
farm town that like many farm communities in Western Kansas has been losing
population since the turn of the last century. What it has not lost is its
character nor its spirit which are manifest in the community’s high school
football team. The Red Men are a perennial state champion in their division.
The charm of the story, however, is not the pressure to win;
it is the commitment to mold the character of the boys who play the game. Few
if any of the players go onto Division I colleges, but the overwhelming
majority succeed in their chosen careers–business, medicine, law, teaching and
of course farming. Most attribute their success to their head coach Roger
Barta, a grizzled sixty-something life long coach.
The lessons that Barta shares with his boys and more
especially through them are things that leaders everywhere can learn.
For as successful a coach as Barta is, he is almost blasé when it comes to wins
and losses. He likes the development experience that his players endure. Be
accountable to one another, Barta teaches. He expects his players to live that
on and off the field.
Keep it simple.
Barta’s teams have been running the same plays for three decades. Most of the
kids learn the fundamentals in middle school so when they play for Smith Center
they can focus on execution.
Know the odds but
don’t be afraid of them. Smith Center regularly beats teams from schools
much larger than itself. But that does not breed inferiority; it sparks an us
against the world mindset that when backed by winning breeds confidence.
Work hard. Make
no mistake, football is hard work. It is also a hard-hitting game, something
that Barta and his coaches preach regularly. No one hits harder. Conditioning
Football is not life.
Smith Center kids, as we are often reminded, work long hours in the summer at
full time jobs to support their families as well as to earn money for college
The most telling part of the story is the absolute reliance
on community. Smith Center is literally in the center of the country but it is
isolated from urban America, four hours plus from Kansas City. People learn to
rely on one another and it the parents, generations of them, who send their
kids to be taught and mentored by Barta so that they will learn what it means
to put character into action. Winning is not the point; development is.
Our Boys is a
story about high school football. From it we can learn the joy of doing your
best by working hard for self, for team and for the community. “Life is not
about winning or losing; it’s about competing, says Coach Barta. “It’s about
working hard and getting a bit better each day.”
Not a bad lesson for any business.
John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach,
author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s
top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12
Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John’s Web site,