Posted tagged ‘character’

Grace-Filled Winning

January 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 15, 2018


Recently a high school women’s basketball team in our area was beaten by 94 points. They were missing a couple of their players that day, but other defeats this season have been lop-sided as well, just not in the same zip code as 94.

In my years as a coach I’ve been on both sides of the final score…on the left side of the  hyphen with a way larger number than my waist size…and on the right side of the hyphen with a digit that looks as embarrassed as a naked child in a grocery store.

One of the first games I coached was a YMCA Church League game for middle school boys. We lost 75-5 and my only player who could dribble and chew gum at the same time broke his wrist. That team struggled to score more than six points in any game for the rest of the season. One of our last games was against Bethlehem Lutheran, and their associate pastor, Noel Niemann, was also their coach. Noel knew what our team’s skill level was and he purposely had his players play a packed in 2-3 zone defense and allowed our players to shoot from the outside. They beat us 36-12, but my team was elated that the scoreboard had to use two digits to display our team’s score. That was in 1982 and I still remember Noel’s name, the score, and the sportsmanship.

I seldom see grace filter into sports these days. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. “After all,” say too many coaches, “we’ve practiced hard. Winning in a blowout is our just rewards for practicing hard!”

That argument carries only so far! Winning by a ton of points is usually fueled by a coach’s arrogance, blood-thirsty parents in the bleachers, or players who think it says something about how impressive their skill level is.

In most states high school athletes can choice into schools that ordinarily they would not be going to. Certain high schools are accumulating more than their fair share of the better players, while other schools are encountering cupboards that are bare. Mismatches are evident before the season even begins. And it will continue to be!

So whose responsibility is to be win with grace?

The opportunity to show grace begins with the coach. I use the word “opportunity” because it should be seen as such. Not a requirement, but rather a gift wrapped in the lesson of sportsmanship. Any sporting event is a venue for how we wish people would treat each other. Too often it is a place where the participants strut like peacocks and the observers say things they would not want their mothers, some already in the grave, to hear.

Grace in winning is an opportunity for a coach to teach his/her players a different lesson that is unrelated to the score. Not enough coaches seem to understand that so now there is this thing called “The Mercy Rule.” The name should be a stop sign, but, instead, it has just become a point in the game where one team is a certain number of points ahead of the other team…and mercy has gone out for coffee!

High school sports, and maybe even more than that, middle school sports, need more coaches who teach the skills of the game, but also the character that a person can have. It needs more coaches that can model for their players that winning is more than a good-looking number figure on the left side of the hyphen.

It needs more “Noel Niemann’s”!

The Rightness of The Moment, Not The Headline

November 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                November 5, 2017


When Coach Jim Franklin ran like a madman towards the end zone at the end of his Penn State football team’s heartbreaking loss at Michigan State yesterday I, like most people who saw him sprinting, thought he was going to chastise the officials for some perceived blunder. When it turned out he was sprinting to catch some of his players who were heading to the locker room without shaking hands with the Spartan players it was reassuring that in the intensity of the contest someone whose job depends on winning still had the right perspective.

Even though the cameras caught his mad dash it was not something that had been orchestrated. It was simply the right thing to do, the correct decision made at a moment’s notice. The integrity of the decision was amplified considering the game had been interrupted by a weather delay of almost three and a half hours.

How many of us would have lost our cool if we had to wait to catch a delayed flight for three and a half hours? Raise your hand! Both of mine are pointing skyward.

There seem to be a lot of people who are willing to preach what is right in the moment when the cameras are rolling, or the press has a microphone stuck in front of their face, but the list gets a lot shorter of people who are willing to do the right thing in the heat of the moment.

Recently my wife, Carol, was at a high school volleyball game. Liberty High School was playing one of their arch rivals at the opponent’s gym. She heard and observed some actions- or, perhaps inactions- of a group of students of the host school. One young man had made a comment to one of the Liberty players on the court that had explicit sexual connotations to it. The group he was a part of included several young ladies. What Carol noticed was that not one of the female students was willing to do what was right at that moment. No one was willing to confront the young man with inappropriateness of his comment.

Yes, they were just high school students! High school students who have had it drilled into them in recent years about what sexual harassment and bullying is. Sometimes, however, all the knowledge in the world won’t cause someone to do what is right in the moment. Embarrassing someone causes cheap laughter and integrity never seeks to humiliate. It is too respectful for that.

Each one of us gets faced with a multiple of decisions that have two or more solutions. Many of those decisions also have a dividing line. Think a volleyball court with one side being right and the other side wrong. There are clear indications as to which side the ball- the decided on response- is on. None of us make all the right decisions, but over the course of a day, a week, a month it becomes clear who are the people who have integrity and who aren’t. Who are the ones who understand the right decision, the right thing to say, at that moment; and who are the ones who lack character and moral substance.

As a pastor I wish I could say that Christians have it all together, but, alas, I’ve met and seen too many people who confess to following Christ and have no integrity- people who stomp off towards the locker room when they don’t get their way.

Jim Franklin gets paid a lot of money to make right decisions, but they usually have to do with deciding when it’s a good time to blitz the quarterback or do a fake punt. His sprint to the end zone yesterday wasn’t what Penn State had in mind when they paid him to make the right decisions, and yet it was probably the best right decision he made all day.

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017


Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:





All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!

Judging By the Content of Their Character

August 29, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       AUGUST 29, 2013



Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. When I hear that speech I get goosebumps. Perhaps it is the preaching style of an African-American pastor, or the echoes of the thousands listening to him who are urging him on, but it is compelling whatever the reason.

Towards the end of that speech King makes this statement as a part of his vision.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

     This week four freshmen football players from William Paterson University in New Jersey- three black and one white- made the news for their honesty. They entered into a convenience store to purchase a few items like batteries and what not. The lights were on, the door was unlocked, but there was not a store employee to be found. The four young men found the items they were looking for and put their money on the counter. They even figured out how much the tax would be on the items they were buying and included that in the purchase. The scene was caught on the security cameras.

The four football players were guests on NBC’s Today Show, and were applauded for their honesty.

It seems that it also brings back that sentence from Martin Luther King’s speech, that four “children” would be judged by their character and not by the color of there skin. To have the four from two races that fifty years ago were separated by a multitude of prejudices be together, and make decisions based on strong character is a testimony that is often absent.

In the midst of a self-centered culture it is refreshing to see the rise of character, the relationships of people based on life, and not race. Perhaps we have climbed a mountain in the journey to see each person as a person!