Lessons from a Coaching Legend: Be Prepared to Work

“Every day you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From Michiganensian/Wikimedia Commons

If you played for Bo Schembechler, you grasped the meaning of work. Bo’s first winter at Michigan consisted of running, running, and more running. Players ran everywhere, inside the football stadium, around the basketball gym, and through the chilly halls of the hockey arena. As Bo said when describing the efforts of his initial Michigan football team: “No one else in the Big Ten knew we were doing crazy drills in the bowels of dark, cold gyms, and running the world’s ugliest laps in the morning fog, but we knew what we were doing. We were getting somewhere” (Schembechler/Bacon, 41).

For those players who survived winter conditioning, Bo had a treasure waiting for them in spring practice: hitting. The practices, so grueling that they exhausted the team physically and mentally, caused many players to quit and spawned Coach Schembechler’s famous quote, “Those who stay will be champions” (Schembechler/Bacon, 38). Bo promised the team that he would reward them if they toughed it out.

That reward arrived on November 22, 1969, when Michigan upset Ohio and ended their run towards a second consecutive national championship. This game kick-started The Ten Year War between Bo and Ohio coach Woody Hayes.

I didn’t grow up listening to any fatherly talks advocating the importance of one’s work ethic. It was just a fact of life, the price of admission paid for setting a goal. The work (especially when it came to school, playing sports, or my knee rehabs in high school) started early and ended late. Get better or get worse because you aren’t staying the same.

Talent means nothing without the desire to work, and having a goal is useless without the willingness to sacrifice. The price of success is desperation, the moments when it seems as if one more repetition (or edit or draft) will suck all your remaining energy and leave you wasted on the sidelines, unable to return to the game. “Getting somewhere” only happens if you have the guts to spend your early mornings and late evenings conquering frustrations and spilling sweat onto a gym floor or into the development of an idea. Inspiration isn’t possible without effort.

If you want to improve then work your ass off when your eyes are the only ones watching.

I didn’t always listen to this advice. Lord knows I took my share of shortcuts along the way. But I knew the choice to work belonged to me and nobody else. And I’ll take having learned that lesson any day.

Prior Lessons from a Coaching Legend: Introduction, Respect and Equality, Do Your Job.



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