As a brash nine-year old, I attended an end-of-the-season soccer banquet with my teammates, their parents, the coaches, and mounds of cake, ice cream, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Before the party commenced, I noticed that the cake decorators wrote each player’s name on the cake in icing, and my name had landed at the top of the list. I found this to be the perfect opportunity to announce my soccer superiority so I shouted that my name belonged first because I was the best player on the team.
You would have thought I’d kicked a puppy. The picnic area went silent, and Mom and Dad jerked me by the arm and pulled me to their car. Oh shit, I knew I just landed in trouble.
I spent the next five minutes in the backseat of my parent’s car with irate eyes from Mom and Dad glaring at my sheepish corpse from the passenger and driver seats. Even at my young age, I sensed they were more disappointed in me than mad.
“I don’t care who you think you are, you never say something like that,” Dad started. “Don’t you ever put yourself above anyone again. Get your butt back out there and apologize.” With that, I dragged my right foot in front of my left and reached the party with my red eyes straining to stifle ashamed tears. Less boastful than earlier, I apologized to every parent and teammate, afraid to lift my eyes to their level. A once arrogant soccer star now reduced to sniffles and whimpers.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bo asked Dad to move from tailback to fullback during his Michigan career. This move might have cost him some yards, touchdowns, and awards, but it made Michigan a better team. To Bo and my dad, nothing else mattered. When Dad told old football stories, I never heard anything but tales of team wins and losses, of his wish that they beat Purdue and USC and captured the 1976 national championship for Michigan. Winning as part of the team rendered any statistics irrelevant.
My first experience with the message of “the team” occurred during that ill-fated soccer celebration in elementary school. It’s a lesson that reverberates in everything from business to time spent with family and friends. Being part of a team means the team’s goals supersede your own. The faster everyone reaches that page, the more the team will achieve.
In the introduction to this series, I said that Bo’s lessons persist in the players he coached and the values these players passed to their families. I know this because of the similarities between what Bo taught his teams and what I learned from my dad. Everyone needs mentors. I’m fortunate to say that I had the great Bo Schembechler as one of mine. And that is pretty damn cool.