By Zach Kelehear
Go with me to Columbia, S.C., and watch a practice with the women’s basketball coach, Dawn Staley, and then go to the men’s practice with basketball coach Frank Martin.
You might wonder if you are watching the same sport – for their approaches are about as different as one can imagine.
With Coach Staley you will see an intentional, careful, quiet but highly focused teacher. In Coach Martin you will observe a high-energy, fully engaged, in-your-face, but also highly focused teacher.
Yet amidst their very different styles they both offered me some important lessons on life, on being a champion.
And on my passion of beekeeping.
Before coming to Augusta University, I enjoyed my work at the University of South Carolina. While there I also served the president of the university as his Faculty Athletics Representative. In that work, I came to know the two basketball coaches quite well.
And in South Carolina, with the national champion Women Gamecocks basketball team, the Clemson Tiger football team and the Coastal Carolina University baseball team, champions seem to be popping up everywhere.
And although I cannot attest to any firsthand knowledge of these latter two champions, I can affirm that in both Dawn Staley and Frank Martin you will find two professionals who at their core are highly successful coaches because they are effective teachers. And from their different approaches, there is a shared understanding of what makes for a successful living.
Watching these coaches closely and carefully, I came to recognize some shared themes in their success. Coach Staley and Coach Martin had these attributes in common:
1. They were unambiguous with their student athletes as to expectations, both on the floor and in their lives.
The students found direction in knowing this focus with clarity, and in those goals and boundaries the students were invited to play for and play within. Great teachers and successful coaches recognize that success comes from unwavering, non-negotiable, high standards.
2. Both coaches showed in every action, whether anyone was watching or not, that they cared for their students.
The coaches were there very early in the mornings. They were with the players in the evenings. They were in their homes and with their families. And it was in these actions that the coaches communicated care to the students.
Great teachers and successful coaches care through words and action, every day and every time.
3. They shared with their students everyday reflections on what matters most in this life.
Winning matters every game, every day, to these coaches. But I watched as these coaches shared with their students that it was in the quality of the relationships they had with each other that greatness might emerge.
In all of our lives, the depth of a relationship creates a bond, a sort of chemistry, that will hold two people, or a team, together no matter what else they might encounter. Great teachers and great coaches teach their charges how to be present with one another and in being present they cultivate rich and meaningful relationships.
4. Their preparation, both in preseason and during the season, was far more important, and more difficult, than what happened after tip-off.
Ask many highly successful individuals in sports and business about what it means to be in the zone, or in the flow. It is what happens when all the preparation for the key event allows for a performance that comes almost automatically, instinctively.
With that much noise and excitement and distraction happening during the Final Four, the players knew instinctively what to do because it was out of a habit of performing at the highest level in preparation that they could perform at game time.
I congratulate the teams in South Carolina who have recently achieved championship status. Those players and coaches have prepared a very long time for their chance to shine, and most of that work was done quietly, alone, and away from any shine of media.
But it was done brilliantly, through high expectations, through care, in the presence of others, and long before game time. And in watching them, we can all be reminded of what successful living requires.
Indeed, our young people can often help us remember what we have grown accustomed to ignore, and I appreciate them for that gift. Well done, Coach Dawn Staley and Coach Frank Martin.
As I watched the Masters, through rain and wind and falling trees, I paused to celebrate the many people in our own community who have quietly prepared for great success so that the CSRA can be a place known for championship habits.
The Masters Tournament, like a national championship, is all about expectations, care, relationships and preparation.
(The writer has over 30 years’ experience in public education as a teacher, administrator and college professor. Currently dean of the College of Education at Augusta University, he is former associate dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the University of South Carolina, where he was also faculty liaison to the Athletic Department.)