Those who have played high-school sports will tell you that there was at least one moment when a coach said or did something that had a positive impact that has stayed with them for their entire lives. My moment came during my junior year of high school.
As the third-string varsity quarterback, I spent more time on the bench than did the large jug of water (GatoradeTM was not around when I was in high school). To give you some idea of how bad I was, the only reason that I wasn’t the fourth-string quarterback is that only three of us had tried out for the position. One Friday night, our team was defeating its opponent easily. By halftime, the game was essentially over.
Our second-string quarterback, a sophomore, played the game’s entire second half. In California, high-school football’s rules state that a participant who plays at least two quarters of a varsity game is ineligible to play in the junior varsity (JV) game the next day. Therefore, I was assured of starting the JV game on Saturday.
During the fourth quarter of the JV game, with our team on the 20-yard line, I dropped back to pass—and suddenly saw an opening in front of me through which you could have driven a Mack® truck. Tucking the ball into my left side, I took off for the end zone. As I crossed the 5-yard line, ready to score and put my team ahead, I was tackled on the 1-inch line (neither the 1-yard line nor the 1-foot line, but the 1-inch line) by the right cornerback. On the next play, our running back took the ball into the end zone, and we eventually won the game.
Walking through the locker room after the game, I passed the coaching office, where all of the varsity coaches were assembled. One of the coaches called me into the office. “Hey, Ramos: I hear you almost scored,” Coach Richard Warren (Rich) Olson, our offensive coordinator, yelled. “Yeah,” I replied, and I shared with the coaches how I had been stopped on the 1-inch line. In a matter-of-fact way, Olson said, “Ramos, if you had really wanted it, you would have scored.” If looks could kill, Olson would immediately have turned into a pile of dust.
I spent the rest of that season, the next (senior) season, and many years thereafter secretly hating the words that had been spoken by Olson. At the same time, I also discovered that whether in the classroom, at the gym, on the running trail, or in the workplace, I started to put forth greater effort.
I spent more time studying, pushed through extra repetitions at the gym, ran through (not to) the invisible finish line of a run, and worked harder and longer at my job than I previously had. I also developed a more competitive spirit in all aspects of my life. Whether I would admit it to myself or not, in the back of my mind, ever present, were the words spoken by Olson.
Once I got to the point in life when I could handle the truth, I suddenly realized that Olson did not speak those words to belittle me, to put me down, or to demean me. Instead, Olson took the time for a teaching moment with a third-string player, planting the seed that would help propel a backup quarterback always to put forth his best effort, to leave nothing on the field, and to strive for excellence—win or lose.
As business owners, it’s important to be open and honest with your employees and always to seek their suggestions on what you and the company can do to improve, according to Joanne Sujansky, PhD, a management consultant (writing in Specialty Retail Report) who helps business growth and profitability by creating and sustaining what she calls a productive and profitable workplace.
The Retail Advocacy Group teaches retailers “to tell the truth—both good and bad.” Even if you need to deliver bad news or enforce standards, you will always get better results if you are candid, respectful, and truthful. John Morrish, writing for Management Today, reports that being honest is the starting point for running an honest organization. He quotes motivational speaker Larry Johnson: “The worst truth always beats the best lie.”
Olson (a former quarterback at Washington State University), after spending five years coaching high-school football, went on to coach at the college and professional levels. His college coaching career included California State University–Fresno, the University of Southern California, the University of Arkansas, Southern Methodist University, the University of Miami, and Arizona State University. In the NFL, Olson coached for the Seattle Seahawks, the Washington Redskins, the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Minnesota Vikings.
As for me, I decided that I was probably better suited for a career in journalism and publishing than for one as a quarterback. Not only was I better at journalism than at playing football, but there are a lot fewer injuries in journalism and publishing than there are in football. Along the way, any small amount of success that I have achieved in my personal and business life has been due, in part, to Olson and to his speaking the truth to me. Thanks, Coach!
Tony Ramos is the publisher/founder of Patio & Hearth Products Report.
Tony can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com