Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why Coach K Should Receive the Laetare Medal


The University of Notre Dame’s 168th Commencement Ceremony will take place on May 19, 2013 in Notre Dame Stadium.  Among the pomp and circumstance, addresses and honorary degrees is an award that is considered the oldest and most prestigious award given to American Catholics--the Laetare Medal.  This award recognizes outstanding service of a person or group to the Church and society; their genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity. A committee must decide among several nominees and the winner is announced on Laetare Sunday (the third Sunday of Lent).  And I learned recently that every year, someone nominates Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Looking at the impressive list of past recipients--Dorothy Day, Sarge Shriver, Sister Helen Prejean and even Martin Sheen, one might ask how or why Coach K should be considered. Thanks to a conversation with Duke basketball manager, Scott Lamson I know why.

As the sports editor for Genesis, the alumni magazine of St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, I am privy to talking to our alumni about what they do with their lives, opportunities they have had and lessons they have learned.  Many of these conversations have revealed a simple but uplifting truth: dreams do come true.  And that is exactly why I decided to get in touch with SI alum, Scott Lamson.

As reported in the most recent issue

Lamson first dreamt of attending Duke University when, at 8, he saw the men’s basketball team win the 2001 national championship.  He hoped to study at Duke and join the Blue Devil team coached by Coach Michael Krzyzewksi. 
While most 8 year olds may dream like this for a few years, Lamson stayed faithful to his vision.  He found his way onto the hardwood of Cameron Stadium when he landed the job as manager of the men’s varsity basketball team during the fall of his freshman year.   
“When I shared my dream with my sister Kiristie, she told me she could see me at Duke.  Because of her encouragement, I sought out SI.  I knew it was one of the best schools in the Bay Area.  I took challenging classes and spent a lot of late nights studying, which wasn’t always easy or fun, but I kept my focus on my goal.  My counselor even told me I needed “Plan B.”  Fortunately, the hard work paid off.    
Upon winning the 2012 Masters, Bubba Watson said what is one of my favorite quotes "I never got this far in my dreams."  That same truth applies to Scott.  Who would have thought this 8-year old boy would one day not only attend Duke but manage its basketball team?!  Perhaps those closest to Scott did.  
When I asked Scott to comment on what he had learned from one of the winningest coaches in the history of the game, he said “I am grateful for the many life lessons I have learned from Coach Krzyzewksi about leadership and more. Probably the biggest one is the importance of accountability.  He constantly instills the importance in each person taking responsibility for the work that they do, mistakes and all." 

I was fascinated by this culture of accountability.  Scott said fellow managers, coaches and players readily say "that was my bad.  I messed up."  Others own up to what they did do and didn't do.  It is a clear expectation from the top--we are responsible for ourselves and the impact is has on the team.  We can makes things wrong, but we can also make them right.
When I thought more about this culture, I closed my eyes and imagined what my classroom would be like if this culture was the norm.  I thought of how many tough conversations I have had with my students because they didn't take responsibility for the choices they made or because they curbed the truth rather than admit to their mistake.  I thought of the trust that is broken in the process and my frustration because I know it doesn't have to be that way.  I have students that do hold themselves accountable for what is right. I thought of the disappointment I feel when someone I care about doesn't take responsibility for their word.  I remembered the appreciation I do when someone does.


I thought of the teacher evaluations that my students complete and the administrative evaluations that my colleagues and I complete each year.  These forms are totally anonymous. They are meant to support and affirm and yet they can be downright scary to read.  Having taught for 13 years, I know my strengths and yes, I know my weaknesses.  But I thought of how different I feel when I read a challenging remark from a student who has voluntarily signed the form versus the one from the student who did not.  It takes courage to be honest with your teacher or administrator about what they do, but it's critically important.  A culture of accountability says "I will sign my name  because I respect you and I respect my word."

A culture of accountability means that we hold one another to a higher standard.  It is not one that forbids mistakes.  No, it acknowledges our shortcomings and failings but it also says the only way WE win is when you and I each do our part.  Scott would agree.  He said "Coach K
 also knows how to delegate—one person can’t do it all.  He uses the image of the fist to remind us of that truth.  A hand with five fingers spread apart isn’t strong.  However, when they combine to make a fist, it is.” 

The Laetare Medal is given at commencement to say to Notre Dame graduates, we have formed you in your time here and we want to hold up a model of who you can be.  It says that Catholic men and women live their lives in such a way that Coach Mike Krzyzewski has three national championships, an Olympic gold medal, a foundation--the Emily Krzyzewski Center.  It is a place that seeks to "inspire economically disadvantaged students to dream big, act with character and purpose, strive for academic excellence, and reach their highest potential as future citizen leaders."  But he's also made sure that his primary life's work--coaching Duke basketball is a place where athletes and coaches are responsible and accountable for themselves and what they do.  

Imagine a nation, party and church where this culture was the norm?  Looking at Duke basketball my only conclusion is that it is a culture where we would win.  Excellence would prevail.  Talent and teamwork go hand in hand. I won't go so far as to compare Coach K with some of the men and women who have tirelessly given their lives to the poor or amended government programs to support the marginalized but I do think a culture of accountably and responsibility is related to such issues. I'm glad he's on that list...sounds medal worthy to me...

Photo Credits
Coach K coaching

Laetare Medal
Winning

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