Late in his coaching tenure at UNC there was some hushed speculation regarding whether the game might be passing Coach Dean Smith by. I’m ashamed to admit that I occasionally entertained that possibility. Now I know differently.
As UNC and Tar Heel nation work to recover from a painful chapter in our storied history; as we reflect on the professionalization of college athletics and the rampant self-aggrandizement inherent in the “brand of me” & “an army of one;” it seems clear to me now. The game wasn’t passing him by, we were losing our way.
Now, I know we can’t go back to some naively idealized version of the good ‘ole days. But it is certainly possible to reclaim & recommit to values & virtues that have always served us well beyond the court or field. Let’s remember that sports are a powerful means to an end; not the end of wealth or fame although that comes for a very elite few. It is the means to the end of teamwork, determination, hustle, learning to celebrate with humility and deal with disappointment & failure with grace. It is a means for developing perseverance and resilience and a means for camaraderie & connection. It is a means for learning to be coachable while also honing your leadership skills.
Sports are indeed a great laboratory for learning how to win…in life. And Dean Smith kept his eye on that ball; that winning in life is more important than winning on the court and that winning in life is about so much more than money or immediate success. Winning in life is about relationships – about making a difference; whatever difference one can make…and then pointing back to whoever helped you score.
Despite our frequent desire to claim otherwise, there are no self-made people. Dean Smith understood, taught & modelled that so much better than most. Whether you are a Tar Heel or not, you’re part of a team. You have a role to play. And, like it or not, we need each other.
My coaching will likely never take place on anything bigger than a little league field. But I hope that the way I coach and parent and mentor and live will reflect much of how Dean Smith coached; will reflect the Carolina Way which at its core is simply a way that leads to humility, growth, the intimate connections of community, generosity, and meaning from this precious gift we call life.