Leadership Begins in the Cradle… and Never Ends
On December 14, 2012, our country experienced another mass murder, this time at a small school in Newtown, Connecticut. In the time since so many innocent lives were lost, we have been reflecting on the role of violence in our culture. For many, the emotions are still raw – we continue to pray for the victims’ families and to wonder where we go from here.
Violence is a way of life for our children. Our society extols violent behavior and desensitizes young minds to its horrific consequences in myriad ways. Every day, vitriolic social media posts, television shows, video games, movies, music and the vindictive rhetoric spewed by some of our self-styled loudmouth “experts” reinforce the idea that violent retribution is normal behavior, even a birthright. Our culture repeatedly teaches, “If someone offends you, get even, hurt them. Reject them, hate them, separate from them and ridicule them.” This is especially true of young males. I know – I have been with them on a daily basis since I was one of them. We are dealing with a virtual tsunami of negativity, and we have not begun to understand its long-term consequences.
The outpouring of love and sympathy from across our nation for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre was and continues to be overwhelming. This is a good thing, but it is not nearly enough. I trust that each of us has rededicated ourselves to making a difference in the lives of young people before yet another tragedy. Each of us is responsible. Every one of us has a “catalytic capacity” to change the lives of those around us for the better.
When I was 15, my high school football coach asked me to become a summer day-camp counselor. In a few weeks I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I would work with young people. There was a sense of wonder at the children’s energy – it was fun, and I really did love those little fellows. I am considerably older now, and believe it or not, I still hear from many of them. I still work with young people. I still love them, all of them.
As for competitive sports, we can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Listen to what your child’s coach is saying. Watch how he or she conducts business and the lessons that are conveyed. Carefully consider what is pounded into the young mind of each player, and know that ultimately, for better or worse, most of these players will live out what they were taught.
For balanced adults who care about our generation’s legacy, understand that there is most likely a young person counting on you. What is your life’s message? What do young people sense from you? Do you live out kindness, generosity, personal accountability and grace?
I have seen single moms work miracles with their sons. There are grandmothers and even great-grandmothers who raise wonderful young people against all odds. When two or more parents are involved, including a father or other positive male role model, the likelihood of positive results increases exponentially. My experience is not scientific, but is based on the thousands of young people I’ve coached – most of whom were young men. Most were student-athletes. Most come from socioeconomically challenged backgrounds.
Leadership begins early, and lasts forever. You do not have to be a parent or a coach. Sometimes all it takes is one act of kindness. It is never too late to be the difference in another’s life.
A former Super Bowl and All-Pro lineman in the National Football League, Bill Curry was the head football coach at Georgia State University from its inaugural season in 2010 through 2012. He is a Distinguished Executive Fellow at the Robinson College, and his column is a regular feature of State of Business.