Tag Archives: football

Why the effort is always worth it – changed lives

Today was a proud moment. The VC Nation placed the AAA BC Football Championship banner in the rafters of the school. This past week has seen hundreds of alumni reach back to the school and share how the program has shaped them and their teammates. As a coach for the past 11 years and an alumni (94), the last week has affirmed what I long believed, the young men who play football at Vancouver College leave better men. To affirm this and to learn about our trans-formative community read Jon Conlin’s (03) speech from the banner raising  ceremony. To the young men from this years team, you made us all very proud!

My name is Jonathan Conlin, and I graduated from Vancouver College in 2003. I was a five year man on the football team and captained the 2002 Varsity squad to a championship game, only to fall short on the scoreboard. I have a passion for this program that has never wavered, even in the face of many heartbreaking losses in the years that followed. It is with great pride and honour that I am able to address the team, the coaching staff, and our faith and learning community after such a meaningful win.

First, to Coach Bernett and his staff. As I was walking out of Empire Field on Saturday night, basking in the glow of celebration, I felt compelled to impress upon you how proud your past players are of the team this year and all they have accomplished.

While the result was finally what we all hoped it would be, the one common observation from past years was how well the men carried themselves – on and off the field. The maturity, poise, and dominance which characterized their performance will never be forgotten, and the integrity found in our victory was a direct result of your influence on the players and the virtues that you instil through coaching.

The context of today’s story would be lost if I did not pause to recognize how painful it was for many of us to come so close to the glory that today’s team enjoys. Until Saturday, time had not assuaged the disappointment of so many finals losses. However, now that I have the hindsight of some years as an active member of our Alumni, I would like to share with you something else that time has revealed.

You will be celebrated for this win, and this season, and rightly so. You turned a group of young players into a team of champions, and showed this school and this community the very best of itself, a testament to the heights that can be reached with commitment and sacrifice.

But the true mark of your impact has never been measured exclusively, or even primarily, in wins and losses. The unparalleled passion and dedication which you have infused into this program teaches life lessons far outside the boundaries of O’Hagan Field. Your impact is seen in the accomplishments of our graduates, no matter how diverse – in the university and college students, in those involved in charitable and faith-based initiatives, in those entering the workforce, and in the Grey Cup rings and Olympic dreams.

VC challenges us to “leave here as better men”. You have been one of the most important parts of that development for me, and for so many whose voices I channel in this address. In that way, every year you have attained the highest success in your coaching and teaching careers.

On behalf of the alumni of both this football program and this school, we thank you. Not only for the gift you have given us of shared championship glory, but also for the gifts you have given us through your guidance, friendship and teaching. We will hold both very dearly for a lifetime.

To the men of the 2010 BC High School Football Champion Fighting Irish, on behalf of the many generations of VC players and alumni, we thank you as well. I hope you could feel our support as you took the field last Saturday, as we were with you every step of the way, whether that was from the stands, or watching on tv or the internet thousands of miles away. For so many of us whose football experience at VC was missing this crowning achievement, we share in your victory as a community united. Since our last championship football banner was lifted, we have all experienced challenges from opponents far outside the realm of athletics. But as you did on Saturday, we overcame great obstacles to emerge victorious. Your win is fitting testament to the resiliency of this entire community.

By now you have experienced no shortage of people telling you how important this win is to them. Why? Each alumnus who could’ve filled my place on this podium might give you a slightly different answer, but there are common themes. To understand why is to realize….

THAT when you attend this school and walk these halls, you are not simply transacting with an institution for a high school diploma, but are part of a movement much bigger than any one person or any one year – united by the memories of our common progression in academic, artistic, spiritual and athletic endeavours, arriving here as boys, but leaving here as men, in the mould of Blessed Edmund Rice.

THAT when you wear the Purple and Gold and represent this school, you are ambassadors for a fraternity of past players who enrich this program with their collective support and emotion. We believe this is due to the many special things about Fighting Irish Football. It is special that brothers and cousins, fathers and sons and uncles and nephews share in the experience of playing football for VC. It is special that so many former players return from colleges and universities to help coach the next generation. It is special, too, that mothers and sisters and grandmothers and aunts care and work tirelessly, year after year, to make the program something to be proud of. And, it is special that the Bernett family, Rick Gazzola, Bruce Jagger, Dr. Koss, the assistant coaches, and countless others choose to devote days, nights, weekends and summers to helping make the players and the program better.

THAT our past losses were difficult to bear, and we carried the pain of not having a banner each and every year to do justice to our commitment and pride. BUT those losses do not define us. Rather, they form only one part of our collective experience, intensifying our unity and affirming our commitment to the support of future years. Because we know that for every past loss we endured, there are memories of Archbishops’ Cups, team meetings, road trips, days in the bunker, film sessions and final reps on squats – each of which enriching our lives and ensuring a lifelong connection to the men that we bled beside on the fields of battle.

AND THAT, when the clock finally reached zero and you hoisted that trophy that has for so long eluded us – you were also lifting the spirits of an entire VC Nation that has been waiting so patiently for the time when we could stand in unison as champions and rejoice out of the undeniable sensation that at that moment, one of the highest in this school’s history, we were all one in victory – past, present and future.

It is in the echo of these words that I turn to the future of VC football. You all inherit a program at an apex of accomplishment. Grab hold of this momentum. Feel this pride. Use it to write your own story in our shared book. And know that no matter how your seasons end, we as Alumni will be there, and will, as always, be forever faithful.

Happy Day Oh Happy Day


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Genius is not required for great leadership – learn how

I love the game of football and I am not the only one. I work with a group of men who feel the same way. We love the process, the practice, the games and the social aspects. For those who really love the game it is the purpose that young men find in the game that really motivates us and as coaches we have the opportunity to impart values, work ethic and show young men what love looks like.  The touchdowns are fun but it is the changed lives that create passion.

Learning how to deal with disappointment and victory offers coaches the chance to grow with their team. We dedicate countless hours with game plans, practice plans, breaking down film and professional development to be the best. This desire comes from the belief that we can win and that will change lives. We are not that smart but we work hard, we are organized and we have passion for what we do.

I write this blog to share the leadership lessons I learn on my journey as a consultant, a coach, father and husband. I have a belief that good leadership is good leadership. With this belief, I go as often as I can to the annual University of Washington Huskies football clinic. Some of the most inspiring and insightful leaders I have met and listened to have been at this clinic. Some of these leaders were 40 season high school football coaches, legendary college coaches and NFL greats.

This year, a former NFL coach made an impression on me. Jim Mora coached both the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons. He is a ‘loose cannon’. He is the type of speaker that makes you nervous, like the nervousness you get when you watch the Office television show. You really don’t know what he is going to say. He knows this and warns you for this eventuality. This is one of the reasons he is a former coach. So with his lack of brain filter how did he become a head coach in a competitive profession – the answer is he has some great leadership practices.

  1. He sets the big picture for his players in terms they can understand. His premise for all his drills and systems are used to increase turnovers for other teams and reduce their own. He has the stats – 62% of teams with a +1 turnover ratio will win. This is the focus around which all other activities are based. We will win when we cause turnovers and when we protect the football. To do this he has to encourage specific player and coach behaviours.
  2. He clearly defines what bad behaviour is and what good behaviour is. Bad behaviours are ‘Loafs.’ He breaks this out into observable activities like accelerating out of every move on the football field. That acceleration is termed a burst. The absence of this burst is call a’ Loaf ‘. Good behaviours have themes. Competitions are created to have winners and losers for protecting the ball. If you cause a big play or turn the ball over it is acknowledged.
  3. When everything is defined it can be measured. The team films and counts everything they do. This information is aggregated and tracked individually, by units and as a team. They track and trend and relate those measurements back to what they do. In business planning terms their outputs.
  4. When measurement happens accountability is possible. Football teams watch a lot of film and everyday Mora’s teams will get the ‘Loafs’ posted by player number for all to see on the film room door. Along with the Loaf, great plays are celebrated and posted.

Players know why they are doing what they are doing, they know what is expected of them, they know it is being tracked and they know that it will be reported. Now think about your work day – can you say these same things. These practices drive performance and yet in business the planning and measurement budgets may be the first things to be cut. I think we can all learn a little from a fired NFL coach.

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Being an effective leader – Fair does not need to be equal

Many parents I know try to treat their children the same. Christmas presents should cost the same and if one child has a hockey lesson the other should get equal opportunity in another pursuit. This seems only fair. Is this common sense cultural norm good for our kids, our work teams and our organizations?

I have a few clients that use the survey question “The same rules are applied to everyone equally.” The result of a negative finding is a dialogue that ends with “Of course they are not applied to everyone equally, the situations are different.” The result is managers become more aware of how they do not treat everyone equally. Frontline employees regularly agree that rules should be applied differently. They recognize that we are all different and our collective goal is the point. We are not trying to achieve equality unless it is a means to our end.

I have coached football for eleven years at a high school in Vancouver. We coach football. That does not change. Our offense and defense have minor changes each year. Our team is trained with incremental improvements in content and style. Our boys are the same age and in the same school setting. This year, I was reminded once again that the individual players change everything. Creating a high level of performance changes every year with the players. As coaches, we need to get to know our players as individuals and as a group.

Kendra watching the post game prayer.

We have the same team rules for everyone. These rules are simple and universal. They cover the obvious things (i.e. don’t be late). Some rules are never used and others have to be frequently applied. When applying rules we must ask ourselves, what is best for this person and what is best for the team? Our goal is to transfer our discipline to their intrinsic motivation. We desire every player to submit to the rules so that our team can function and perform. To get there, our players are on individual journeys and this requires a variety of interventions to progress. Our principles and rules do not change; however our ability to achieve growth collectively depends on our ability to apply the rules with wisdom and grace.

The process our team takes to be self determined has multiple stages. We seek to create a community around the common goal of winning a championship. We start soon after the ending of the previous season with off-season training sessions. Before we get to training camp the next year we have two off site events, one is a tournament and one is a football camp. These activities work on football skills and build personal relationships.

When fall camp starts we have a two day retreat where we facilitate a team charter. This charter is created by the players to determine who and how they want to operate for the season. At the end of this session we have a ceremony to celebrate the official formation of our team. This year we had each player sign an axe handle as a commitment to themselves and each other. At the end of the regular season, the handle was awarded to the player that most resembled the attitudes and behaviours the players decided they wanted to achieve.

Charter created by the players during unity camp

Rules are the norms we aim to follow. We need to work together so we can perform. The rules are not the purpose and should only act to facilitate our growth and protect our ability to operate. At work we need a process that enables employees to intrinsically apply rules. Fairness comes from our responsibility to each other and our collective goals. Applying rules need to facilitate individual and collective success. How are you preparing your people to do this?

Tony Dungy in his biography talks about having to treat his players differently. It is a good read and has some memorable quotes.

The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it. VISION will ignite the fire of passion that fuels our commitment to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to achieve excellence. Only VISION allows us to transform dreams of greatness into the reality of achievement through human action. VISION has no boundaries and knows no limits. Our VISION is what we become in life.

Tony Dungy


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