Monday, March 26, 2007

Tar Heel "Blue"

Yesterday's game between Carolina and Georgetown was hugely exciting the first half, with my Tar Heels showing what looked like dominance, but then the air came out of the ball for my team the second half. As Coach Roy Williams said in a press conference afterward, the highs in basketball competition are never as high as the lows are low! Did he ever get that right!

To say there was great gnashing of teeth at my house over the loss of a game it looked like we had won, is putting it mildly.

Over the years, since my childhood really in North Carolina, I've followed the Tar Heels with great enthusiasm.

A few years ago, when my two older sons were in high school, they got to attend Basketball Camp at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. My sister Beverly, at the time, gave me a book I've enjoyed titled "The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith" by David Chadwick, a former player. Smith is the icon of coaching at Carolina and is the man who gave Roy Williams his chance to become an assistant coach and started him on his own great career.

Leadership principle #10 in Chadwick's study of Coach Dean Smith is called "Making Failure Your Friend." Chadwick recalls visiting Coach Smith to inform him of his plans to deal with this subject and I think to get the o.k.

As Chadwick visited with his former coach and mentor, Dean Smith recalled a particular day in practice when a player named Matt Wenstrom did something wrong, and then started to pout.
Coach Smith went over to him and asked, "How do you handle mistakes in life?"

Wenstrom quickly recited the thought for the day from the practice plan. "When faced with failure, recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it!"

Coach said to the players, "If you can learn any one thing in life, learn that! Learn from your mistakes and move on."

There's an old saying that "You don't drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there!"

As David Chadwick remarks, Coach Smith's career was marked by many failures. But he continued to learn from them. He steadfastly refused to stay in the water and drown. Instead, he learned how to become a fantastic swimmer.

As I think back on this Sunday's game, it was a failure in many ways. Fans of Tar Heels basketball could be tempted to drown in our sorrows. But the reason I've long admired Carolina Basketball is because of the leadership and character of people like Dean Smith and his successor Roy Williams.

I still remember the story of Dean Smith's commitment to equality and racial justice. It was 1959 when Coach Smith and his pastor took an African-American seminary student and sat down in a Chapel Hill whites-only restaurant. It was the first step toward serious integration in Chapel Hill. When asked about it, Coach Smith simply said, "It was the right thing to do."

That's really what Tar Heel Blue means to me and many others. There will be other days to celebrate victory, but there's also something to be learned from "making friends with failure."


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