This story appears in FCA Magazine’s March/April 2018 issue.
"It is what we learn after we know it all that counts." — John Wooden
In my 30th year of coaching, I came upon a small booklet titled, "Captains — 7 Ways to Lead Your Team." Bruce Brown, the author and founder of Proactive Coaching, a company devoted to helping coaches create character-based team cultures, articulated in just 21 pages the seven insightful keys that could influence the culture of my team.
I purchased several copies and gave one to a player who would be a captain during her upcoming senior season. Much to my delight, she embraced the seven concepts.
The first key notion of the book is to "be the first to serve, and the last to be served." For years, similar to many other teams in any sport on any level, our team held the tradition of making freshmen carry the dirty laundry and clean the locker room. But my captain came to me with a proposal.
"Coach, we need to change something," she said. "Those are acts of service, and they should be the responsibility of those who have been here the longest. Serving our teammates needs to be viewed as a privilege."
Instead of thinking of herself in that moment, Taylor chose to serve her teammates.
In that moment, a cultural shift began. The notion of entitlement was replaced with servanthood.
First Peter 4:10 (NIV) says, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."
God gifted and instructed each of us to use our gifts to serve Him and others. You may not be the biggest, fastest or strongest, but you can still serve. Author Jon Gordon puts it this way: "You don't have to be great to serve, but you have to serve to be great."
At Ashland University, we won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2013. A couple years later, prior to the start of the 2014-15 season, I knew it would be my last. There was one senior and one junior who had been a part of the national championship team, and I revealed my retirement intentions to the senior, Taylor, before sharing with the rest of the team.
After all, Taylor and I were going to end our respective careers together.
That year, our young team improved throughout the season, eventually finding itself in the regional title matchup, one win away from the Elite Eight. We played our hearts out, but it just was not meant to be. My 35-year coaching career ended, as did Taylor's stellar playing career. After shaking hands with our opponents, Taylor and I walked off the court arm-in-arm. It was a bittersweet moment.
Soon, however, Taylor demonstrated to me what it had all been about.
As I started walking back from the postgame news conference, I saw my team approaching at the end of a long corridor. Taylor was in the middle of the group. As they got closer, I could see her carrying both bags of dirty laundry, one over each shoulder.
"Coach, we offered to help, but she wouldn't let us," another player told me. "Taylor said, 'Nope, this is my last chance to serve you as my teammates.'"
Taylor had just finished the final game of her career, but instead of thinking of herself in that moment, she chose to serve her teammates.
Two years later, when the freshmen and sophomores on my final team were juniors and seniors, Ashland went 37-0 and won another national championship, the program's second title in five seasons. Honoring their accomplishments, a statue was dedicated with this inscription: "This sculpture is a symbol of the spirit, faith and unselfish play of the team as depicted in the Divine Servant. 'Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.' Mark 9:35"
Jesus said He did not come to earth to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). As we strive to follow in His steps, may we, like Taylor, make serving others a daily priority.
About the author
Sue Ramsey's commitment to excellence is overshadowed only by her deep faith. In 35 years as a coach, including 20 as the head coach at Ashland University, Ramsey won the Division II national championship in 2013, following a runner-up finish in 2012. Ramsey's holistic approach to coaching helped her earn an induction into Athletes in Action's "Hall of Faith" in 2013. She also received the Carol Eckman Integrity in Coaching Award in 2012 and the FCA Kay Yow Heart of a Coach Award in 2011.