Gilman High School in Maryland has an unusual and highly successful football team. And its coaches have a few unusual rules, according to this excerpt from Jeffrey Marx’ book, Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood.
"I expect greatness out of you,” [head coach] Biff [Poggi] once told the boys. “And the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people's lives.”
How would the boys make the most impact? Almost anything Biff ever talked about could be fashioned into at least a partial answer to that question. For one thing, they would make an impact by being inclusive rather than exclusive.
"The rest of the world will always try to separate you,” Biff said. “That's almost a law of nature – gonna happen no matter what, right? The rest of the world will want to separate you by race, by socioeconomic status, by education levels, by religion, by neighborhood, by what kind of car you drive, by the clothes you wear, by athletic ability. You name it – always gonna be people who want to separate by that stuff. Well, if you let that happen now, then you'll let it happen later. Don't let it happen. If you're one of us, then you won't walk around putting people in boxes. Not now. Not ever. Because every single one of them has something to offer. Every single one of them is special. Look at me, boys.”
They were looking.
"We are a program of inclusion,” Biff said. “We do not believe in separation.”
The boys would also make an impact by breaking down cliques and stereotypes, by developing empathy and kindness for all.
"What's empathy?” Biff asked them. “Feeling what?”
"Feeling what the other person feels,” said senior Napoleon Sykes, one of the team captains, a small but solid wide receiver and hard-hitting defensive back who had already accepted a scholarship to play college football at Wake Forest.
"Exactly right,” Biff said. “Not feeling for someone, but with someone. If you can put yourself in another man's shoes, that's a great gift to have for a lifetime.”
That was the whole idea behind Biff and Joe's ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy – teammate or not – eat lunch by himself.
"You happen to see another boy off by himself, go sit with him or bring him over to sit with you and your friends,” Biff said. “I don't care if you know him or not. I don't care if he's the best athlete in the school or the so-called nerd with his head always down in the books. You go get him and you make him feel wanted, you make him feel special. Simple, right? Well, that's being a man built for others.”
Ultimately, Biff said, the boys would make the greatest overall impact on the world – would bring the most love and grace and healing to people – by constantly basing their thoughts and actions on one simple question: What can I do for you?
"Not, what can I do to get a bigger bank account or a bigger house?” Biff said. “Not, what can 1 do to get the prettiest girl? Not, what can I do to get the most power or authority or a better job title? Not, what can I do for me? The only question that really matters is this: How can I help you today?”
Biff and Joe would constantly elaborate on all of this as the season progressed.
"Because in case you haven't noticed yet, we're training you to be different,” Biff said. “If we lose every game of the year, go oh-and-ten on the football field, as long as we try hard, I don't care. You learn these lessons, and we're ten-and-oh in the game of life.”
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Truth is...The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Jesus - Matthew 23:11-12)