What if the number of active and engaged citizens determined the wealth of a nation? What if as a people, we celebrated discipline, commitment and character building? What if we moved from glorifying accumulation of great wealth, to heralding those who make a difference in our lives?
This blog is devoted to health promotion. What is that? In a broad sense anything remotely related to the health and wellness of individuals. Each and every individual needs support on the path to wellbeing. Leaders determine the depth and breadth of our journey’s success.
“Your Dad was my coach from 1965-68, He was a great man and I owe him a lot, he made me who I am today, he made a man out of me. He has been my mentor all my life, he kept me out trouble in high school, and I have had a very successful life because of him, I will miss your Dad.”
Terry Good, former player and retired Police Colonel
I’m not sure at what age I realized the impact my father created. There is a quote from an Alton, Illinois newspaper, at age 4, where I express “my duty” to cheer for my Dad’s team. However, one thing is for sure, the deep sense of pride and respect, has never waned.
As the only daughter, it was inevitable I would be Daddy’s little girl. Cliché, yes, but wholeheartedly embraced. However, “The Coach’s Daughter” would be the role to chisel my spirit, ingrain the power of discipline, and unveil the art of leadership.
I’ve grown to appreciate and value that inspirational leaders are rare. To have had the privilege to know one is truly humbling. To some it’s pure nostalgia. To others and myself, the tangible effects of my father’s leadership remain vibrant today. Because at the end of the day, it’s about what you do and not what you say.
“When you reach your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, you do have some time to reflect back on those individuals who made an impact in your life. Some will call a teacher or professor, some a priest, minister or rabbi who played a major role in shaping our young lives. I do not think it an exaggeration that hundreds of alumni would vote Coach Hanks as the most influential person in their high school years, excluding family. His record demonstrates he was a great coach and a great man. I never met anyone who did not have great respect for the Coach. He was a father figure to the young men who played for him and a role-model for everyone.”
Steven Kirsch, former team manager and practicing attorney at law
Leadership that moves people
I envision an inspiring leader as one who teaches skills for life. A role model par excellence, at home, at work and in the community. A leader capable of rallying a whole community with passion, purpose and play.
In order for individuals to lead healthier lives, they need to acquire the habits and skills that enable them to meet the challenge. Simply providing information, the latest study or worse even, telling them the “what” but not the “how” in wellbeing is destined to fail.
“A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.”
Through my father’s leadership emerged strong, energetic teams, a passionate, engaged community and individuals equipped with habits for life. I believe it deserves consideration, and readily applies to the field of health promotion.
Coach Hanks’ toolbox
1. Build from the ground up
Developing a successful high school basketball team in the middle of nowhere, specifically Quincy, Illinois meant play with the cards you are dealt. There are no opportunities to recruit and hire outside the geographic region. This meant if you want talent in high school you have to start earlier.
My father began a summer camp that was four weeks long every summer of his high school coaching career, 20+ years. Kids from all over the city came and received instruction on the fundamentals of basketball. Hundreds of boys (it was a different era) passed through the doors of the gymnasium.
Not a single child was turned away. If your child or family could not afford tuition, scholarships were available or tuition waived. For many who would not go on to play formal basketball in school, this summer event still remained a highlight of their youth.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Yes, how do you get to Carnegie Hall applies here. Acknowledging that talent may or may not be available in a given year, practice was the option of choice. Not simply as the default, but my father believed if you had passion and practiced relentlessly, you could learn the game.
Certainly, those with more talent would achieve higher marks. However, those willing to practice not only during the season, but all summer long, would make great strides. They might not be a star player or state champion, but their efforts would be rewarded, on a personal level, as well as a team level.
Practice also meant showing your own initiative. Not just in terms of organized practices, but in open gym and alternative trainings, like strength training or running. During the summer the gymnasium was opened every evening. Open gym was free for anyone in the city to show up and play ball.
3. Community involvement is integral to success
Understanding the complex political scene of any job is a full-time occupation. As a former WW2 Marine my father fully understood hierarchy, rank and order to life. He also knew the value in relationships and building bridges.
He believed a supportive community was paramount to success. Therefore, he personally reached out to all corners of the community, businesses, board of education, arts organizations, local fire and police groups and of course his close friends. He and my mother were active in a host of civic activities.
This personal and professional participation demonstrated commitment to the community. The players and all connected to the team followed their lead. Certainly, the fact that the Quincy teams were an exciting and exhilarating bunch to watch created the spark. It was community involvement that fueled the flames.
4. Have a positive can do attitude
Attitude was everything to my Dad. He honestly believed a negative attitude reduced the potential not only to win games, but to succeed in life. He understood the precariousness of sports, that in fact perception is reality.
If you perceive it’s hard, it for sure will be. If you believe you are capable of playing your best, over coming the odds, then yes, victory is possible. This was not a fake attitude, like a yellow smiley face, but an overall sense of energy and willingness to take action.
This positive attitude was tied to the belief that exercise or outdoor play could cure anything. It sounds very old-fashioned but it’s still how I exist today. A perfect example was the day my mother passed away, I turned exactly to what I had learned as a small child.
I left the hospital, went home, and took a run. I knew I could run, cry and she would still be gone when I returned to the house. However, I also believed that it would give me the mental strength to handle what ever came my way.
5. Discipline is a muscle, use it or lose it
My father believed that small habits made a difference. The discipline you learned and practiced at home, parlayed over into all aspects of life. Simple tasks, clear the table after every meal, Saturday morning participating in house chores before going off to meet friends, writing thank you notes for gifts received, breakfast is non-negotiable and homework preceded anything social.
From a team perspective disciplined habits were as important as playing the game of basketball. This covered the gamut from showing up on time to practice, to exhibiting a respectful manner of addressing teachers and elders, as well as the maintenance of good scholastic standards.
Discipline is a lifetime skill once acquired. Given the vast array of careers individuals have pursued after working with my father demonstrates its effectiveness. A brief resume includes business owners, construction workers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, policemen, corrections officers, preachers, coaches, teachers and many more.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this is wealth. Creating citizens who contribute to the greater good are invaluable. I sympathize with individuals who have never had the guidance or experience to appreciate the power of small habits. It is this void that needs to be filled and quickly.
6. Be competitive but be a team player
As a coach, one is going to see the gamut of talent from utterly no skills to exceptional talent. Something I learned to appreciate early in life was that “talent is only good if you use it.” And unless you are a solo player, the team counts more than you individually.
In the game of basketball, my father was as excited by a player’s “assists” score as well as by the number of total points scored. This same recognition of team play applied to the little kids at summer camp. There were three important trophies in the program, most improved, most valuable and the “camp award.”
The latter being the award for the person who gave 100% consistently with gusto. They may not have had exceptional talent, but their energy, hard work and desire to make a difference was inspirational.
In the end it all comes down to trust. How we relate, communicate and eventually take action towards another revolves around trust. This requires honesty and humility.
I learned my father gained trust with his players and colleagues by being truthful, even at times when it might be painful. Whether about their level of talent, an attitude towards racism or acceptance of defeat, my father’s position was clear and straightforward.
Trust also demands humbleness. Two examples on this come to mind. At one point my father was in the running for a position at The University of Illinois. He did not receive the job.
His disappointment was palpable. However, in his usual manner, he picked himself up and dove right into making the best of his current situation. He continued to put 100% into his commitment with his team and moreover the community.
The second example being about his experience in WW2. As a Marine Corps sergeant, he never talked or bragged about his efforts. Very late in his life, through research by a school friend we came to know that his unit saw some of the roughest fighting in the South Pacific. For my father, this was part of the job, what he signed up for, and not something to boast about.
Leadership that leads by example. There is no need to explain, defend or analyze.
Why is this important?
My intention with this blog is to encourage simple, fun and inspiring concepts in health promotion, back to square one. In my opinion much can be learned from past leaders who have demonstrated success.
Obviously timing is everything, what occurred in a small town years ago might seem ancient. On the other hand, many towns and organizations are seeking solutions to create healthier communities. This is a simple reminder of tools that promote ownership, commitment and character building are relevant today.
All of the above toolbox components can be applied to any health promotion program. They can for that matter to be a mantra for a household. It takes determination and discipline, no doubt about it.
It takes leaders who care about making a difference. On this Father’s Day I pay tribute to a super Dad who continues to be a model of inspirational leadership.
We truly miss you!