Tony Robichaux was a legendary collegiate baseball coach upon his passing in 2019. His teams at McNeese St and Louisiana won numerous conference titles, well over 1000 games, and made over a dozen trips to the NCAA Championships, including a College World Series in 2000. The other day I came across a quote from Robichaux that stopped me in my tracks, because it reflected something I have been thinking and speaking about quite often lately: what is my higher purpose than winning? 

When asked why he was so deeply invested in not simply developing great baseball players, but great people, Robichaux replied:

“I don’t want to teach just baseball, because I don’t want to face the Lord one day and He tells me ‘I sent you over 600 boys for you to turn into men. I see you turned them into baseball players, but you didn’t turn them into men.’”

Robichaux’s connection to this higher purpose than winning led to numerous wins, but it led to something much greater: positive influence. And that is what I want to talk about today.

As countless athletes, parents and coaches grapple with the uncertainty of COVID-19, many of us are feeling lost, losing motivation, and while we feel busier than ever, we may be accomplishing very little. I have spoken to many parents working from home – or not working at all – just trying to hold it all together. I have talked to coaches who are inundated with free webinars and coaching tools, yet feel no purpose to all their time spent online. And in conversations with numerous youth, high school and collegiate athletes, I continue to sense frustration, uncertainly, dwindling motivation, and a massive longing to get back together with their teammates. 

So what are we all to do?

Last week on the podcast, I was joined by Ben Freakley, the Head of Mental Performance for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball. We spoke to this very subject, and when I asked him how we all can be a touch more focused and purposeful with our time, he suggested we all ask ourselves a simple question:

What will I be most proud of when this is all over and we return to sports? 

What a fantastic question. What a lighthouse question, one that will guide us and help us stay on course. What a fantastic way to ponder our higher purpose than winning. Here are my thoughts.

For Coaches: 

  • Connect beyond sport: This is our time to shine, to build relationships, and to move from transactional to transformational. Sure, engage with your athletes and do some physical and technical training virtually, but go beyond that. I have had some of my players show up to our meetings with their new guitar they just started playing, or sharing a recording of a rap song with their team. Some have made trick shot videos, and others have used this time to do good community service. Learn about them and connect with their life  outside of sports.
  • Invest in your own development: instead of simply staying busy by watching countless webinars or training sessions, how about find an area of yours that needs improvement and purposely invest. Take a free online sports psychology class. Take a deep dive on motor learning and skill acquisition. Take an online class and get some mentorship and advice on your coaching (we are offering another 6 Week online class starting May 19, add your email here to learn more. Our friend Mark Bennett from PDS Coaching is doing some similar great work click here to learn more)
  • Read/Listen to a great book: I am working through two amazing books right now that will massively improve the way I communicate in my coaching and have made me think deeply about teaching and learning. These books are Coaching Athletes to be Their Best: Motivational Interviewing in Sports by Stephen Rollnick and Jonathon Fader and Nick Winkleman’s brand new book The Language of Coaching: The Art and Science fo Teaching Movement. Both are mindblowing! 

For Parents:

  • Reconnect with Family: Invest the time in nightly family dinners, board games, and spending quality time as a family. Now that we are off the youth sports hamster wheel, with no practices to drive to or out of town games to figure out this weekend, create some family memories, and take the time to ask yourself “Do I want to get back on the hamster wheel?”
  • Learn something new with your kids: For the past five weeks, my 12 and 14 year old have each been in charge of dinner one night a week. Every Sunday they must open up a cookbook, find a recipe (no chicken nuggets unless they are gourmet chicken nuggets), give me the ingredients for my weekly shopping trip, and then prepare that meal for the family with mom or dad assisting. They are learning to follow a recipe, cook their dishes so that they all finish at the same time, and appreciate how much work mom and dad put in to have food on the table every evening.
  • Model resilience: Times are really tough right now, whether we are working or not working. Our kids are looking at us to see how we face these challenges, how we struggle and push through, and how our greater purpose helps us to overcome many obstacles. Our children will hear what we say right now, but they will remember what we do!
  • Be vulnerable: Our children are getting a front row seat right now to watch us work and interact 24/7. We will definitely screw up, lose our cool, make mistakes, and struggle. What an amazing opportunity to share those moments with our kids and talk about how we learn from these things. 
  • Be patient: None of us have experienced the social and physical isolation that our kids are experiencing right now. None of us have been separated from classmates and teammates, or had school turn into virtual classrooms in which the teachers are figuring out how it works at the same time as the students. I have seen joy, pain, excitement, frustration and so much more the last few weeks from my kids, and I think patience, empathy and a steady hand is what they need the most right now. 

For Athletes: 

  • Find your why and reconnect with your love of sport: remember that first time you played, that little boy or little girl who fell in love with your sport? Reconnect with her! Fall back in love with the process. Some of you need an inspirational book, and some need time away to reassess. Whatever it is, look inside and see that this is just a part of the journey, and that journey is not about scholarships or trophies. You are much more than that. 
  • Be healthy and train smart: sleep as much as you can, eat well, train hard and smart. Great athletic performance is not about maximizing everything, but optimizing everything. No matter what your sport, I can promise you that you will never have a better time to do yoga or other movement training to build flexibility, suppleness, balance, and strength. Be ready when the time comes to step back out there.
  • Be a teammate who gives: reach out and connect with your teammates. Check in on those who may be struggling. Drop someone a quick text to say that you miss them and appreciate them. Set up a training challenge to inspire others. Ask your coach “what can I give right now to help my teammates?” Be a servant leader!
  • Invest in your Inner Game: Every game is played on a five-inch field between your ears. Once you realize that, so much else will start to make sense. This is a great time to start a daily meditation habit, and learn about visualization and mindfulness. I suggest starting with Headspace. It is free for 14 days and only $9.99 a year for students. It will change your play, and it will change your life. 

One day, this will be over. Life, and sports, may not be the same, but we will return to play. And when we do, we will look back at this time with either fondness or regret. We will see it as a waste, or a critical period of growth. I truly believe we all want to grow and improve right now, but may not know how to make that happen. And if that is the case, then simply answer the simple question my friend Ben Freakley posed to me a few weeks back: 

What will I be most proud of when we return to play? 

Please share your goals, hopes and dreams below.


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