The influence of my high school football coach on my life

Pics of Coach Beal from today's ceremony. . . taken by my former teammate, Kevin Rogers.

Pics of Coach Beal from today’s ceremony. . . taken by my former teammate, Kevin Rogers.

I woke up this morning only to find out via Facebook that my football coach from high school is retiring this week.  Yes, I had several coaches, but only one who I still think about.  All of my coaches were an important part of my high school years, but there is only one who I refer to as a major “life influence” even to this day.

Coach Christopher Beal followed my class grade up the ranks.  He was my primary coach for my 8th grade, junior varsity, and high school football teams.  It was an incredible opportunity to have this stability in my life during such a tumultuous time period of personal development.

Coach Beal (though he told me to call him Chris a number of years ago, I will NEVER be able to do that) was a mentor well before I knew what that word meant.  He was a hero prior to my being able to place that label on someone in my direct life.

Today I cannot stop thinking about him.  I would loved to have been at his retirement party this week (see pics above).  Living in Asia has several glaring drawbacks, but none more pronounced than missing occasions such as this one.

I have tried to locate his phone number to wish him well and to simply thank him directly for his incredible investment into my life and countless others, but I have not been able to find it.  Last time I saw Coach Beal was prior to moving over to Asia.  At that time, no one had cell phones.  Also, I would be SHOCKED if he is on Facebook, so this is the best I can do.

Here are a FEW of the countless ways my high school football coach has influenced my life.

The value of work ethic

Simply stated, football taught me how to work.  There is NOTHING that compares to 3-a-days (yes 3) in the August heat of Atlanta.  Nothing.

However there we were, getting to school by 7am and leaving for dinner every August.  Full practice in the mornings.  Lunch and run-throughs in the early afternoon.  A quick nap on the gym floor and then back for full hitting practice in the afternoon till dinner.  Brutal.

Somehow Coach Beal was able to keep us engaged and pushing forward towards goals which were still weeks away.  Incredible.

It was torture at the time, but looking back, one of the most valuable aspects of my early life.  I learned how to work hard during those years.  I learned about goal setting.  I learned about the value of sacrifice in order to get where you want to go.

The rest of my friends were going to the pool, getting drunk or playing video games.  Coach Beal was helping us become men with a purpose.

Strong male influence

Most of my peers did not have a father at home I have been blessed with a great Dad.  Still fewer were able to have a Father in the home AND a strong male role model outside of it during adolescence.  I cannot express how grateful I am to have had both.

Coach Beal was way more than a coach.  He was an example in the truest sense of the word.  We all respected him more than words can express.  His acceptance of me was honestly one of the most profoundly important aspects of my adolescence.

I remember like yesterday playing Chamblee High during my 10th grade year.  My football class had never beaten them.  I remember Coach Beal turning to me in the locker room just prior to kickoff and asking me to explain that to the team.  I did, in my feeble 10th grade way.

We won.  One of the highlights of my high school career was an interception I had in that game.  However, what sticks out most to me is this. . . when I ran back to the sidelines, Coach Beal was waiting with a huge hug.  I’ll never forget the utter joy of being accepted in full by this great man.

I remember watching the game film.  Yes, I enjoyed the play itself.  However, it was this hug on the sidelines by Coach Beal which I can still recall with crystal clear clarity all these years later.

The acceptance of a strong male role model at this crucial time in my life, in a profound way, built more into my self-confidence and sense of self-worth than anything else of which I can think.

Power of teamwork

We were a racially and socio-economically diverse group of boys.  However, I loved those guys and would do anything for them.  Much of this is simply because of Coach Beal’s leadership and guidance.

Coach Beal drew us together as a group of boys and made us into a team.  It was incredible.  He taught me the power of unification for a goal.  The power of liking each other, not merely tolerating each other.

Coach Beal gave our 10th grade defense the name the “Wrecking Crew”.  We loved it, took on this identity, and became a great team.

Most of my adult life has been spent in working in team environments.  I have lead teams from 6 to 150.  I honestly learned more about the power of unity and leading teams from Coach Beal and high school football than from college and two master’s degrees combined.  Seriously.

Leadership is about influence

It is crazy, but Coach Beal was never our head coach.  However, he was clearly the coach we all turned to for ultimate leadership.  I worked for him.  I got my cues from him.  When I had questions or concerns, he was the one I went to.

As a professional, I have never been concerned about my organizational position.  I now see that this value was impressed upon me by Coach Beal.  He valued his influence upon us, rather than his title.  He led us and led us well.

Heart and effort carry you further than skills and natural abilities

I was undersized with below average speed.  I played defensive back in the city of Atlanta at the highest level of high school football.   I was definitely on the low end in talent of the boys which started.

Yet, Coach Beal made me captain several times throughout my playing days.  In this, he taught me that leadership is not dependent upon skill level, but rather heart, will, and influence.

Coach Beal had a life value he constantly instilled upon us:

“Your attitude determines your altitude.”

Coach Beal wrote a poem around this phrase and gave us a copy.  I carried this poem with me on a frayed piece of paper throughout college, when I was in a school which was well beyond my academic abilities.  It was a much needed, constant reminder throughout.

He preached this.  He lived this.  He always valued effort and heart well beyond that of raw skills and physical ability.  Because of this, I played and even led on my high school football teams.

In life, I am honestly pretty much average in most areas.  However, much of my professional life has gravitated towards fairly high levels of leadership.  I’m certain this can be traced back to the confidence and values Coach Beal built into me during those days.

Tonight, 8,000 miles away, I am celebrating the life and labors of my high school football coach.  He is living proof that a life invested in others is a life well lived.

Coach Beal, if you see this, I HATE that I missed your ceremony today.  Know that I love you (along with the rest of the “Wrecking Crew” and countless others) and am grateful beyond words for your building into my life.  Much of what you taught me continues to inform and guide all I do to this day.

May God bless you and your family during your well-deserved retirement!

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Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    I first heard about attitude determining altitude from a co-worker in training. Because of the parallel to an airplane, the phrase has stayed with me. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Derek mallard says

    John, All I can say is WOW!! Everything that you said I can remember like yesterday. All of the hard times (3 a days) Coach Beals “catch phrases” inspiring lines. Stay in touch
    Derek C Mallard

    • says

      Derek, great hearing from you! Man, it’s been way too long.

      It really is amazing how sharp and clear memories are of the times of playing football at HHS with you guys.

      I hope we can all get together in the not so distant future. I miss you guys.

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