Coaching a Lead

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jan 23, 2010

"You cannot control how high "he" jumps. You cannot control how fast "he" is. You cannot control how great "he" is. But he cannot control how hard YOU play."
Brian Merritt

For nine years Jon Mack has been the Valley Forge Christian College Athletic Director and Men's Basketball Coach. He was himself an outstanding basketball player and he still holds our all time college scoring record at 3,494 points. 

I wish you could have seen him play. He made the game of basketball look easy. He played with a consistent passion to win and an uncanny commitment to excellence. There was just nothing like watching his soft, left-handed jump shot or his graceful move to the basket for yet another layup. And though he only stands six feet tall, his 1,250 rebounds is still the 2nd highest number of rebounds for our college. 

But Jon Mack has always been much more than a basketball player. And in his current role his leadership abilities on and off the basketball court are obvious to everyone. Just about any time I speak with an opposing coach they cannot say enough good about him. Parent after parent of our athletes affirm his skills to grow good men, not just good athletes. 

At the end of a particularly challenging basketball game he shared with me one of his insights that affirmed for me again that he is much more than just an athlete coaching athletes. The VFCC men's team was recently rated number five in the nation by the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) and we were playing the number two team from Ohio Christian University. We knew it was going to be a tough game here on our home court. 

During the first half, our men dominated the game. We seemed to do everything right and they seemed to do everything wrong. They only scored 22 points and in the second half we stretched our lead to 24 points. 

Everyone who watched the game felt that it would be an easy win. But I learned later that on the coaches' bench a measure of anxiety was building. And slowly but surely Ohio Christian University started to catch up. With about five minutes left to go, they came within eight points. 

Although we won the game, Coach Mack said something to me afterwards that I will never forget, "There is nothing harder than coaching a lead." He went on to explain that when a team is ahead like that, the players are prone to protect the lead rather than score points. 

Now, we have all known that athletics is a metaphor for life. We talk a lot about the role of teamwork and the individual or leadership and followership or character and competency. We could also say a lot about the need for self-discipline and the importance of practice. Life and athletic do indeed intertwine. 

But I have been pondering his words about "coaching a lead." In any area of our lives, we can get complacent when things are going well. How easily we can lose our motivation and focus and commitment to the fundamentals. Instead of driving forward, we drift along. 

Dale Brown said, "It's not the push from behind or the pull from the front - it's the drive from within." Lou Holtz was one of the greatest football coaches and he taught, "Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." 

It doesn't matter if you are a farmer or lawyer or teacher or politician, no matter how often we wash our hands and hearts to prevent it, there is no inoculation for apathy. We can pick it up from anyone anytime anywhere, especially when we are winning. 

I agree with Thomas Jefferson who said, "Nothing can stop a man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to