1. The Team Comes First.
2. There’s No Substitute for Hard Work.
3. Good Things Take Time.
In my 30 years on this planet, I have learned more about sports than everything else combined, and considering I have a handful of academic degrees and professional certificates, I probably shouldn’t admit that. But the result of my three decades of thoughtful and patient sports reflection is finally here, in the Three Rules of Fidelity Sports.
I hope you’re ready.
Rule # 1: The Team Comes First
Why do we so identify with our sports teams? If you think about it, most sports fans are more committed to their sports teams than to their spouses, children, friends, and vocations. It’s absurd, really. Probably the most diehard commitment in Western culture can be found in sports-obsessed men between the ages of 18-49. This is what our world has come to. Of course, I am deeply grieved by a general lack of fidelity to God, family and vocation, I do enjoy this great aspect of sport. We love our hometowns and we love our sports teams.
I will always be a fan of the Royals, Chiefs and Missouri Tigers because they are, quite simply, my teams. And for the record, I am a full believer in the use of possessive pronouns toward sports teams on the basis of two factors: (1) I am financially invested in the team—while living in KC, my tax money was supporting our pro sports facilities, and while attending Mizzou, my tuition helped support our athletic department; and (2) I can demonstrate a record of diehard fandom in both winning and losing seasons—thus ruling out most “fans” of the Miami Heat, NY Yankees, and Denver Broncos. I believe in our teams more than I believe in our individual players, and I care deeply about the entire organization, from its President to its popcorn servers to its scouting personnel, because a hometown team is like a family, and a family looks out for one another.
When Fidelity ambassador John Wooden created his legendary pyramid of success, he listed a number of phrases to describe his coaching philosophy, and among them was “the team comes first.” Wooden believed in building an entire TEAM, not just a collection of players and staff and trainers, and he wasn’t just a coach, he was also a teacher, mentor, friend and father figure.
The contemporary sports world has lost its sense of team, just as our broader society has lost its sense of the simple and ordinary and its rootedness in a particular place. In the name of “mobility,” workers no longer feel any sort of connection to their companies. In the name of “winning,” athletes no longer remain on one team and with one coach for more than a few seasons. In the name of “personal happiness,” folks have abandoned everything that requires hard work and sticktoitiveness and wound up with nothing worthwhile at all.
Rule number one, the rule that trumps all other rules, is this: The Team Comes First.
Rule #2: There’s No Substitute for Hard Work
Hard work is at the very core of sport’s glory. Waking up at 5am. Running back-and-forth, over-and-over, day-in and day-out. Studying the playbook. Respecting the coach. Honoring the uniform and the fans. Playing hurt. Finishing well. Sweating. Bleeding. Weeping. Leaving it all on the court.
In sport and in life, there’s just no substitute for old-fashioned, blue-collar, down-and-dirty, young-and-hungry, win-or-die-tryin’ hard work.
Hard work doesn’t cramp up and get carried off; hard work walks off with a torn Achilles.
Hard work doesn’t leave the court with time on the clock; hard work stands tall till the final buzzer and shakes his opponents’ hands.
Hard work doesn’t do blogs; hard work writes essays.
Maybe Old Coach Wooden put it best in his pyramid, after all: There’s No Substitute for Hard Work.
Rule #3: Good Things Take Time
In 2013, Denver entered Super Bowl 48 as a heavy favorite. A Hall of Fame quarterback recovering from multiple neck surgeries, working to reestablish his dominance; a coach that just fought off a mid-season cancer scare, and a plethora of wide receivers that could hang with any Pro Bowl roster from the last five decades: this team was built to win. Or were they?
Super Bowl 48 presented thoughtful sports fan with a near-perfect case study. In Denver, we had a Get-Rich-Quick team and a Niche Team. They had rebuilt their entire roster and coaching staff around their passing offense, much to the neglect of their running game, defense and special teams—all in the matter of 12 months. In Seattle, we had a focused, underdog Built-To-Last team, which had been slowly improving for five or six years to become a well-balanced organization from top to bottom. Probably eight out of ten sports writers and critics were predicting a Broncos win, with about half of those promising a complete blowout.
Of course, it was a blowout, just not the sort these misled talking heads were expecting. The Seahawks dominating The Big Game from the opening snap, which ricocheted off Manning’s oversized Serta-lined space helmet and into the endzone for a safety. The fact that it wasn’t a Seattle touchdown was actually one of the Broncos’ highlights looking back. If the third and final principle of the Fidelity Manifesto hadn’t been convincingly proven up until this point, consider the score in the closing minutes of the third quarter:
Seattle – 36
Denver – 0
Niche teams and Get-Rich-Quick teams (even given the Miami caveat) can score a lot of points, dominate a TV market, and win a lot of games, but they can’t win championships. Only programs who follow time-tested, Fidelity-approved game plans and build to last find themselves hoisting trophy after trophy. Why?
Because in the words of Coach Wooden, who didn’t win a national championship as a coach until he was 53:
Good Things Take Time.