Reflections from a HOF Induction

        Over the weekend I had the great privilege of attending Winthrop University's Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony.  No, I wasn't getting inducted.  I'm still waiting for them to create a wing for exceptionally average players sometime in the future.  I won't have my fingers crossed in the meantime.  The invitation came from good friend and teammate Daniel Carte.  Daniel was an All-American at Winthrop and a second round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies.  He's probably the best position player in the school's history.  After playing several years professionally, Daniel coached at Radford and West Virginia before accepting a position in scouting with the Chicago Cubs.  He is one of the brighter baseball people I've been around, something easily overlooked in college because his physical abilities were so off the charts, and someone I'm proud to call a friend.  Back to the HOF though.  My excitement for attending the ceremony grew when I saw some of the other inductees to be included.  Three others in particular stood out.  Torrell Martin (basketball), Franco Wakhisi (soccer), and Joel McCartney (coach of women's volleyball) all were part of very successful runs in different sports while I was at Winthrop.  I was excited to hear what they would say about their experiences, along with Daniel of course.  Here are some of my takeaways:

1. It really is about everything but the individual accomplishments.
This is something that is hard for athletes to realize when they are living out their careers.  I think a major reason for that is an emphasis on individuals getting somewhere, whether that somewhere is college or playing professionally.  So much time is spent on looking forward that the present experience is neglected.  In all of the speeches (7 in total), I think an actual game was only mentioned one time.  Relationships, team, fun, success of the group, and gratitude were mentioned over and over.  Those are what will leave the lasting memories.  My advice would be to enjoy them more while you're in the moment.  Chances are that by doing so you will actually increase your odds of the individual success you are hoping for.

2. Success breeds success.
Like I said, part of my excitement for attending the ceremony was that there were several people who were all a part of Winthrop athletics while I was there.  What I didn't quite realize was how special a time it was for sports.  Our baseball team was really good, but so were our other teams.  Men's basketball had three tourney appearances while I was playing and five in total while I was in school (7-year-plan, insert doctor jokes here).  Volleyball made five straight NCAA appearances.  Soccer and tennis also had lots of success while we were all there.  Torrell, Franco, and Coach McCartney all brought up the other teams and coaches during their speeches.  Other teams doing well and supporting each other drove them to want to be even better.  An expectation of excellence permeated throughout the athletes and teams.  I'm reminded of waiting to lift weights and watching the basketball team or volleyball team practice.  This wouldn't have been the case at a huge school with multiple weight rooms.  There is something about that mid-major atmosphere of being around each other that was really special.  Although we played different sports, there was a connection.  Culture is a buzz word in sports right now.  What gets overlooked is the possibility of culture within an entire school's athletic program.  The culture of excellence during our time at Winthrop extended far beyond any individual team, player, or coach and was a major part of the school's overall success.

3. Great athletes are not short on gratitude.
"Thank you."  "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for..."  "I really appreciated..."  Gratitude can be something in short supply.  That was far from the case during the speeches of the inductees.  Being thankful for family support, coaches, teammates, athletic departments, teachers, booster support, and beyond was a major theme.  This was great to see and provides a reminder to athletes and coaches today.

4. Little things matter.
This message was not direct but was implied in all of the mentions of lifting weights, practice, and conditioning.  Again, they were talked about more so than the actual games themselves.  I've never actually done the math on how the amount of time spent preparing for games compares to the games themselves (someone make that Twitter graphic already!), but I am confident it is not even close.  When you think about that, the little things that go into practice and preparation really are the big things.  They matter.  All of them.  At the same time, let's be careful not to overvalue them.  I saw something recently that said the athletes who do well in conditioning are the ones who play.  This is anecdotal evidence, at best.  A blaring lack of truth at worst.  The ones who are the best at playing the sport are the ones who play.  I've never seen a lineup based on the amount of weight lifted or the time in a 300-yard shuttle (Trust me...at times in college I wished they were!).  Your effort in those activities does say a lot about you though and certainly can factor into performance though.  The little things matter.

5. There is more than one path to excellence.
Something I enjoyed about the speeches was that several of the athletes told brief stories about their paths to ending up at Winthrop.  They were all different.  This was a great reminder that there is no one path in sports, or life, to excellence.  Create your own.  Do it with the guidance of others you trust, but don't be afraid to explore a different route.  It might mean going to a camp at a school you know little about or visiting an area you are unsure of.  Create your path, and find your way to excellence.  Daniel brought up the concept of the journey being so much for meaningful than the destination in his speech.  These are wise words and where you really learn the most about yourself.

6. College is an experience unlike any other.
College is such a cool time of life.  Don't get me wrong.  High school is great.  Life as an adult is good too.  There is something about college though that is just unlike any other experience.  Your team really becomes your family.  You're around each other all the time.  You're in class together, in the cafeteria, at practice, and then living with each other.  The time spent and variety of environments can't be replicated.  You laugh together and cry together.  You fight with each other, and then you get over it because you're a family.  It is your first time really on your own, and you're making decisions you never have even thought about.  Some are probably good, and some are bad.  Some of your family is lasting and easily found in memories.  Then, there are those distant second or third cousins who were there for a few weeks before they failed or quit.  You forget about them until someone else mentions they were there.  They were a part of it though.  There is a bond created that is unlike any other.  Nobody can take it away from you, and nobody outside of your team really knows what it was like.  All of it.  The good times and the bad.  The great memories of winning championships and celebrating those championships.  The waking up at 5 for punishment conditioning.  All of it is what makes the college experience special.  Life happens after college.  You get jobs, move to different areas, and start families.  When you get together though, the bond is still there.  Everyone remembers things a little bit differently, and that is part of what makes it great.  That home run was just a little bit further.  That speech coach gave was just a little bit more intense.  The conditioning tests were just a little bit tougher.  Little time is spent talking about individual performances.  It's all "the other stuff" that made it special.  If you're there now, enjoy every single minute of it.  If you're hoping to get there, keep working.  It will be worth it and then some.

Those are just a few of the things that came to mind after a great night with great friends.  This list could have easily been much longer.  One overriding message of the post altogether is you can learn a lot from listening to people who have been there.  We often spend time thinking about how an experience could have been different if we'd only known then what we know now.  After years of separation from my time in college, however, I don't think I'd trade any moment for another.  Each is what made it what it was and ultimately what made me who I am today.  I do think that knowledge comes with a responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation of athletes and coaches.  That is what we can do.  That is what we should do.  That is what we do.

Comments

  1. Love the reflection. The part about the little things particularly resonated. Often people think time practicing equates to success, when more often it's about the quality of the practice.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Susanne! I agree. There is a big difference between being there and being PRESENT. Thank you for the feedback.

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