Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Graduation Speech: Cheerleaders Versus Coaches

I was asked to deliver the speech at the town's high school graduation this year, and here is what I had to say:

Members of the school Board, distinguished guests, administrators, teachers and students, my fellow members of the clergy, parents, guests, and members of Melrose High School class of 2012, it is my pleasure to be one of the speakers for this momentous moment in your life.  Typically the graduation speaker is supposed to come up with some of the great wisdom that we have accumulated in our lives and then convey it to you.  Usually these speeches are full of great clich├ęs such as never give up, you can do anything you put your mind to, follow your passion, don’t be afraid to fail, or that you’ve got to take it one day at a time.

Occasionally you’ll get some good advice like Stephen Colbert’s recommendation that if someone offers you a job, “say yes. You can always quit later. Then at least you'll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.”  Or there was pultizer-prize winning author Russel Baker who said his best advice for going out into the world, was “don’t do it.  I’ve been out there, it’s a mess.” And finally, and probably my personal favorite for it’s sheer practicality, was Mary Schmich whose advice was to wear sunscreen.  Now maybe as a preacher I should include something like quoting from Philipians and to you to “let your gentleness be known to everyone… [and] do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Or maybe that you can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens you.

The problem with all of these statements, as true as they might be, is that I have yet to meet a single person who has said “Dude, I would never have been successful except that at my graduation the speaker told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, if only I worked hard, spread my wings, followed my passion and never gave up.”  It’s never happened, and I suspect it never will happen.  I have been to a lot of graduations in my life, many more than my wife is really happy about, and not only can’t I remember what was said at any of them, I can only remember who the speaker was for one of them.

But here’s the biggest problem, although because you still have to listen to me, it’s more your problem than it is mine, the simple truth is that we, as graduations speakers, can’t help ourselves.  As soon as we get asked to speak at graduation we get excited with the opportunity to talk about all the wisdom we might impart, thinking that your brains are not already full enough and thinking that you actually care what we have to say, and I will admit that I am no different, so here is the wisdom that I would like to impart to you tonight, and my analogy, another requirement for graduation speeches, is based on this town’s love of its sports teams.

Whatever you do make sure that you always have a cheerleader and coach in your life.  Both are very important, but for very different reasons, so let’s start with cheerleaders.  You need to have people in your life who will always cheer for you no matter what.  No matter what is going on they are going to be supporting you, cheering you on, and trying to lift you up.  When things are going great their impact and presence might not seem as important, although they are, but it is when things are going bad that they are most important because it’s when things are looking down that others are going to be pessimistic and bleak or tell you that everything is your fault.  But your cheerleader will always be there cheering you on and telling you can do it.  This is a very important person and you need to make sure you always have someone like this in your life.

But you can’t base your performance based on what your cheerleaders are telling you.  Cheerleaders usually are not even facing the field of play when cheering, they don’t know all that’s going on, and that’s not their job, their job is to cheer and support the team.  Now before I get into trouble with our cheerleaders and their parents, I am not demeaning cheerleaders, as I said they are very important and I was even a yell leader when I was in high school, so I know how important they are, as well as how much work they put in.  and before you ask why I was on the cheer line, the answer is very simple, I was on the cheer team because that’s where all the girls were.  Cheerleaders are important but you cannot rely on them to give you an honest and impartial opinion of your performance and how you are doing, and that is why you need a coach.

Coaches are always focused on your performance, they are paying attention to you and their job is not only to make you better but to have you give your best performance every time you go out.  They are the ones who know what you are truly capable of and will push you to excel far beyond what you normally think is possible.  Even if you think you are as good as you can get, a good coach can always get more out from you, even if you are the best to ever do whatever it is that you are doing.  Peyton Manning, Walter Payton, Annika Sorenstam, Wayne Gretzky, Lindsey Vonn, Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, and Ty Murray, have all had coaches, people who pushed them to be better than they could be by themselves.  Having someone else to provide you an outside opinion on what’s going, to have someone else push you, to be honest with how you are doing is extremely important if you ever want to reach your full potential.

But, it’s also important to find someone who can actually be a good coach.  It’s easy to find people to tell you you are doing something wrong, and even easier to find someone to yell at you, but that’s not what a coach is about.  Watch Bill Belichick, Pat Summitt, Mike Krzyewski, Joe Torre or anyone else who is considered at the top of the coaching profession and pay attention to what they do when their teams are losing and when they are winning.  Lots of coaches will tear their teams and their players down when they are losing.  They attack when their teams are at their lowest.  Now if you are not giving your best, or are not trying, then you should be called out, but often that’s not the case.  Instead, the best coaches will often praise when things are going bad, again if the players are giving their best, and challenge when things are going right.

Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots has routinely said that the worst weeks of practice are not the weeks after the Patriots lose, but instead in the weeks after they win. Why?  Because Bill Belechick understands you are in a much better space to receive criticism when things are going well, and you need to be lifted up when things are going bad.  There are plenty of people who will be happy to yell at you and break you down, but they are not good coaches.  Find someone, instead, who is truly concerned about making you better, who is going to push you, but who also recognizes when the best times to push are and also when they need to praise.

So my great, wise advice to you is that no matter what you are doing or where you are, make sure that you have both cheerleaders and coaches in your life, and if you do that and you never give up, and you’re not afraid to fail, and if you take it one day at a time, and you follow your passion, then you can do anything you put your mind to, and make sure to wear sunscreen. Congratulations to you and may God bless you all.

No comments:

Post a Comment