Paul Knox readily admits that this isn’t a perfect world, and there are no perfect solutions to extremely difficult and complex problems like gangs, violence and poverty. To address some of the issues he knew his athletes would face on the field and in life, the former head coach of Susan Miller Dorsey (Calif.) High School and his assistants always talked about how players must conduct themselves like champions in everything they do. This is the first step in overcoming adversity.
“We’re not playing this game just to play it,” says Knox. “We want to play to be a champion. But being a champion doesn’t always mean winning all the games and playing in the last game. We want to win the championship; that’s what we are out here for. But we also want to conduct ourselves as champions at home and in the classroom.”
During football talks with his team, Knox and his assistants focus players’ minds on working like a champion. They constantly demonstrate the parallels between winning in football and winning in life. Overcoming adversity is part of the package.
“In football, you might not make a yard on a down, but you have to play again in another 30 seconds,” he says. “We talk about this all the time. That’s how real life is. Something bad may happen in your life, but you have to get up the next day and go to work. You have to help whoever is depending on you. You have to eat, the water has to run, and heat has to be on in the house.”
Knox knows that these talks mirror what’s going on in his players’ everyday lives, so he shows them how to overcome adversity by stepping up whenever necessary.
“When you are an adult, the idea that you are going to sulk and be upset about something that happened, it doesn’t work like that,” he says. “We try to talk about football and overcoming adversity as a microcosm of life. In 30 seconds, you are going to have to go right back out there and go hard again, no matter what happened on the previous play. That is how life is going to be.”
Knox also teaches even tougher lessons, that even though an athlete may do everything that’s asked of him, it is possible the athlete will not attain the desired result.
“We talk about the fact that you might do everything perfect, and it still might not come out right,” he says. “I coached a very good team not long ago, had some NFL players on the team, and we did not win the championship. It was very disappointing. The players did everything right, and we lost a really close game in the semifinals before the championship. We had to tell them, ‘Everything doesn’t always come out right in life.’ You have to get over it, come back tomorrow, try to fix what was wrong and move on to be successful at the next level. Whether that next level is college or regular life, you must find out what it’s going to take so you’re not in this position again.”
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