Daily Dose of Coach #309: A Pat on the Back

"The human body is a peculiar devise, pat it on the back and the head swells.” Unknown.

I will never forget my first practice experience as a walk-on for the University of Northern Colorado basketball team. I was on cloud nine, feeling great about myself, knowing how hard I had worked to make the team and was about to start my first drill as a college basketball player.

The drill we were doing was called the shell drill.  It is where five defensive players move into correct zone defensive positions as five offensive players standing outside of the three-point line pass the ball back and forth as quickly as possible. I had done this drill a million times in high school because all we ran was a zone defense.

I was thinking to myself, “this is great,” a drill that I know and can be perfect at on my first day! I guess I was wrong. About 5 seconds into the drill my coach started ripping me a new one, screaming at me to get in the right position. It’s not that I was in the wrong position, I just wasn’t in the right position he wanted me to be in as fast as he wanted me to be in it!

He shouted, “ Higuera! If you don’t pick it up and get your a#$ moving I’m going to ship you back off to the #$%#$@# Puerto Rican league.”

“Whoa! What?,”  Coach Smith just hit me with a racial slur implying I was Puerto Rican!? That was odd since I'm Mexican and nothing besides my last name would give away that I'm even Hispanic.

He continued to rake me over the coals the entire first practice. It was bad enough that afterward, I went up to his office to ask him what I was doing so wrong. You have to understand; my high school coach was the most positive person in the world. I had never been degraded or talked to like that by a coach before in my life.

I walked into the office and said, “Coach, I don’t understand why you gave me such a hard time today. I was the first one to practice, worked hard, and I did every drill just as it was supposed to be done.”

Coach Smith leaned forward in his chair, with his glasses on the bridge of his nose, glaring at me as if I had just called his mother a name and said sternly, “Higuera (mispronounced), you are the 15th guy on a 15-man roster. What do you want a pat on your back every time you do what you are supposed to do? That’s not how it works here, and that’s not how life works. If you want to succeed you have to over-exceed in everything you do. You want to win my trust in you, do that…everyday.”

What a valuable lesson I learned as a young man. There is always a danger with any success we experience. Many times, we expect a pat on the back for a job well done. However, isn't that point of any job or any responsibility that you have? Aren’t you hired, or recruited, or chosen because someone expected you to do your job well?   

It’s our fundamental responsibility to do our job well. What Coach Smith taught me that day is that greatness in anything lies outside of just doing what is expected. You can get away with that at certain levels, but if you plan to do great things, exceeding expectations has to become a daily ritual.