Thursday, September 17, 2015

Looking a little deeper....

They’re out there. Sometimes they’re easy to find, sitting on a bench beside their players, sometimes in their offices surrounded by shiny metallic fruits of their labor and sometimes they are out in front of you sharing their knowledge with the room, or the arena.

Great coaches are out there. Sometimes they are found in obvious places, sometimes you have to look a little deeper.

Six wooded miles east of I-49, just 40 minutes north of the Arkansas border in the town of Diamond, Mo. is a monument to someone most of us associate with the peanut. George Washington Carver’s National Monument, the first National Monument dedicated to an African American in US history in 1943 by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

As you stroll the grounds of the house GWC was brought up, there are markers of quotes attributed to GWC. One on the right at entry is telling: “The further anyone gets away from themselves, the greater will be their success in life. You can’t get very far in life if you don’t get away from self…and see a richer and broader horizon.”

Coaching is about education. Coaching is about earning trust, gaining buy in and staying educated in what you are teaching. Coaching examples are found all around us if we look a little deeper.

He was born into slavery in 1864 but his mother and he were kidnapped when he was an infant. He was found and returned to his original owners, the Carvers, dying of whooping cough. His mother was never found and he never knew who his father was but once slavery was abolished, he was raised by the Carver family as one of their own. His frail health allowed him to be freed up of the daily chores and he began to explore the forest and grew an appreciation and a self education with plants and crops.

Being poor and black in the South in the late 1800’s was adversity defined for so many but GWC saw education as his way out and despite his skin color, he went around, over and through walls to get educated.

He was an exceptional painter and his art was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair. He was the first African American to graduate and the first to earn a faculty position from what is now Iowa State University. He was appointed Director of the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School in Tuskegee, Alabama where he stayed for 5 decades.

What Carver probably didn’t know at the time is much of what he did going forward is what coaches today strive for. In 1898, he began publishing a series of Bulletins for farmers knowing he couldn’t meet or talk with as many as he could with this tool. His first was titled; “Feeding Acorns” and he continued to publish them for 45 years until his final entry in 1943 titled simply, “The Peanut.”

He knew however that many farmers couldn’t read nor had access to those who could read in the family and he continued to work to get his message to his audience. He teamed with a philanthropist to develop the Jesup Wagon: an education on wheels that travelled the south in May of 1906 teaching farmers about crops, rotation, tools and better ways to utilize their resources. The wagon had visuals and hands on demonstrations of what he was teaching and for 8 months Carver would bounce on dusty, dirt roads going miles at a time, every day to share his secrets, his passion and his education with those in need. In November he went back to Tuskegee to teach and the successful idea of the Jesup Wagon continued through the south manned by others.

In the coming years of Carver’s life, he would dissect the peanut into hundreds of different uses making it a simple but valuable cash crop for farmers in the south. He did the same with the sweet potato and earned a reputation that saw him address the United States Congress, council President Theodore Roosevelt and educate India’s Mahatma Gandhi on agricultural issues. For all of his inventions and ideas he rarely patented any of them, calling into how long it took for the process when they were needed immediately and as he so eloquently said, the ideas were a gift from God and should be free for others.

Carver was a master educator who saw the benefit of visual teachings, who tried to reach a wide audience and helped word of mouth spread his ideas to help thousands of farmers profit from his ideas. Carver died in 1943 after falling down the steps of his home but his inventions and ideas are still around us on a daily basis.

In a letter from 1922, Carver wrote a thank you to a student who had given him a fountain pen for Christmas. In the note, he talked about his Eight Cardinal Virtues which constitute a lady or gentleman:

1. Be clean inside and outside

2. Who neither looks up to the rich or down on the poor.

3. Who loses, if need be, without squealing.

4. Who wins without bragging.

5. Who is always considerate of women, children and old people.

6. Who is too brave to lie.

7. Who is too generous to cheat.

8. Who takes his share of the world and lets other people have theirs.

It’s almost as if Carver was writing a coaching manual in the letter.

The great thing about history is that there are examples of great coaches throughout time. Battle tested coaches, inspirational coaches, honest and tough and humane coaches. It’s our job to look for them, to find those qualities that are in both great coaches and historically great people like George Washington Carver.

As he said so eloquently, “No individual has any right to come into this world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”

Just stop and look around. They aren’t as far as you think. Just look a little deeper.