Steve and I went to the 'Meet and Greet' for the University of Virginia's newest coaching staff this evening. Now, regardless of your athletic affiliations, or academic affiliations if you don't follow athletics, I can truly say I enjoyed this evening for a completely different reason, and I only hope that after hearing what I reiterate from this meeting, you agree with me.
The main subject of the evening was, of course, UVA football. But new Head Coach Mike London had me won over before we even got to the football. He asserted that before any change could be made to the coaching of Virginia's young men, the first change that had to be made was to their character. London reinforced the idea that his goal was to shape the character of his players on and off the field. That they needed to realize they weren't any more special than anyone else just because they were athletes, and that they were to be held to the same high standards as anyone should be at their age, regardless of career, occupation, or collegiate affiliation.
As an educator, I appreciated this comment. I saw someone who was making an effort to mold our youth the way I and my colleagues do. But the difference is that he will have his athletes more than we will have our students; we try, relentlessly, to shape who our students become. But the truth of the matter is that we have our students in class for 90 minutes 2-3 times a week, depending on the week, for the 25 or so weeks we're in session. We can only do so much. Frequently, we see our students leading their parents instead of the other way around. Instruction and character start at home and should only be supplemented by the teaching and coaching staff. But it often turns out that the teachers and coaches (sometimes both at the same time) are the ones who provide the majority of the character checks and balances. As it stands, knowing that someone is out there who is looking out for the young adults as they enter a new environment that is, for the most part, without supervision, is comforting. He is not a babysitter, but a mentor and a guide as these young adults learn to be completely accountable for their own decisions. Accountability is key - so few of our students seem to exhibit knowledge of this novel trait.
Regardless of where the evening went, the conversations, the questions, the answers, Coach Mike London repeatedly stressed the importance of his '3 rules': go to class (SO important! Going pro is all good, but it won't last and then what? Never waste your time getting to the pros without finishing your degree. I feel VERY strongly about this.), show class (on and off the field - how someone handles minor situations will show so much about a person), and treat others with respect. The football program and its future were put on the back burner to London's concern for the character of his team. What a beautiful sentiment.