Monday, February 4, 2013

Colin Kaepernick, Character Insights

When the San Francisco 49ers, under the leadership of their talented quarterback Colin Kaepernick, beat my Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs, let's just say I didn't fully appreciate them. But having a brother and son in California, I just had to pull for Kaepernick in the Super Bowl, and decided to get to know him a bit.

What an interesting fellow!

Here are some highlights:

Great at Several Sports

Kaepernick was nominated for all state in football, basketball, and baseball his senior year in high school. He also loved playing competitive four square with his buddies in high school.

On His Spiritual Beliefs

His tattoos are mostly bible verses, from Psalms. According to his dad, "He was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran and went to a Baptist church in Reno." (Reno is where he attended college.)

On Setting Goals

In the fourth grade, he wrote a letter to himself. In it, he said he planned to be 6-foot-4 inches (he nailed it). He also wrote:

"I hope to go to a good college, then go to the pros and play on the Niners or Packers, even if they aren't good in seven years."

His Pet

When he was 10, he got a pet turtle, which he could hold in his hand. Now the turtle, named Sammy, is 115 pounds.

On Working Hard When You Don't Feel Like It

Although he played well in high school, no colleges wanted to offer him a football scholarship. But finally, after football season his senior year, some assistant coaches from Nevada dropped in to see him play basketball.

"Colin, a shooting guard, jumped center, got the tip, took a backdoor alley-oop pass and barely missed a dunk attempt. One coach turned to the other and said, 'That's our guy.' Kaepernick was playing with a 103-degree temperature."

"Colin once pitched a no-hitter, rode the team bus back to Pitman [his high school] and was taken directly to the hospital with pneumonia."

On Learning

"Colin always had to sit in the very front of the class," says Amy Curd, his Math Analysis (pre-calc) teacher, now Pitman's assistant principal. "He always volunteered to do problems. He would work a problem on the board and (jokingly) sign his name and (uniform) number. ... Whenever I told students they could choose new seats the next day, Colin would run from his previous class to make sure he got the front seat. ... When he was in the classroom, he was in the classroom. He always wanted to be the best math student in the class. Even when he got a 96 or 98 on a test, he'd come up after and want to know what he did wrong."
On Having a Good Reputation

"Just before the draft, an ESPN researcher gathering info on Kaepernick asked coach Harris about the tattoos. Harris told her, 'Look, he's a 4.3-GPA guy, from Wisconsin, with a pet tortoise. If you're looking for a story about a player overcoming the thug life, you've got the wrong guy.'"

"Trouble? Mischief? None. As in: zero. No chewing-gum-in-class incidents, not a single tardy. Nada. Zip ... until Kaepernick's last day at Pitman, when the dean of students caught Colin wearing a non-authorized cap and confiscated it. Seriously."

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Volunteerism and Compassion at Our Universities

Nice post of statistics showing the extent of volunteerism and embracing of compassion among college students. How encouraging!

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The American Revolution: A Life Lesson on Continual Learning

The Learners versus the Learned

Subject: American History
Trait: Continual Learning

The year was 1776. The setting was the North American British colonies. The big event was a rebellion against the mother country by some troublemakers who were discontent with British rule.  The outcome would reshape the modern world. 

The question I’d like to answer is not whether the British or the Americans were right in their cause – many American colonists sided with their mother country and fought for the British. Similarly, many British argued in their Parliament against the war. The question I’d like to pose is:

“Why did the most powerful, well-trained army on the planet lose a war to an army that seemed inferior in every way?”  

Our answer to this question just might yield some insight into success and failure beyond warfare. And if you sometimes feel inadequate, like everyone else is more talented, better trained, and more educated than you, perhaps you can pick up some tips that can give underdogs an edge. 

To set the stage, let’s first grasp just how superior the British forces were.  

  • The British leaders were trained in the art of warfare in the top schools of their time. None of the American leaders had been trained in military schools. They picked up what they could from reading books. General George Washington had seven or eight years of schooling by a private tutor, just enough to learn to “express himself on paper with force and clarity.” General Nathanael Greene and Colonel Henry Knox would become two of his most important leaders. Green was a thirty-three year old self-educated Quaker, Colonel Henry Knox was a twenty-five year old self-educated bookseller. (58-60, 111)
  • The British leaders had vast experience. Neither General Washington nor any of his leaders had ever led an army.
  • The British troops were well-trained and well-disciplined. The American troops were largely young farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers and the like, learning as they went along.
  • The British were well-clothed and equipped with the best cannons and guns, not to mention having the world’s dominant fleet of warships. The Americans had little artillery and were woefully short of gunpowder. Their clothing was often inadequate to the point of marching barefoot. Sickness often ravaged the camps. 
  • The American troops were far outnumbered. To make matters worse, large numbers of soldiers considered going home and deserting the cause. They were often miserable, missed their families, and had plenty of reasons to believe they could never defeat the British.  And besides, many of their own countrymen were Loyalists, siding with the British. 
So why did the American troops ultimately win? Many reasons could be discussed, but I’d like to suggest one that stood out to me in reading David McCullough’s respected book on the beginnings of the Revolutionary War, titled simply 1776. Here’s my key observation:

The Revolutionary War was a contest between the learned (the British) and the learners (the Americans). The British were overconfident because they were well-equipped, well-trained, and knew how to fight. They thought they knew much more than they’d ever need to know to defeat the pitiful American army, deriding them as “the country people,” “the rebels,” “a preposterous parade,” or a “rabble in arms.” (25) Being learned can be a great thing, but they had apparently stopped learning. 
The American leaders, by contrast, were avid learners. They knew they didn’t know everything about warfare and were thus hotly pursuing whatever wisdom they could pick up from anyone and anywhere. 
Here’s how “the learners versus the learned” played out in two decisive battles. 

The Battle for Boston, March 4, 1776

The British troops, under the command of General Howe, had taken control of Boston, fortifying it to the extent that many felt it could never be successfully attacked. Howe was one of the most respected, distinguished officers in the King’s service. (76) He was fully assured that he had nothing to fear from the ragtag American army. As General Howe wrote to his superiors, “We are not under the least apprehension of an attack on this place from the rebels by surprise or otherwise.” (72) The British officers lived comfortable lives in Boston, where the officers and their ladies were entertained by plays and balls and held feasts where they drank wine and ridiculed the pathetic American troops. (74)

The American army wasn’t faring as well. It was January, miserably cold, and most lived in makeshift tents without winter clothing. (81) They had little gunpowder, inadequate money to pay the troops, and there weren’t even enough guns for the new recruits. (24,79) Washington feared that if the British discovered their dire situation, they would attack immediately and end the war. 
Fortunately for the Americans, the British failed to gather adequate intelligence. They failed to catch wind of a daring two month journey led by the twenty-five year old Colonel Knox to snatch over 120,000 pounds of weapons, including mortar and cannon, from Fort Ticonderoga in Upstate New York and transport them through blizzards, over mountains and freezing lakes, to arrive just in time for the attack. (82-85)

The British leaders were educated in military studies, both in formal classrooms and in live combat. But they saw no need to continue their education. That would prove to be their downfall. Howe took no interest at all in General George Washington. Typically, military leaders gather all available information on their enemies. They want to know how they think, what they fear, what they love, in order to predict their next moves. But their degrees and experience made them comfortable, overconfident, and smug. (78)

Washington and his forces by contrast were learners. Washington gathered wise people around him, as he put it, “to have people that can think for me.” (86, 87) They decided to occupy the strategic twin hills of Dorchester, from which they could threaten both the British soldiers in Boston and their ships in the harbor.  Cannons shot from the hills could reach both. Washington learned from spies that Howe had sworn that if the American army occupied Dorchester, he would retaliate by attack them, which is precisely what Washington wanted. He’d much rather attack Howe’s troops from the advantageous positions of Dorchester than to attack the fortified city of Boston. (86, 87) 

But one problem remained – a big one.  If the British saw the Americans clamoring up Dorchester’s hills, they’d attack before the Americans had a chance to fortify the hill. And how do you fortify a hill quickly in the middle of winter? You can’t shovel frozen ground to make your fortifications. Once again, continuing education came to the rescue, in the form of Rufus Putnam, a farmer and surveyor by trade, who read of a useful scheme in an artillery text by a British professor. Putnam showed the plan to his superiors, who in turn took him to Washington.  The scheme involved building the fortifications and transporting them up the hills overnight  by oxen and massive manpower, so that the next morning the British would awake to find Dorchester’s hills occupied with 3,000 men, armed with guns and cannons, and fortified. (88,89)

Four days prior to the attack, a spy warned the British of an impending attack from Dorchester, but nobody took the warnings seriously. They would be warned again, but to no avail, just more evidence they were more learned than learners. (90,91-93)

So Saturday evening, March 2, the American army bombarded Boston with cannons. The British responded with cannon fire. On Sunday, the firing resumed, but it was all just a distraction, so that when the cannons roared once again on Monday night, they covered the sound of 800 oxen, hundreds of carts and wagons, heavy cannons, and fortifications moving quickly and orderly up the hills. Fortunately or providentially, they were aided by the light of a full moon, unseasonably mild weather , and a foggy haze that covered the thousands of soldiers in the low lands before they ascended. (88,89) 

The British awoke the next morning to behold what appeared to be a miracle, or from their perspective, a nightmare. They were completely and utterly astonished. General Howe exclaimed, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.” One British officer wrote that “This is, I believe, likely to prove as important a day to the British Empire as any in our annals.” Referring to the fortifications, he marveled, “They were all raised during the night, with an expedition equal to that of the genie belonging to Aladdin’s wonderful lamp.” (95)

The British tried to attack, but were turned back by a furious storm of snow and sleet. The storm gave them time to rationally assess their dire situation. Attacking the well-fortified Americans would likely be suicidal. But remaining in Boston would make them sitting ducks. Their cannonballs couldn’t reach the top of the hill. And their ships couldn’t risk staying in the harbor. The weather eventually calmed, but the Redcoats’ calm complacency was replaced by panic.  Their only choice was to tuck tail and sail, giving the American army extremely needed confidence that they could eventually defeat the British. (99-105)

The Attack on Trenton, December 26th, 1776

The British didn’t take this humiliating defeat lightly. Washington and his 9,000 troops next tried to fortify New York City, but the British showed up in force – massive force. In August, a breathtaking British armada of 400 ships appeared in the harbor, delivering 32,000 troops to Staten Island. (148, 158,161,191,197) It was “the largest expeditionary force of the eighteenth century, the largest, most powerful force ever sent forth from Britain or any nation.” (148)
Outmanned and outgunned, Washington decided that wisdom was the better part of valor. As the British advanced, he and his 9,000 troops cleverly snuck out of town under the cover of night, so that the British woke up to find, to their dismay, that their enemy had vanished. The British pursued the retreating army, which was growing weaker and weaker.  Thirty to forty soldiers at a time were defecting to the British.  Many of the remaining soldiers had no shoes. (225,254,269) Even some of Washington’s leaders began to question his leadership. General Charles Lee, Washington’s second in command, led the largest portion of Washington’s troops and was considered by the British to be the only respectable military leader in the entire American army. Many considered him America’s only hope. Their hopes were dashed when Lee was captured in a British raid. (51, 236, 264-266) 

To many, it looked like all was lost. As the American army retreated further north, even the American Congress fled Philadelphia. Two former members of Congress defected to the enemy. (270) On December 1, with the British army two hours from them, two thousand American soldiers deserted the army and returned home – their enlistment was up. (256) 
With less than 3,000 men left, Washington retreated across the Delaware River. “The hour had never looked darker.” (257) Thousands of New Jersey residents traveled to the British camps to declare their loyalty to the King, so that their property and businesses would remain intact after British rule was reinstated. (258) “By all reasonable signs, the war was over and the Americans had lost.” (270)

Considering the state of the American army, the British once again swelled with overconfidence. As Lord Rawdon wrote, “their army is broken all to pieces, and the spirit of their leaders and their abettors is all broken…. I think one may venture to pronounce that it is well nigh over with them.” (251) A Loyalist newspaper in New York described the American army as “the most pitiable collection of ragged, dispirited mortals that ever pretended to the name of an army….” (260, 261)

But instead of attacking and ending the war then and there, General Howe decided to return to New York until spring, since cold weather had set in and he saw no reason to subject his troops to a harsh winter campaign. Considering the rebel army to be pitifully defenseless, he saw no harm in waiting until spring to crush them. That one act of underestimating the American army may have ultimately lost the war for the British. (276) 

While General Howe vacationed in New York, leaving forces in Trenton and other outposts in New Jersey to hold the ground they’d taken, Washington kept learning. He wrote,
“Use every possible means without regard to expense to come with certainty at the enemy’s strength, situation, and movements – without which we wander in a wilderness of uncertainties.” (268)
Once Washington learned that many of the Redcoats were wintering in New York, he planned a daring raid on the holding army across the river in Trenton. Christmas night, during a blinding, vicious snowstorm (two of his men froze to death on the march) Washington and his troops crossed the river to mount a surprise attack. 

The learned British leaders were put in jeapordy because of their smug overconfidence. General James Grant, the commander of the British holding forces in New Jersey, was confident that the troops in Trenton were as safe as if they were wintering in London. (284) Johann Rall, the senior officer who defended Trenton, completely underestimated the American army, holding them in contempt. (279) Thus, although Rall received two Christmas day warnings that the rebels were planning an attack on Trenton, he failed to take them seriously. (279)

By the time the Americans arrived, at just before 8:00 AM, their gunpowder was so wet that it was fairly useless. Largely with bayonets and hand-to-hand combat, they swarmed on the unsuspecting town. Washington took Trenton in a mere 45 minutes, taking 900 prisoners and six pieces of artillery.  (280,281,283)

The news of the American victory spread rapidly and had a remarkable effect. (283, 290-293) Hope replaced despair, confidence replaced fear and dread – the rebels had boldly confronted the enemy and won a stunning victory. Although it would be another six and a half years before the war ended, the battle of Trenton was a decisive turning point. As one classic study of the American Revolution concluded,
“It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”
So never grow overconfident – the Achilles Heel of the British military – because of what you’ve already learned.  There’s always more to learn, and the person or business or army that embraces this will always have an advantage over the merely learned. Never stop learning. As someone wisely said,

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Takeaways from the Battles at Boston and Trenton

1. Listen to ideas from everywhere. The British ignored advice and failed to seek new knowledge of their enemy. Washington listened to and acted upon Rufus’ idea of transportable fortifications, although he wasn’t a senior officer. He also listened to Knox’s wild plan to haul the guns and cannons from Upstate New York. As McCullough summarizes the latter:
“That such a scheme hatched by a junior officer in his twenties who had had no experience was transmitted so directly to the supreme commander, seriously considered, and acted upon, also marked an important difference between the civilian army of the Americans and that of the British. In an army where nearly everyone was new to the tasks of soldiering and fighting a war, almost anyone’s ideas deserved a hearing.” (60)

2. Don’t get overconfident, no matter how much experience and education you’ve had. There’s always more to learn. 

3. Listen to wise counsel. Washington was eager to attack Boston, knowing that if they made no decisive move, their dropping morale just might end the war. But his superiors in Congress advised against this because of Boston being so well-fortified. Instead, they recommended occupying Dorchester Heights. Fortunately, Washington was humble enough to listen. 
4. Don’t underestimate your enemy or your competition. They may be smart in ways that you lack. 


1. Why do you think the British were overconfident?
2. In what specific ways did their overconfidence lead to defeat?
3. In what ways did Washington and his army keep learning?
4. What does this statement mean? “In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
5. How can developing a habit of daily learning result in a more successful life?
6. If you’re running a business, how can continual learning help you outperform businesses that rest in their present knowledge?
7. How can we make learning more fun and attractive? 

Ideas for Presentation

1. Video Clip: Consider showing the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean where the British fleet had arrived to fight the pirate ships. When I first saw the scene, I recall thinking, “The British never had that many ships. Welcome to Hollywood!” Then, when I read that over 400 British ships arrived to take over New York City, I wanted to go back and count the ships in the “Pirates” segment. Showing this might help students imagine the enormity of the British fleet that Washington saw as he and his soldiers gazed awestruck into the harbor.  
2. Use maps and pictures. Showing the hills of Dorchester and their proximity to Boston and the harbor can help students understand the strategic nature of Dorchester’s hills. Showing New York harbor, where the British troops landed on Staten Island, where they landed in New York City, where the Americans escaped from NYC, how close Trenton was to the command center (Congress) in Philadelphia, etc., adds to students’ understanding of these battles and why intelligence was so necessary.
Copyright December, 2011, by J. Steve Miller. See more character and life skills resources at . Feel free to use this with your students. Not for resale. Facts from David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005). 

What are some of your life lessons from the American Revolution?

(Find hundreds of character and life skills resources at .)

San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith Shows Character

“The Loudest Boo for a Home Team Ever”
(Overcoming Criticism)

Are your students or children easily discouraged? Do they need to learn to bounce back, even after severe criticism? Perhaps the story of this exceptional quarterback will serve to inspire. 

"The Loudest Boo...Ever" is the title of a Youtube video of Alex Smith, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, getting booed one year ago on his home field by his “fans.” Some in attendance reported that the boos got even worse as the game went on, as they tore down Smith and chanted to bring in the backup quarterback.  

(Check out the video here: .)

Problem was, the fans were frustrated and felt they’d had enough. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the 49ers established themselves as a football dynasty, winning five Super Bowls. But for the past eight seasons they lost more games than they won. Their once storied team had established itself as a perennial loser. How would they ever reach the playoffs with this second rate quarterback? Their cherished dynasty had fallen into disarray.  

Perhaps Alex was doing the best he could under the circumstances. Nobody questioned his work ethic. Perhaps the blame lay with the coaching staff. After all, the team had changed offensive coordinators seven times in the past seven years. Perhaps his offensive line wasn’t giving him enough time to complete passes. Perhaps his shoulder injuries (a separated shoulder, three torn ligaments and a broken bone) kept him from peak performance. Whatever the case, thousands of fans thought he sucked as a quarterback and didn’t mind letting him know. 

If Alex reads fan comments on the web, here’s what he’d find in the Youtube booing segment I just mentioned. These acidic comments began a year ago and continued through the start of the 2011 season.  Try to put yourself in Alex Smith’s shoes. Have you felt the chill of cold verbal slams that repeat themselves endlessly in your mind? How would you have felt if the following vicious verbiage had been aimed at you? 


“There's only so much incompetence a fan can take, and I cannot stand Alex anymore behind center. He's a joke!”

“Alex Smith is going on what, 6-7 yrs. in the NFL? When is this team going to realize they made a major mistake?”

“Alex Smith should not be starting for any team in the NFL. He set the franchise back 10 years. Should have been cut a long time ago.”

“Worst quarterback of all time.”

“He HAS GOT TO GO!!! Can’t waste another year waiting on him to put it all together.”

“The NFL is just too fast for him. Smith sucks!!!”

“No coach will fix this guy. He's done.”

“Every Niner fan hates Alex Smith.”

“Niner fans hate Alex Smith so much, that they even boo him in practices. And now Harbaugh wants to bring him back for a 7th season! Smith guarantees failure and deserves the boos….”
“He is ONE of the worst QBs in NFL History.”

“They'll never win with Alex at QB. You need like a hundred coaches and twenty years of excuses for this bust.”

“When nuclear war occurs, two things will survive. Cock roaches and Alex Smith. Seriously, how does this guy still have a job?”

Lesser men would have quit after the repeated boos and endless criticism, or at least would have lashed out in response. But Smith patiently endured.  

The Turnaround

This year, finally, he’s glad he endured, and the disparaging fans are eating their words. The 49ers defeated team after team as Smith showed uncanny leadership and completed passes with surgical precision. He threw the fewest interceptions of any quarterback in his league. His passing record was third in the entire NFL. They earned a playoff spot by winning 13 games and losing only three – an amazing season for any NFL team and the Niners best season since 1997. 

One month ago, toward the end of their incredible 2011 winning season, the comments magically changed. Here’s what the recent comments on the same Youtube video are saying: 

“I won't lie, I was booing him at home, too...But I'm cheering you now, Alex – thanks for proving us wrong and persevering!”

“All these years of being called an idiot and a dreamer have paid off. Now he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.”

So what can we learn from Alex Smith? 

1. Don’t let other’s discouraging comments control you.  As the 49ers kicker David Akers said of Smith, “I just see a guy that doesn’t really care too much what people think.”

2. Persevere through the hard times. Tight end Davis said, “He’s a strong man. “I’ve been here when Alex was getting yelled at and everybody was talking bad about him. He tends to keep his head up and just keeps on moving.” 
3. Don’t lash out against your critics or try to get even. “He is proof that a struggling player can remain humble and respectful and still ultimately succeed.”

1. How do you think Alex Smith felt each time that he was booed?
2. What do you think kept him going, even when many people had turned against him?
3. How do we decide when to believe discouraging comments and when to ignore them?
4. Someone has said that the only way to avoid all criticism is to do nothing and say nothing and be nothing. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
5. How can we endure through criticism?


Written by J. Steve Miller for , copyright Jan., 2012, all rights reserved.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Tom Brady Exemplifies Commitment and Initiative

When talking to my own children and classrooms about character, I find that real life stories of people they admire can truly inspire. With the Patriot's having become a football dynasty and another Super Bowl appearance coming up this weekend, quarterback Tom Brady has been much in the news. Kids admire him and are naturally interested in how he became so successful in his field. So I read a biography on him and pulled from a few other resources to show how qualities such as commitment, initiative, endurance and proactive behavior contributed to his success. Hope it's useful to you!

Tom Brady: On Commitment and Initiative Or, Playing Fourth String, Getting Third-Rate Treatment
But Going the Second Mile with First-Rate Effort 

(Teacher Hint: Go to and type in "Tom Brady" to find some cool clips of Brady in action. I really liked one with music in the background entitled "Tom Brady: My Hero". Play a bit before you speak to remind your students how awesome a player he is. Or, you might want to start with the first of a video, and show the rest after the story.)

Brady Today

Tom Brady makes it look so easy. Moments before lightning fast defensive tackles and 300 pound linemen close in to take his head off, Brady steps back to avoid one collision, to the side to avoid another, patiently waiting for his receivers to complete their patterns. Now. He throws. Completes. Touchdown, New England.

It happens so often that he's widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks ever. He's led his team to multiple Super Bowls, received multiple Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, been invited to Pro Bowls, and holds the NFL record for the most regular season touchdown passes. No wonder he's been named "Sportsman of the Year" by both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. (1)

It may look easy and natural for him today, but those skills didn't come naturally. It took supreme commitment to growing and learning, often under difficult circumstances.

The High School Brady

Tommy entered high school built like a beanpole - a slow-footed beanpole. Not very impressive in a game that emphasizes size and speed. But he was super-competitive and wanted to excel. 

So he did more than attend regular practices. He went the extra mile by attending quarterback camps in Arizona and the University of Southern California. He even spent personal time with a throwing guru who ran a school for quarterbacks. This guy had broken down the art of passing into the most minute detail to discover what works and what doesn't . Tommy took tons of notes, to which he still refers today. (2)

And the "extra mile" stuff continued. After school during the off season, many kids throw their backpacks onto the bedroom floor to watch TV, play games and goof off until bedtime. But Tommy completed his homework and met up with his friends at the Pacific Athletic Club to work out for three or four hours. 

When his coach, Tom McKenzie, lamented to Tommy's dad that he had "a Division 1 arm, but a Division 5 lower body," Tommy took it as a challenge. Every morning before school, he'd practice a tedious footwork drill called "The Five Dots," which most players loathed. According to Brady, "I've never been real fleet of foot. I enjoyed the struggle of it. I gained a lot out of it, in terms of mental toughness."

According to his coach, "Tom Brady is the only student athlete I ever saw who took advantage of every opportunity that was provided to him." (3)

His high school team wasn't that great, but he made the best of it, winning about as many games as he lost. 

The College Brady

By high school graduation, he was still a beanpole. But they put together a video-tape of Tom's games and sent it to fifty-five universities. Their diligence paid off and the University of Michigan, a football powerhouse, recruited him to play for their Wolverines. But then things got strange. Before he even made it to the campus, the two coaches who recruited him and believed in him left the school. 

His first year, he kept the bench warm with the third string. The second year, he played a bit in only two games. His very first pass was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Not exactly a stellar debut. He'd throw five total passes that year. (4) 

But he kept practicing, kept learning, and developed a great network of relationships with his people skills. Surely next year would be his year.

But before his third year, appendicitis robbed him of 30 pounds that he didn't need to lose. Now he was an even skinnier bean pole. Thoughts of quitting and giving up were getting the best of him. Instead of turning inward, he began to talk to the athletic department counselor, Greg Harden. From meetings with Harden, he developed a game plan for problem solving and becoming a better person. 

It helped. 

At Spring camp, he found himself third in line behind the starting quarterback and another quarterback, Brian Griese, who's father had been a legendary quarterback. The latter won the starting position and Brady would get to play in only four games, throwing only twelve passes. Griese would graduate, leaving the slot for Brady to fill, but did Brady want it anymore? He'd been practicing his heart out for three long years to throw a total of 17 passes. In his mind, he wasn't given equal treatment. He considered changing schools. But outside of football, he loved his friends, his classes, and his volunteer work at a children's hospital. He decided to stick with it. (5)

His fourth year, he would clearly be the starting quarterback, but then things got strange again. Michigan recruited a phenomenal high school quarterback from a nearby town who had already been featured in Sports Illustrated. Being a local hero, there was pressure to move him quickly up to starting quarterback. So what did Brady think when his head coach referred to Henson, the new be, as "without question the most talented quarterback I've ever been around"? (6)
Brady started as quarterback the rest of the season, winning 10 games and losing three. But there would be a fifth year, allowable since he didn't play as a Freshman. Surely he'd established himself by now. But that would be too easy. Influential alumni were pressuring the coaches to play Henson, the new quarterback. 

So here's how it played out. The coach announced that Brady would play the first quarter, Henson the second quarter, and whoever played the best would play the second half. It was a slam on Brady, the deserving fifth year senior. It would have been easy for Brady to take the low road, rallying his friends around his cause and dividing the team. Instead, he kept working and pursuing team unity. After the seventh game Brady established himself as the starter for the rest of the year. 

After his final game as a Wolverine, Brady's quarterback coach told him that the circumstances he'd played under would have broken most athletes. But Brady endured. (7)

After college, he could have smugly assumed that he knew everything he needed to know about football. Instead, he attended a performance clinic to try to pick up foot speed. I mean, come on, after four years of coaching in high school and five years of coaching in college, don't you think he knew enough about how to run? Not Brady. There were still weaknesses to shore up and there was always more to learn, always an extra mile that he could go. (8)

The Pro Brady

His next stop was the NFL Scouting Combine, a place where coaches and scouts have the opportunity to watch their potential drafts in action. The gathering includes interviews, psychological testing, strength and agility tests, and the 40-yard dash. 

Although the assessors noted some great traits in Brady, most saw him as a gamble. The most prominent of the evaluators concluded that he "didn't have the total package of skills." (9) One offensive coordinator assessed Brady as rather average, with his inability to establish himself at Michigan counting against him. To some, he was still a "skinny quarterback who didn't run well." (10)

Still, he hoped to be picked early in the draft. Sitting at home listening to the draft with his family, they saw one round after another passing him by. After the fifth round, the Brady bunch was depressed. According to his sister Nancy, "What with what happened at Michigan, and now having this infuriating and disappointing couple of days, he just wanted to take a walk...." While he was out walking, head coach Bill Belichick called from the Patriots, picking him on the sixth round, the 199th draft pick. 

Dick Rehbein (the quarterback coach) and Belicheck saw something in Brady that others apparently didn't. During those college years, Brady was put in a bad position, but made the most out of it. They were impressed with "what he did with the opportunities he had." (11)
But at New England, he'd have to start out once again at the bottom. Now for anyone who's played second string, you know the demoralizing feeling of working hard all week to sit on the bench during the games, hoping that, just maybe, your team will get so far ahead that they call in the second string. But he wasn't on second string. He wasn't even on third string. Brady started fourth-string for the Patriots. (12)

Although he'd filled out a little by this time, the Patriot's owner still referred to Brady as, you guessed it, a "beanpole," after their first meeting. (13) But what he lacked in physical intimidation, he made up for with his work ethic, team spirit, and a rare ability to care for and energize those around him. Package all that together and it's called leadership. As one biographer put it, "Brady had that unique ability to make the person he is talking to feel as though the rest of the world has fallen away and there is only this one conversation happening anywhere." (14)

He'd spend extra time watching film of their opponents, although he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of playing in the game. The defensive coordinator noticed that Brady would work out harder than anyone else in the weight room. He threw himself into off-season workouts, whether or not he was required to attend. That helped add about 20 pounds of needed muscle. After a normal practice day, he'd lead a group of others at the bottom of the totem pole to run through the plays until they had them down. And they got better, and better. The coaches took notice and liked what they saw. 

So Brady found himself the backup quarterback during his second year. And when the starting quarterback got injured, Brady took over. Because of his intense preparation during good times and bad, he was there to answer the door when opportunity knocked. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Brady once noted that the most difficult wins are the most memorable. I think you could say that about his life. As Brady said, "Who wants everything to come easy?" (15)

Action Points

So do you consider yourself the "beanpole" of your team or organization - the one who doesn't look the part or make heads turn? Do you go to all the regular practices, but still find yourself benched? Do you do the assigned homework but don't get the grades you want?
If that sounds like you (and it often sounds like me!) remember how Brady defeated discouragement and went the extra mile by preparing a little harder, getting outside counsel and continuing to learn. If initiative and hard work make a top-rated professional football player out of a slow beanpole, maybe it can pay off for the rest of us.

Tom Brady on Standing Alone

Tom Brady, the super-successful quarterback for the New England Patriots, doesn't try to be "just another jock." Elwood Reid, one of his college professors, noted that Brady was his own person. The other jocks in his class were too cool to do homework or act interested in his class. Not Brady. He was polite, sincere, did his reading, brought his books to class. Reid expected the other athletes to treat him with contempt, making fun of the skinny athlete.

But to Reid's surprise, "the most disruptive guys in the class did more than leave the quarterback alone. They seemed to look up to him. In fact, they seemed to look up to him more because he wasn't following their lead." I suppose you can't very well lead the crowd if you're following it. (16) 

Brady on Commitment to the Team
"All I ever wanted was the camaraderie, to share some memories with so many other guys." (17) 

Brady On Not Talking Down to People

According to head coach Belichick, Brady "doesn't put himself above anybody, above the equipment manager, above the guy on the practice squad, or above a defensive player. He has respect for them doing their jobs." (18)

Discussion Questions

1. What are some obstacles that Brady had to overcome?
2. How did he show initiative and commitment to overcome them?
3. In what areas of life do you and those you know need extra initiative and commitment?
4. What can you do today and this week to overcome life's challenges?

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End Notes

1. Wikipedia on Tom Brady.
2. Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, by Charles P. Pierce (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 38-40.
3. Ibid., p. 41.
4. Ibid., pp. 59,60.
5. Ibid., pp. 61-65.
6. Ibid., pp. 67,68.
7. Ibid., p. 78.
8. Ibid., p. 89.
9. Ibid., pp. 89,90.
10. Ibid., pp. 90,91.
11. Ibid., p. 92.
12. Ibid., p. 94.
13. Ibid., p. 95.
14. Ibid., p. 8.
15. Ibid., p. 18; also The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam, (New York: Hyperion, 2005), pp. 214-221.
16. Ibid., Pierce, pp. 4,5.
17. Ibid., p. 27.
18. Ibid., p. 159.

(Copyright February, 2008, Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources, , all rights reserved. For permission to reprint on another site or blog, e-mail steve miller at )

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Critic Trashes Lord of the Rings Author JRR Tolkien

Responding to Criticism

Here's a good story you could use to help your students to overcome undeserved criticism.

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was crowned Britain’s best loved book. With over 150 million copies sold, it’s the third best-selling novel ever written. The movie trilogy, based on the book, was the 6th greatest money-making film ever. These achievements give strong, if not irrefutable evidence that Tolkien is one of the greatest story-tellers to ever wield a pen. Yet, even Tolkien gets criticized by so-called experts in literature. 

Although he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature (by no less than literary scholar C.S. Lewis), the most influential literary critic for determining the prize dismissed Tolkien’s work as poor writing. In his words, Tolkien "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality." In other words, he accused Tolkien of being a mediocre writer. 

My point? Critics, even brilliant critics, are often dead wrong. So don’t let criticism stop you from chasing your dreams. Listen to criticism and learn from it, but don’t make it the final judge of your worth.
Fifty years after Tolkien lost his chance for a Nobel Prize, we’ve all heard of Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings. Yet, you’ve probably never heard of Tolkien’s critic, Anders Ă–sterling. Enough said. 

Discussion with Students

1) How many of you saw or read Lord of the Rings?
2) Why do you think it was so popular?
3) When you read movie reviews or book reviews, how often do you end up disagreeing with the reviewers? What does that tell you about critics? (Their opinions are often based on subjective rather than objective factors. Sometimes they’re right; often they’re wrong.)
4) Why do we often respond so strongly to criticism about our own work?
5) How can we learn from criticism without being devastated by it?  

By J. Steve Miller. Source: Alison Flood, JRR Tolkien's Nobel Prize Chances Dashed by 'Poor Prose', in, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Inspirational Book on Forgiveness

 If you are looking for an inspiration book (or one to buy as a gift for a friend), my author friends, CJ and Shelley hitz have a new book that is launching today called Forgiveness Formula: Finding Lasting Freedom in Christ.

Check out the book launch page and a lot of free prizes and gifts they are giving out today!

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