I grew up admiring Don Shula. He is, after all, an institution in South Florida. I look back to my childhood and think of a time when the Miami Dolphins were the only game in town, and Don Shula was one of a only a handful of famous faces the represented the greater Miami area.
Now Miami sees itself transformed to the Riviera of the Atlantic. The gateway to the Americas. A city of glitz, glamour and Gucci shoes. An A-List city with A-List celebrities. And even though coach Shula has been removed from the limelight – a limelight for which he never much cared to begin with – he is still beloved in the hearts of the hometown faithful. The reason is that Don Shula has always stood for the values which are all too quickly disappearing from our cultural landscape. In a city that personifies New School attitude, Don Shula is stoically Old School.
Coach Shula’s philosophy starts with the basics. It builds on the fundamentals. It subscribes to the logic that you can’t build a skyscraper without a foundation. Then it challenges you to ask why you need a skyscraper when a regular building will do. It’s not simple, but it calls for simplification. It argues that in order to avoid fractions in your organization – or household, for that matter – you need to begin with the lowest, common denominator.
I like to think I apply that to my approach as a parent. I like to think that I am as much a coach to my kids as I am a dad. In fact, I prefer to think of the words coach and dad to mean basically the same thing. It’s not ironic that I look back at the coaches I had and see them as parental figures in many ways. And it’s not strange that I look back on my dad and see the greatest coach I’ve ever had. He was always critical yet supportive, demanding yet instructional. But no matter how hard at times he pushed me to excel, at the end of the day I always knew how much he loved me.
I was thinking about this yesterday evening as I was playing outside the house with my kids. Natalie was on her scooter and wanted to roll down the driveway and onto the sidewalk without stopping. She’d allow herself to get scared and inevitably put a foot down because she feared she would fall as she made her turn. I took a couple of minutes to instruct her on how best to achieve her goal. “Lean into your turn, baby girl. Bend your knees a bit and look where you want to go, not down towards the ground.” Natalie nodded and proceeded to try and try again. The frustration was evident and mounted with each failed attempt. But she kept trying and I kept encouraging her.
Finally, she swooped down the driveway, bent her knees as she leaned left. She slipped around the corner edge like a downhill skier clearing a gate. She continued to cruise down the sidewalk, and I could just about hear her smiling. I don’t know who was smiling more, and my heart, full of pride and emotion, expanded to twice its size. I guess that’s the satisfaction you see on a coach’s face when you they hoist up a championship trophy. It’s that sense of team accomplishment that is greater than any individual feat. It’s the feeling of “I didn’t do this, but I contributed to making it happen.”
That’s what it’s like to be a dad. The best part is I get to experience that feeling everyday!