March 22, 2023

Salute for Showing Up!

In this article, we explore the important role of the ‘unsung heroes’ who show up every day, every practice and make it possible for the team to succeed. We frequently bestow recognition upon leaders/more visible players when things go well, but in organizations large and small, no achievement occurs without the hard work of numerous individuals, many of whom show up and do the work without experiencing or expecting the public recognition of their efforts they also richly deserve.

I was at the University of Virginia men’s basketball game on Saturday, and at the game before tipoff the University recognized the 4th Year student athletes (seniors for non-UVA intelligentsia) for their participation and achievements. I will return to this event later, as one senior player demonstrated the significance of showing up.

Later in the game, I was reminded of a bit of Snell family history. In what seems like an impossibly long time ago, my youngest son, Phil, was finishing 8th grade and asked my advice on what he could do to make his freshman year at high school more successful. For a teenage boy, success as a freshman is defined as not being treated too roughly in the hallways by the older male students and maybe finding two or five good friends.

In my flawed wisdom, I recommended to Phil that he should immediately sign up for a Fall sport. That way, he would immediately have 20 to 50 guys as teammates in a common cause. Also, hopefully his older teammates would not bully him in the hallways, thus reducing the universe of potential threats. Phil, stalwart of heart and gifted with a dangerously swift, dry wit, of course chose the sport he was least prepared to play with immediate success—freshman football. Having never played organized football, we were surprised. And as we reached August, the team met and began those wonderful fitness training and bonding experiences called – two-a-days. If you are not familiar with football preseason training, this meant that in one of the hottest months of the year, they had two practices each day. Now is the time to also introduce another fact, the team was being coached by a new coach who apparently saw an unbeaten season as his ticket to personal future greatness.

Phil survived the preseason, and when asked what position he was assigned he explained he was playing cornerback on defense and halfback on offense. Having played my fair share of football, hearing he was playing on offense AND defense I was surprised and thought he might have found his sport, though a bit undersized. Being a supportive parent with a sports-loving genetic disposition, I made a point of leaving work early and going to their first game. The team was clearly talented on both sides of the ball and beat the other team by several dozens of points. The slight blemish was the fact that Phil did not get to play in the game, as he occupied a seat on the bench for all four quarters. A strong start for our ambitious coach.

This became a pattern through September, October, and at the kickoff for the start of the final game Phil had yet to step onto the field for a single play. As a parent, I must admit to feelings of frustration and yes, even anger. All those practices, and with an unbeaten season with every game decided by uneven scores in favor of Phil’s high school. The coach was clearly burnishing his resume; however, I was giving him a low score for sportsmanship and leadership.

At the final game. Phil’s team had a very successful first half, and at the start of the 4th quarter they had a four-touchdown lead. But a bit of a rebellion was taking place around Phil with his teammates. They started to cluster around him, talking and waving their arms. Several of them finally started pushing up so he was finally standing by the coach. This seemed to make no impression on our future Hall of Fame freshman football coach. I was starting to lose hope as we reached the final two minutes of the game, and Phil had yet to play a single down. The other team had the ball and were moving forward near mid-field when suddenly there was a fumble and Phil’s team recovered the ball with a minute to go. Coach proceeded to send out his starting offensive team. At this point, the pushing and shouting was hard to ignore on the sideline. Enough apparently was enough, and with 15 seconds to go in the final game of the season, Phil put on his helmet and trotted onto the field to cheers from his fans. He lined up in the halfback position, took a handoff from the quarterback, and gained eight yards as time expired.

I’m afraid I’m having a little difficulty seeing the computer screen for a minute, don’t you hate those Spring allergies in March? So, why am I sharing this family anecdote? Competition in sports or in the workplace isn’t always about having a team made up of Most Valuable Players. In any sport or assignment, sometimes just showing up is what makes the difference. Phil’s first-string offense and defense players needed to scrimmage against someone to learn the plays and improve. His role was not to be a starter, but to help the team daily learn and grow. So, football wasn’t his place to shine on game day. But he did make lasting friends, and I never heard him complain. Life is rich and full of alternatives. For Phil, there were other areas where he was an All-star. Captain of the rugby team (I shuddered to watch), crew, drama, and an amazing ability to get an A in Chemistry without turning in the lab write-ups.

While I could go on to describe Phil’s accomplishments and my pride in his professional and personal accomplishments, let’s turn to what started this thought thread. I watched Chase Coleman walk to midcourt with his parents before the start of the game to receive his recognition at the final game of his collegiate career, and candidly it made a small impression on me. I was focused on UVA winning this last game to earn the ACC Co-Champion title for the season. For another senior player, Kihei Clark, this was his third ACC season title and as a freshman he started on the UVA National Championship team. As the game progressed, UVA built a comfortable lead on Louisville, and the game’s outcome was in little doubt. The arena was loud. And then, with about two minutes left in the game, the student section started to chant: “Chase”, “Chase”, “Chase”. I didn’t understand at first, and the chant became louder as more fans joined in around the arena. Coach Tony Bennett, a gentleman of the first order and a beloved figure in Charlottesville, remained seated on the bench and seemed to take no notice of what was increasingly dominating the sound in the arena. Finally, with a minute left, he waved down the bench and Chase Coleman sprinted up to the scorer’s table and replaced one of the starting players. He passed the ball inbounds and moved up court with the rest of the team. You can imagine the delirium in the arena when someone passed the ball to Chase, and he immediately took and made a 3-point shot! The crowd cheered that shot as loudly as any play in the game, and what was a fun but ordinary college basketball game became a lifetime memory and lesson for 15,000 people in the arena.

Chase showed up for four years, in every practice and game. Those starting players needed someone to scrimmage against to learn and grow. They needed Chase and others to pretend to play like the team next up on the schedule, to improve the starting player’s opportunity to win. I had to write this story, as it seems my allergies overcome my ability to complete the story when I try and tell it orally.

As managers, friends, and family members we need to remember and value our team members for showing up. Someone else may make the presentation and receive the recognition. If we look more closely at the people showing up and doing the workday-in and day-out, we might have a truer understanding of commitment, loyalty, and grace.

I salute Phil and Chase, because by showing up they made their team better and along the way earned the admiration of their teammates. Likewise, I salute the millions of people who went to work today and showed up, made their contribution, maybe making it possible for someone else to be successful. It takes a team to finish the report, publish the paper, create the presentation, and prepare the conference. Some lead, some follow, some are the All-Stars this time, and others will rise to acclaim at another time and place.

This is not about rewarding effort over results. We are saluting those who play a supporting role, so the team achieves the desire result.

So, please join me in saluting those who show up, make a difference, and may not always get the credit they deserve. You can make a difference by recognizing their contributions, today.

Footnote:
To make sure the record is clear, UVA’s Coach Bennett is a far better coach and leader compared to our High School Freshman football coach villain. Chase Coleman averaged 4.2 minutes per game this year, 1.2 points per game, and was involved in the game from the bench as if he were on the floor.

In this article:
In this article, we explore the important role of the ‘unsung heroes’ who show up every day, every practice and make it possible for the team to succeed.
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