The Wright Way to Play

You may not have heard the name Lefty Wright. Yes, you heard me right—Lefty Wright. I met Lefty in 1999 when I was the Assistant Athletic Administrator at Hopkins High School and was assigned to manage the Section 6AA Track and Field Meet—a daunting task for someone who had never previously organized a meet. Lefty was a long-time teacher, track and field coach and official who had seen hundreds of meets to a successful end. I remember meeting with him and feeling completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand. After reviewing the many details, Lefty assured me this would be a successful meet. And in what I later learned to be the Wright Way—in his calm, confident and reassuring manner, I believed him.

Lefty and I forged a wonderful personal and professional relationship over the course of the next 18 years as I transitioned to my position with the Minnesota State High School League and administering the State Track and Field Meet. Through the years of working with Lefty, I learned that he was passionate about his profession. He lived life with his arms open, welcoming all he encountered into his experience where growth would inevitably occur. He took every opportunity presented to him to coach those around him, never in a need to be right or a demeaning way, but in a calm manner that celebrated the learner. In every situation Lefty would do what was in the best interest of the student, even when the decision was difficult and disappointment was inevitable. He would look at every situation with clarity, calmness and through a transformational teacher-coach’s mindset.

I remember having long conversations with Lefty that provided insight and clarity around the purpose of sports and competition and how we can truly determine whether or not we have been successful. I remember walking away from every conversation feeling blessed to have spent time with a wise man. We discussed the culture’s narrow view of success and how we arrived at this broken place where the worth of a student or an experience is based on performance instead of the wonderful opportunity for growth to occur. Lefty was a great teacher, who captured moments that led to a broader perspective and resulted in the development of human potential. This is the true purpose of every great transformational teacher-coach—to share perspectives that challenge us and make us think, utilize struggle to help us grow and create a place where we know our value isn’t dependent on performance, but instead on the uniqueness of who we are and what we offer the world.

The world lost a magnificent human being on October 12, 2015, a man who was a transformational teacher-coach with everyone he encountered. I was blessed to hear this shared perspective from his son Todd at Lefty’s Celebration of Life.

When I was little, my parents had a chalkboard by the back door. It was used to communicate all sorts of information and advice. Every so often there would be a quote or saying. One saying I remember vividly is, ‘lesser people talk about people, good people talk about things, great people discuss ideas and inspire.’ I would like to convey to you some of the ideas and inspirations my father shared with me, for he was a great man.

My father loved to compete. He lived to watch and participate in sports. He followed all sports: track, cross country, tennis, golf, and any sport my sister or I showed any interest in playing. And he taught me the value of competing, both the creative and the social aspect. But the real gift my father gave me was recognizing the difference between winning and competing.

He taught me that just winning, in and of itself, was a hollow endeavor. The true value in playing sports or even competing in cribbage is the development of one’s character, to better oneself through practice and failure. And in this light competition teaches us to succeed and excel in all aspects of life.

Dad taught me, and hundreds of other athletes and friends, that not everyone can win, but everyone can succeed. Success in sport, as well as life, is not measured in a win/loss column. It is measured through, growth as a human being, striving to do the right thing and living for a cause greater than ourselves. Success according to my father was in the journey of living each moment to its maximum potential, and, in so doing, life is lived well. Dad taught me that within this definition of success, we are all players—players striving to become better people, in a better community and abetter world each and every day. In Lefty’s definition of competition and success, we are all coaches, supporting, guiding and encouraging those around us to improve. And in this process of trying, we succeed.

My father challenged all of us through his words as a coach and a teacher. He challenged us to look inside ourselves for our true meaning of success. He challenged us to act to improve ourselves and to support those around us. He challenged us to truly love and not to be afraid to let our love show. He challenged us to succeed. I don’t know why I was so lucky to win the ‘father lottery’. To have someone who was the definition of unconditional love, live and care for me. It was an honor to see him share this love with his family, friends, students and athletes.

We as parents, coaches, and teachers have an incredible opportunity to grow and develop our own children and those we have the privilege to coach and teach the Wright Way. Teaching and coaching the Wright Way includes seeing every moment as an opportunity to grow, having respect for others, doing the right thing even when it’s difficult, seeing competition as a way to help those around us improve, defining success by how we face our struggles every day, and living life with our arms open to every experience—not just those that provide us with what we want. Lefty blessed many of us with his wisdom and support and today, because of him, the world is a better place.