Writing a Transformational Purpose Statement That Sticks

I can remember like it was yesterday sitting in Dr. Frank Mach’s Coaching Theory class at the University of St. Thomas in the Fall of 1992. He gave out what seemed like the simplest of assignments. He wrote on the chalkboard (yes, the chalkboard for those of you old enough to remember those days!) and asked that we write in black ink the answer to the question, “What is your Coaching Philosophy?” I was so excited to get an assignment that I was so passionate about. After several drafts on a yellow legal pad, I was ready to write my final draft. I still have that assignment. I was so proud of it. It was five pages of what I really believed in as a coach. I even got an “A.” And then it went in my class folder. And there it sat and collected dust until 2017 when I dug it out of a Rubbermaid container of old mementos in the attic. Thirty-five years of coaching at the youth and high school levels, and I had never re-read it.

In 2014 I read Joe Ehrmann’s book, InsideOut Coaching, How Sports Can Transform Lives. In his book, Joe shares his very clearly defined purpose statement, “I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible and change the world for good.” He also challenges each of us as coaches to select our own Core Values and develop our own Transformational Coaching Purpose. In Minnesota, we added to our Coaches Clipboard Continuing Education Requirements so that each of us would go through the exercise to create our own. I once again put a lot of my thoughts down (this time on a computer rather than a legal pad!) and hit the “submit” button. The end result was unfortunately much the same. I had a written my purpose, but it was in paragraph form and again much too long, and although I had successfully completed the task, it really wasn’t making an impact.

The process of writing a good Transformational Purpose Statement is not a difficult one. First, you select your Core Values (usually one or two performance values and one or two moral values) and then you put that together starting with an “I” statement. “I coach or I lead to…” After teaching several dozen Coaches Education Classes where we walk coaches through the exercise of creating their own Transformational Purpose Statement and after hearing Joe Ehrmann speak numerous times about the importance of having one you can easily recite, I was still stuck. I had done all of the work to create mine and had used several different versions. I even added it to my email signature so I could read it more often. But then it finally clicked. For most of my educational career, I had been focused on a philosophy of what I wanted for others in sports. For the first time I realized that Transformational Purpose is not simply about sports, it is about living a purpose-based life. And equally as important, I finally focused my energy inward instead of outward on the values I wanted to work on most. Joe Ehrmann has always said, “In order to be a better coach, you need to be a better you.”

Like with anything, you can certainly choose to create a Transformational Purpose Statement for the purpose of an assignment and you can even let your supervisor know that you did and then cross it off your to-do list. Of course, not unlike my college assignment in 1992, if you do the only value in that assignment will likely come from the time you spent thinking about what to write. So my advice—whether or not you have written one—is to start with clearly identifying not only the values that are most important to you as a coach or an AD, but also to you as a spouse, a parent, a co-worker and a friend. Then write it down and place it where you will see it every day. For me it is on my computer, but because rarely if ever does a day go by where I won’t turn it on. Then come up with ways that you can measure whether or not you are being successful when it comes to your purpose.

My purpose is now, “I lead to teach and model the values of empathy, service to others and being a great teammate.” If at the end of the day I can do these three things for my family, the students in our school and the adults in our community, then I will know I have made a positive difference in the lives of others and will have done my little part in making the world a better place. My own wife and daughters (ages 11 and 13) check me on it every day by asking for examples of where I have shown empathy, intentionally went out of my way to serve others or displayed the skills of a great teammate. Not only do the daily questions hold me accountable, but it provides a great opportunity for conversations about relationships. For this reason, living a purpose-based life has personally been a gamechanger. Most importantly, the words I have chosen are how I choose to live my life and are not simply words on a paper that sits on a shelf or in a storage bin.