Oswald Letter

Coach’s decision to disband team scores points in character building

by Dan Oswald

A football coach in Utah recently went to great lengths to make sure his players understand the importance of high-school athletics—that is, he suspended almost the entire team because they were skipping class, had poor grades, and were even participating in bullying a fellow student.

The coach, Matt Labrum, had his priorities straight even if his players didn’t. After a Friday night game, Labrum pulled his players together in the locker room and told them to turn in their equipment, including their jerseys. He informed the players that the season was over for each of them until they could earn a spot back on the team.

In explaining his decision, Labrum said, “I think the most important thing is that we build character.” Obviously, he didn’t think his players’ behavior was consistent with his expectations. In a letter to the players, he wrote, “Gentleman, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing our family, school . . . and yourselves.”

Labrum then explained to the players exactly what they must do to rejoin the team. The criteria for reinstatement included being on time, attending all practices, and having no discipline problems. In addition, each player would need to participate in a community service project as well as memorize a quote about character.

A big part of the story was that Labrum received the much-needed support of his fellow coaches, the school’s administration, and, most important, the players’ parents. So on the Monday and Tuesday after the suspension, instead of practicing football, the team participated in some service projects—pulling weeds, cleaning, and visiting a senior center to play games. And the community backed up the coach. Wednesday’s practice was actually a study hall. Afterward, the team had a meeting where most—but not all—players were reinstated to the team and given back their jerseys.

There are management lessons for all of us in this story:

Have the courage of your convictions. Coach Labrum didn’t like what he was seeing from his team, and he had the courage to act. As a manager and leader, there are times when you need to step up and do what’s right even if it may not be popular.

Communicate with those involved. The coach clearly communicated the players’ behavior that he found unacceptable. He planned ahead and prepared a letter to give each player detailing his decision and the reasons for it. And he let the players know exactly what it would take to be reinstated to the team.

Consider the consequences of your actions. Not only did the coach consider the impact his decision would have on his team, but he also was wise enough to enlist the support of the other coaches, the school’s management, and the players’ parents. Including those other constituents was key in pulling off his objective.

There are more important things in life than just the task at hand. I have no idea what kind of football season the high school was having, but Coach Labrum was willing to put all of that aside to teach his players a lesson that, hopefully, will last a lifetime. There’s more to life than winning football games, increasing sales, or completing your next project. How you conduct yourself in life and the character you display speak volumes about who you are—and that’s more important than a game or even your work.

We hear so many stories about people who have gone down the wrong path and no one seems to hold them accountable. It’s great to see someone like Coach Labrum who is willing to address a situation he finds unacceptable in an attempt to change others’ behavior. I hope it’s a lesson that will last a lifetime for each of the players.

2 thoughts on “Coach’s decision to disband team scores points in character building”

  1. Great leadership! For this high school coach to see the bigger picture and work on character development above the sport itself is commendable. That’s exactly what is needed in our schools.

  2. This is a great leadership story! Hopefully, it will carry forward with these boys. I saw an interview with the quarterback – he said that although he hadn’t participated in the bullying, he also didn’t try to stop it, and he admitted that that was wrong.

    I think that enlisting the parents of these boys as well as the administration and the other coaches tells us how much thought the coach really put into disbanding the team and how each player could earn his way back.

    Good job!

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