Getting Over the Four Hurdles of Life with Coach Dale Brown

(Dale Brown was the men’s head basketball coach at Louisiana State University from 1972 to 1997. During his 25 years at LSU, the Tigers won 448 games, appeared in 13 NCAA Tournaments, and earned Final Four appearances in 1981 and 1986.)

Getting Over the Four Hurdles of Life with Coach Dale Brown

By Dale Brown

Finding Happiness and Success By Coach Dale Brown

 (In the October issue of Christian Life Magazine, Dale Brown, former LSU men’s basketball coach, shared his thoughts on family and faith. In this issue, he offers advice for those who strive to find happiness and success in their lives.) 

Athletics gave me my first good self-image. I had a terrible inferiority complex, coming from a home with no father and surviving on welfare. Athletics helped me begin to see myself in a different light, as a person who is more than the circumstances into which I was born. From athletics, I also learned what true discipline meant. I learned teamwork. I learned respect for others. All these lessons gave me the opportunity to obtain a scholarship to go to college and get an education for which I am eternally grateful. 

 

Athletics also allowed me to meet the man whom many consider the greatest coach ever to have lived and the finest man I’ve ever met, former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden taught me the truth about success. He said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort in becoming the best that you are capable of becoming.” 

Of all the things I’ve learned in my life, this is one lesson I truly strived to teach the athletes I coached to help them prepare not only for sports but also for life beyond sports. 

The hurdles to happiness I used to share with our athletes my belief that we live in a world of paradoxes and that these paradoxes create many of the problems we encounter. To build a life that is meaningful and fulfilling, we must see that so much of our life can be consumed with things that are not critical for our happiness. Getting rich or being famous has displaced the development of a meaningful philosophy of life and the more we are connected to the illusion of success, the greater will be our disconnection from finding true happiness. 

So what can we do? To find happiness and success, we all must learn to jump over the four hurdles of life. These are things we can’t con, cheat, barter, buy, or lie our way over. Instead, we have to meet them head on. All of us can get over these hurdles if we have commitment and the discipline to do it. Commitment and discipline are the spinal cord of true success. Until one is committed, there is hesitation. When our focus changes, our life will change.

It’s difficult to get over these four hurdles, because there are so many temptations that might distract us — the temptation to take the shortcut, to cheat, to manipulate, to maneuver, to not work hard. But when we face and overcome these four hurdles, we can achieve true success and find happiness.

Hurdle One: “I Can’t”

We don’t even scratch the surface of our greatness. Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can do with commitment and perseverance. If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would astonish ourselves. It is easier, however, to make excuses about why we can’t do something or to blame others for making our success impossible. Once you blame others, you’ve given up the power to change. It’s easier to say, “I can’t,” so we have to learn to overcome that.

When we stop making excuses or looking to place blame, we can achieve amazing things. For example, Walt Disney was advised to pursue another line of work because he’d never be a successful cartoonist or movie producer. Albert Einstein’s teacher told him he was not smart enough to pursue an education and should drop out of school. And then there is a young man I coached, Shaquille O’Neal. He told me once at our summer basketball camp, “People always used to tell me, ‘You’re not going to be anything.’ But I never gave up.” He was cut from his high school basketball team. His coach told him he was too slow, too clumsy, his feet were too big, and he would never be a successful basketball player … so maybe he should try to be a soccer goalie.

Disney, O’Neal and countless others had a belief system that they could do it. They were able to overcome hurdle number one and go on to do spectacular things. A poem written years ago tells it like it is:

If you think you are beaten, you are

If you think you dare not, you don’t

If you like to win, but think you can’t It is almost certain you won’t

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost

For out in the world we find

Success begins with a fellow’s will

It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are

You’ve got to think high to rise

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man But sooner or later, the man who wins Is the man who thinks he can — (C.W. Longenecker)

Hurdle Two: Overcoming Failure

The second hurdle we have to overcome is failure. Success often is built on multiple failures. Until we learn to derive lessons from our failures, we’ll keep repeating those failures and keep digging ourselves into a deeper hole. The secret to success is in rising every time you fall and in never giving up. My dear friend Bob Richards told me years ago that your FQ (failure quotient) is more important than you IQ.

History provides us with numerous examples of highly successful people who confronted many, and major, failures but who still made their dreams come true. Failure’s only a detour and an opportunity to begin again. The most successful people I know, in almost every profession, have not been afraid to fail. When they have fallen down, they get back up. Adversity only visits the strong, but stays forever with the weak.

In July 1954, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a wonderful speech called “What Is Man?” He said, “We know that man is made for the stars, created for the everlasting, and born for eternity. We know that man’s crowned with glory and honor. But so long as he lives on the low level, he’ll be frustrated, disillusioned, and bewildered.”

Failure must not shackle us. Henry David Thoreau hit the nail on the head when he said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” So we’ve got to quit worrying about our mistakes. It doesn’t do any good. We’ve got to replace worry with positive action. We shouldn’t be afraid. We can do it if we fully commit ourselves.

Every day we walk this earth, our courage will be tested in some way. But if we approach life one day at a time, we won’t break down. There are two days we shouldn’t worry about — yesterday and tomorrow. When we live in those two eternities, we lose what is today and will not be ready to face the challenges it brings.

Never lose faith in yourself. Faith can calm the stormy seas of our lives and the boldness of faith is so powerful that nothing can stop it.

Hurdle Three: Handicaps

Quite simply, a handicap is a disadvantage that makes achievement difficult. We all have handicaps of some sort, whether we recognize them or not. To succeed, we have to confront our handicaps and overcome them. You can learn a great deal about yourself when you are staring your handicap in the eye. You have the choice to respond by accepting your handicap as final and then giving up, or by accepting your handicap as another challenge to overcome and then fighting to achieve in spite of it.

Paul Anderson was diagnosed with Bright’s disease at the age of five. Bright’s disease affects the kidneys and causes lifelong health issues. It can be fatal in some cases. Paul refused to accept the limitations of his condition. He worked every day to build himself up and become as strong as he could. He began to weight-lift competitively and went on to win the U.S. National Amateur Athletic Union Weightlifting Championship and the gold medal in the super heavyweight division in the 1956 summer Olympics. He also broke nine weightlifting world records. He was commonly called “the strongest man in the world.”

When I was a high school coach in North Dakota, I read that Paul was going to appear at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) camp in Estes Park, Colorado. I said, “I’m driving there. I’ve got to see this world record holder. I’ve got to see this unbelievable human being.” I wanted to know what made him do it and how he did it.

I drove to Estes Park and sat in the front row anxiously awaiting to hear his secret to success. He walked onto the stage, not saying a word. Onstage were two sawhorses and a two-by-four board lying across them. Paul stepped back, took a ten-penny nail from a nearby podium, took a handkerchief, which he held in his hand, stepped back, and with one thrust of his hand, drove the nail right through the two-by-four. Then he looked at the audience and said, “Good morning, everybody. My name is Paul Anderson. I am the strongest man in the history of the world and I cannot live one day without God.”

I learned that day that I can’t live one day without God either. Powerful and strong though we think we are, when we learn this wonderful lesson, as Paul did, we can overcome any handicap.

Hurdle Four: Knowing Yourself

The fourth and final hurdle is the struggle to know yourself. This is the hardest one for us all. Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want from life? George Bernard Shaw said, “People are one of three things: what they think they are, what others think they are, and what they really are.” When we really know ourselves, we begin to develop. Real confidence comes from knowing and accepting ourselves, knowing our strengths and limitations, as opposed to depending upon affirmation from others. The beginning of wisdom is being honest with ourselves.

The most noble and perfect victory is the triumph over one’s self. Muhammad Ali, maybe the greatest boxer of all time, commented that he had achieved complete success by the world’s standards, but that success had not brought him true happiness. He concluded that the only sure way for people to be happy was to be honest with themselves and give their lives to God.

“Pistol Pete” Maravich, whom I consider the greatest college basketball player ever, averaged 44 points a game. He had everything in the world, but he said all of it — the money, fame, and other things — left him empty. Only when he totally submitted and gave his life to God did he find true success and happiness. For these men, and for us as well, knowing ourselves means recognizing our dependence on God. Knowing ourselves means being able to say with confidence, “I can, and I deserve to, find happiness and success because I’m made in the image of God. So under no circumstances will I ever lose hope or give up, no matter what my failures are.”

Only the truth about yourself can set you free and relieve you of self-doubt. Peter Wimbrow’s wonderful piece, The Man in the Glass is great food for thought for all of us.

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife

Whose judgment upon you must pass

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one staring back from the glass.

You may be like Jack Homer and chisel a plum

And think you’re a wonderful guy

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest

For he’s with you clear to the end

And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

In the October issue of Christian Life Magazine, Dale Brown, former LSU men’s basketball coach, shared his thoughts on family and faith. In this issue, he offers advice for those who strive to find happiness and success in their lives.)

 You can order “Getting Over  the Four Hurdles of Life” at www.acadianhouse.com. or reach out to Dale Brown at www.coachdalebrown.com 

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