Faith Life, November 2018

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 or reach out to Dale Brown at 

Cover Story, October 2018

Memories of Family and Faith with Coach Dale Brown, Cover Story

memories of family and faith

by 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.

Two days before I was born, my so-called father—I’ve always referred to him as “my mother’s husband”—left my mother, two young sisters, eleven and twelve years of age, and me, and he never returned. His departure put my mother in a difficult position. She had an eighth-grade education, came off the farm in North Dakota, and couldn’t get a job during the Great Depression in 1935. She became a maid and baby-sitter to earn money, and she had to put our family on welfare.  We lived in a one-room apartment above a bar and hardware store, and I remember my mother getting $42.50 monthly from Ward County welfare.

Two times during this difficult period, my mother taught me a lesson that has stayed with me during my entire life. I saw my mother put on her winter coat, walk down a flight of stairs, and take back to the Red Owl and the Piggly Wiggly grocery stores 25 cents and 40 cents, because the clerks had given her too much change for the groceries she’d brought home. Her actions remind me of a poem by Edgar Guest. 

I’d rather see a lesson than hear one any day 
I’d rather you walk with me than to merely show the way
The eye is a better teacher, and more willing than the ear  
And counsel is confusing but example’s always clear 
The best of all the teachers are the ones who live the creed 
To see good put into action is what everybody needs 
I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done
I can see your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run 
And the counsel you are giving may be very fine and true

But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do. 

My mother always followed the advice of St. Francis of Assisi when he said, “Preach the gospel every day, and if necessary use words.” I saw other lessons in the life of my wonderful mother. Not once, after being abandoned, did I hear my mother talk negatively about the man who had walked out on us and never returned, never sent any money, never wrote. She never, drank, smoked, or used profanity. She was never bitter, angry, or ever complained about her situation in life. I learned from her that if you are looking for a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm. 

My mother’s faith was unbelievable.  She brought me to Mass and Communion daily — not just Sunday, but daily. For me, the daily trip to church was a ritual. To my numerous fake illnesses and attempts to avoid going, my mom’s response was always, “Get up, Son. We’re going to Mass and Communion.” I never slept in a bed the first 21 years of my life but the spirit that grew in that little one-room apartment we lived in, uncomfortable and cramped though it was, made it attractive and peaceful. I was blessed. 

Being a small place, the apartment never provided any place for me to get away on my own. So at night, I often went to sit above the alley on the fire escape. One night, the faith my mother instilled in me deepened when I came back in from sitting out there. My mom asked me to sit in her little rocker.

She pulled up the footstool and said, “Son, I notice you go outside at night a lot. What do you think about when you’re out there? I said, “Mama, I think of two things. I think of travel.” (We didn’t own a car, a bicycle, or any other form of transportation.) “I think of climbing mountains.” (North Dakota is a very flat state, flatter than the top of a table.) That dream came true — I have been in 90 countries and climbed the Matterhorn.  

My mother hesitated just a moment and then said, “You know Son, I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I need to teach you a lesson. You know when these people come to pick me up to go baby-sit? I’m so embarrassed. There’s no husband in our house. We live in this little one-room apartment. I’ve just got an eighth-grade education. My clothes smell of mothballs.” (She bought her clothes at rummage sales.)

“So I’m so worried about my image when these big shots come to pick me up. I look up big words in the dictionary, and then all the way to their house, I inject these words into conversation to try to impress them. That’s called making an image. When you sit out there on the fire escape at night, it’s just you and God, that’s your true character. And Son, if you spend too much time polishing your image, you’ll eventually tarnish your character and be an unhappy man.”

That night, my mom taught me that being my true self was far more important than trying to impress people or pretend to be someone I was not.  Your character is who you really are and your image is what you are perceived to be.

The Church’s Effect on Me  
No matter how financially tight things got, Mom always scraped together enough money for me to attend Catholic school. I learned a great deal over the course of the 12 years I attended a Catholic school. I learned that rules were important. I learned we all are on this earth to help each other. 

Two particular lessons stand out in my mind. One morning, I was standing with two friends by the radiators in the hall at school, warming up. We had religion class before school every day at 8 a.m., and we were out there before class, talking about the things kids talk about. One of the guys said, “Yeah, the Salvation Army, isn’t that funny what they do? You know, they’re outside ringing the bell, and they’ve got that little pot.” Not really making fun of the Salvation Army, but sort of jesting, like kids do.

Well, the bell rang, so we went to religion class. Our religion teacher was Father Hogan. He called on the three of us who had been talking in the hall and asked us to stand up. He said, “You know, I heard you three boys out there talking about the Salvation Army. I wonder, do any of you guys know the motto of the Salvation Army?” 

We each responded, “No, Father.” 

Father Hogan continued, “Well, let me tell you what it is. It’s to love those who aren’t loved by anyone else. The next time you good Catholics are going to make fun of something, remember that.” To this day, that lesson about compassion and sensitivity has stayed with me. Every year at Christmas, when I’m shopping with my wife or daughter and we encounter a Salvation Army volunteer with a red kettle and a ringing bell, I walk over and put money in the pot. I also share with that volunteer what that wonderful priest taught me. 

Father Hogan taught me a second lesson on the importance of being prompt. There are rules — and they are not meant to be bent, twisted, manipulated, or bartered with. The moment I learned this lesson is vivid in my mind. The sports teams at our tiny Catholic school played the biggest schools in the state. I thought I was a big shot athlete. I was the leading scorer in the history of North Dakota High School basketball. I broke the school record in the 440, and was a star on the football team. I thought I was something! Getting a little full of myself, I felt some of the rules didn’t necessarily apply to me.   

Every Monday afternoon by 1 p.m., we had to turn in an eligibility slip to play sports that week. One Monday afternoon, I took my eligibility slip down to the office and laid it on the desk of our principal, Father Hogan. Holding my eligibility slip in one hand, he looked over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses at the clock on the wall. “Dale,” he said, “what time does that clock on my wall say?”  

I had no idea where he was headed, so I said, “One-fifteen.” 

He held my eligibility slip in front of my face and he said, “What time was this due?” 

I said, “One o’clock.” 

“Ah-hah, that’s good you can tell time. And you knew when it was due in my office.” He started ripping my eligibility slip into small pieces, then deposited the pieces in the wastebasket and said, “Now get back up in your classroom and start learning promptness. This slip was due at one o’clock. You’re not going on the road trip this week.” I thought he must be joking. After all, I was the superstar. Well, guess who didn’t go on the road trip?  

Stay tuned for more next month, Getting Over the Four Hurdles of Life, with Coach Dale Brown. 

The long relationship between former LSU coach Dale Brown and former Tigers Star Shaquille O’Neal is one of Browns fondest memories as a coach
Dale Brown had a winning season his first year at LSU, and achieved success for the LSU men’s basketball team for the next 25 years

True Leadership Brings People Together 

If there was ever a moment in our history when leadership was needed, it is now. With all the greed, dishonesty, selfishness, evil, and bad things going on in the world, we need good leaders. A common quality of great leaders through the ages has been their mastery at articulating a vision of the future. They see something that is not yet there and can relay the image to others. In any leadership position, the most important aspect of the job is getting everyone to work together. 

However, working together is only a beginning. The world needs leaders who find their strength in faith and character. Exceptional leaders will get their team members to feel they’re an integral part of a common goal. How is this done? This may sound odd, but the underlying theme of teamwork is our ability to convey a renewed sense of optimism. Teamwork doesn’t just happen – it takes a captain to steer it in the right direction. The role of the captain – whether it’s a coach, teacher, father, mother, or whomever – is to give the ship direction, purpose, and ultimately success. 

“The role of most leaders is to get the people to think more of the leader. But the role of the exceptional leader is to get the people to think more of themselves.” — Booker T Washington 

We need to make a difference, but we can do it only through the grace of God. I am convinced that we are capable of solving any problem, whether it’s race, crime, poverty, terrorism, pollution, drugs, or whatever plagues humanity. 

You, with God’s help, are responsible for your future. You’re really free the moment you don’t look outside yourself for someone else to solve your problems. You will know that you’re free when you no longer blame anyone or anything, but realize you control your destiny and are capable of changing the world. People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. We’ve got to decide which group we will be in. 

The most important thing to God is our relationships with one another. He made us in such a way that everybody needs somebody. And God’s idea for success is a community, a group of people who are committed to each other and who strive to follow his will. Humans have not advanced a centimeter in the history of the world if we are still fighting, hating, killing, and cheating. 

The only notable advancement humans have ever made is becoming brothers and sisters who labor toward a common goal. You see, the best potential of “me” is “we.” So the question in our life journey is not whether God can bring peace, love and happiness in the world. 

The question is, can we?