Character: “We have to build it piece by piece”

At a small town school called Union High School, the football team scrambles in for what they think is a debrief from their game. Instead of the typical review of game footage, the head coach Matt Labrum, had a much more important game plan in mind. With a pre-written letter in hand for every player he marched into the room where his players awaited him.

He barged in the room with the fury only a football coach can display—not due to the loss of the game or the breakdown of the plays, but because of the breakdown of the personal character of his student-athletes.

He demanded all of the player’s jerseys. They were ALL suspended for participating in cyberbullying, having poor academic discipline, and being disrespectful to the teachers with overall lack of character. They weren’t able to earn their spot back on the team until they fulfilled the criteria outlined in Coach Labrum’s letter.

The letter required the students to attend required study halls instead of practice, take a character development class, and do service for their families, the elderly, and the community to practice other skills.

The letter explained that “Humbleness, thankfulness, humility, respect, courage, and honor are much more important than winning ballgames. We can achieve both if we act with others’ feelings in mind and focus on how we can make someone else’s day instead of just being wrapped up in ourselves.” The Coach continued

“WHEN WE ARE WORKING ON THIS AND ACHIEVING IT, WE WILL BE MOLDING OUR CHARACTER IN A POSITIVE WAY! Right now we are way off as a collective group. We want change and are going to make changes now.”

Coach Labrum’s letter came to a conclusion with a quote by John Luther that all 80 students were required to memorize by Wednesday night to earn their jerseys back to play in the homecoming game.

The quote reads:

“Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talent is to some extent a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece—through choice, courage and determination.”

We currently live in a world where success, a charming personality, and reputation are king and seen as more important then character. When we live in a me-centered society character and principles take a backseat; being torn down by blame shifting and justification of situational ethics.

I give props to Coach Labrum, for he lives Woodward’s resolution to choose character over reputation whenever they conflict. Most players finished the required tasks and earned their jerseys back. Due to the service projects and study halls they didn’t practice much football that week and lost their homecoming game 41 to 21. They practiced other skills and learned other lessons instead.

I invite you to, as Jim Collins puts it in his book Good to Great, “confront brutal reality” with an honest and real evaluation of your character:

  • Are you internally building personal character or are you living by the morals and personality of prime time T.V.?
  • Are you striving daily for excellence or going down the path of mediocrity like my previous jellyfish post?
  • Do you have the courage to do the right thing despite what others may think of you?

However you answer these questions, I beseech you to build your character even more “piece by piece” through conscious effort. Our communities NEED more people of character and honor and less of superficial, egocentric, shallow personalities that care more about outward looks and reputation than integrity and courage.

Like another great football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Resolve today to choose character over reputation whenever they conflict!


1 thought on “Character: “We have to build it piece by piece”

  1. When done properly mentors, such as Coach Labrum, can instill these vital principles of character and integrity deep in the hearts of those they work with. It takes them from perceiving “goody-two-shoes” as weak to the inner strength and prosperous results of living a life of true character.

    Hearing of great mentors like this are very inspiring and make me redouble my efforts to fortify my character. Plus, just thinking of the name of this blog, to redouble my efforts to forge fortitude.

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