My quest for leadership qualities
“Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?”
A while back, a good childhood friend wrote to me, “Jack, your dad was a great leader, coach, and gentleman. I can remember him from Joliet Little League, along with your fastball. Please write about him.” His note had me thinking about what it was about my dad that my friend felt made him a leader. It sent me on a quest for, “What are leadership qualities?” His request also had me realize that leaders are often right in front of us, without our knowing.
Knowing that my dad made such a memorable, positive impact on another’s life is a great tribute to him. To know that someone remembers him in that way, some 45 years later, is remarkable. It is equally compelling to me because it reinforces my belief in the tremendous influence that youth coaches have on impressionable young players. It is the reason I am passionate about writing of positive coaching and positive parenting in sport.
I never thought of my dad as a great leader because he was just “Dad” to me. Upon reflection, he was all of those things my friend mentioned and everything that a leader is.
Leading by example and few words
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“I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.”
Dad was a lot like some of the leaders I played with in the major leagues. Guys like Alvin Davis (Mariners), Andre Thornton (Indians) and Harold Baines (White Sox) were all men who led by example in a quiet, compassionate manner. Respected people do not need to talk with their voice. They lead by the way they conduct themselves. Just being who they are and not trying to be someone different commands respect from people.
My dad was a man of few words but, when he spoke, everyone took note and respected what was said. He never tried to be someone he wasn’t. He never “big leagued” it, a term used when people pretend to be someone better than they are. My dad did his best talking with his smile. I can never remember a day in my life when he did not greet me with a smile that said, “I love you just the way you are.” What can be better for a child, and an adult child, than that parental message? My dad lit up a room with his smile and lit up my life with it.
“I would be nothing without you.”
I never knew the full impact of my dad’s leadership qualities and character until after he passed away. That is when we found out that he had been awarded a Bronze Medal for his conduct during World War II. Imagine having been with someone for over 50 years and never feeling the need to tell others about one of the greatest awards that anyone can receive. I have no idea what act he performed to get the award that is for “Heroic or meritorious achievement or service” during the war. Maybe everyone who participated in the war received it, I am not sure, but to never brag about it or even mention it, demonstrates a self-assuredness of a person who doesn’t need a pat on the back – it was always about family and others to my dad.
“It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I’ve got it all here in my heart.”
My dad only coached me for a few years in baseball but coached me to the day he died in the lessons of life. Life lessons like respecting everyone involved in the game and the game of life, friend, and foe alike, and playing with hustle, determination, and enthusiasm. When I think about it, I have written about my dad before and my mom, too. My second book, Raising an Athlete: How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport contains 200 pages of positive parenting lessons that I learned from them. The book is simply a testament to their teachings and parenting.
“It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I’ve got it all here in my heart.”
“You let me fly so high”
I cannot begin to count the times that my dad was there for me when things didn’t go my way. He was there in the back yard when I started playing ball and was there with me at my baseball school when I taught baseball after my career was over. He never stopped believing in me and never stopped encouraging me to keep striving for my goals. My dad, like many dads from the “greatest generation,” never rested until the job was done. He could fix anything and worked tirelessly so that our family got what was necessary. I did not inherit the ability to fix much of anything but like to believe that I learned his work ethic.
Of course, there were other leaders in my life, too.
Leaders make others feel special
“You were content to let me shine, that’s your way.”
The incredible coach, Gordie Gillespie, came into my life in high school. Gordie, who was still coaching college baseball at the age of 84, is truly unforgettable. Gordie was not a quiet leader; his voice demanded attention. After listening to Gordie, you became convinced that you could run right through the wall. Gordie had a way of making everyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. Great leaders do not take the credit for what everyone around knows is their doing, but they make others feel like they accomplished it on their own. Gordie Gillespie was the “Wind beneath our wings.”
“You’re everything I wish I could be.”
I came upon another great leader when I attended college in the person of Johnny Reagan. Another man who led by example and few words, Johnny was simply “Coach,” to those of us who played for him. I do not ever recall hearing the man swear or raise his voice, but he never failed to get the important messages of hard work, dedication, and teamwork across to us. The way he lived taught us to act with dignity. He was the very definition of class and integrity.
“While you were the one with all the strength.”
The next great leader in my life came in professional baseball. Del Crandall was a major league all-star player who played with the likes of Henry Aaron and Warren Spahn, before becoming a major league manager. He taught aspiring players like me what it took to get to the next level and how to deal with the ups and downs of professional baseball. After a very tough time in my career when I did not get the expected call to the big leagues, Del said words that I will never forget. “Jack, life is not always fair” – pause – “but, just because you were slighted does not diminish who you are or what you can become.” Great leaders, like Del, put the game in its proper perspective and encourage others to keep reaching for their dreams. I have repeated similar words many times to my kids and my students during disappointing times in their lives.
Leaving a Legacy
“So high I almost touch the sky.”
The great coach, John Wooden, once said “Just remembered,” when asked how he would like to be remembered. That is all any of us can really hope for. “Thank you, Gary” for remembering my dad in the way you have. I know he is smiling down on me and those he touched, and I only pray that I can smile enough to pass on his light to those that I encounter.
I now realize why my dad and others in my life were great leaders. It is not always easy to be yourself, to make it about the other guy, to walk the walk and teach the necessary life lessons.
Besides a kid’s parents, their sport’s coaches are often the most influential people in their lives and they shape kids’ lives, good or bad, for years to come. What could be better than being remembered in a positive way for many, many years to come? It is a shame when coaches, and parents for that matter, do not seize the opportunity to be the positive role models that young people deserve. My next book – Creating a Season to Remember – addresses ways to do that.
“Thank you, thank you,
thank God for you,”
After finishing this article, it was very ironic that I received another Email from another childhood friend. He wrote, “Jack, I read what you post on here, and I can tell that your passion for sports and drive to help kids has a lot of your dad’s influence in it. What a great man. I remember him with a lot of love and respect.” Another unsolicited note that astounded me and restarted the memories. I hope letters like the ones I received convince adults to practice positive coaching every day of their lives.
Finally, I want to thank my friend for remembering my fastball. Oh yea – Glory Days.
(All Lyrics from Wind Beneath My Wings – Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley)
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” Now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.