“Go, and make disciples.” This was Christ’s charge to every Christian. One of the main components of this charge is training the next generation of leaders. Through our years in the marketplace, it’s been an awesome privilege to disciple young men and prepare them to one day lead. It’s not that we’re such stellar leaders naturally, but because of other men in our lives who poured into us and showed us tough-love, it shaped who we are today. One specific man was our football coach at Garland Christian Academy, Ronnie Littleton.
A Coach’s Coach
They don’t make ‘em like Coach Littleton anymore. He was a little rough around the edges, but that’s exactly what we needed to smooth down our own rough edges. In a world that was becoming increasingly politically correct, Ronnie wasn’t one to succumb to the pressure and start handing out participation trophies. If coach Littleton was coaching in 2020, he wouldn’t be too popular with the parents. But the Lord used him, both in the classroom and on the field, to form in us the character of a leader. As we reflect on those years, here are four keys we learned from him:
Internal Restraint = External Freedom
Coach Littleton first instilled in us that external freedom is a result of internal restraint. Think about a kite – the only way a kite flies is when it’s restrained by the string. Without restraint on the front end, there can be no freedom on the back end.
So, here’s the question for you…What do you want? How badly do you want it? What restraints are you willing to put on yourself now so that you can achieve what you want later? Accomplishing your dreams isn’t just a matter of mastering a craft or landing a huge sale, it’s a matter of saying “No” now so that you can say “Yes” later. Our years under Coach were marked by a lot of restraint. Some willful and some imposed, but all beneficial.
Our Talents are His Tools Not Our Toys
Coach Littleton first heard about us from our older sister, Tracy, who attended school a few years before we did. The first time he saw us play he knew we had potential. But more importantly, he knew that we required a lot of coaching. And the most important coaching tip was that our talents were tools for God’s glory, not toys for our own glory.
When you’re young it’s difficult to view your gifts as tools for God. But through the leadership of our dad and Coach Littleton we began to realize the immense platform our athletic ability would provide us. If left to ourselves, our ability on the field would have been little more than a four-wheeler or paintball gun – a toy. A toy is meant for our own pleasure, but a tool is meant to build something for others’ pleasure. It would take humbling ourselves and viewing our abilities as tools and not toys before we could actualize the potential that Coach saw in us. It was during this time that we realized God wanted us to use our abilities as tools to build with, not toys to play with.
Dreams Don’t Accomplish Themselves
Everyone has dreams, but not everyone accomplishes those dreams. The difference between those who accomplish and those who wish? Personal discipline. Coach understood that this wasn’t just an on the field or off the field thing. This was a whole life thing. Ronnie assured us that he saw positive signs of leadership in us, but he wanted us to step up our game. He wanted us to go above and beyond and set a standard for personal discipline.
Here are the three practical things he told us to do going into our senior year. 1) Show up early to every class, 2) Sit on the front row, and 3) Wear a tie every day.
You might not believe it, but those simple acts of consistency and discipline actually had a ripple effect throughout every area of our life. Some days we looked like clowns in ties, but that year built a ton of character and was incredibly instrumental in shaping the leaders we are today.
Focus On Depth
We still remember seeing the classic movie, The Natural, with our dad. Watching Roy Hobbs run around those bases with lights exploding like fireworks lit a fire in our hearts. We felt like we were watching our story. We desperately wanted to reach the Big Leagues one day. But our school, Garland Christian Academy, wasn’t exactly famed as a baseball powerhouse in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
High School baseball was vast in Texas, and we feared that if we stuck it out at this relatively rinky-dink school, we’d never get noticed. We let our ambition jump in the driver’s seat so much one time, that after our sophomore year, we were willing to leave for a bigger school. We even convinced our dad! But the Lord, and our mom, had other plans. She saw how much we’d grown. She saw the character that this little school had instilled in us. She knew that leaving would’ve been foolish, and she didn’t want to pull us away from Coach Littleton. She called us to be faithful and grow even deeper roots where the Lord had planted us. If God wanted us to play college ball then He would accomplish it.
We were concerned about breadth – our reach. We learned a lesson that stuck with us for the rest of our lives, one that Coach Littleton reminded us of. Focus on depth and God will handle our breadth. We work on the health and depth of our root system, and God will take care of the rest. Mom called us to bloom where we were planted; and was mom ever right. If you want to finish this story, pick up our book, Miracle in Shreveport.
As we look back on those years, we’re so thankful that there was a man who was willing to hold our kite string and not let go – even on the windy days! It wasn’t always easy, but it was in the strain that we were refined. Learning to be a leader is a process – a process that’s still going on for us, and it began all the way back at GCA with Coach Ronnie.