Tony DeMeo

Lead for God’s Sake by Todd G. Gongwer

Lead for God’s Sake is a great little book that was given to me by Keith Tyler. Keith is the head of the West Virginia Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Keith was also an outstanding athlete. He ended his basketball playing days at The University of Charleston as their second all time leading scorer. In my six years as the head football coach at the University of Charleston, Keith was an invaluable resource to me. He helped counsel players who were struggling and led our pre-game devotional service. He attended our practices at least once a week and really developed strong relationships with both the players and the coaches. So when Keith Tyler recommends a book; I read it.

Todd G. Gongwer has written an inspirational parable that you will not be able to put down. A parable is an interesting genre for getting your point across. Patrick Lencioni wrote a popular business parable that I also reviewed The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (I would also re-recommend that book). Gongwer has hit a home run with his book as well.

Lead for God’s Sake is the story of an ambitious high school basketball coach whose team is really under-achieving and he can’t figure out why. He felt his team had no heart and tried to punish them into developing the mental toughness he was looking for. The coach had plans for a great career as a basketball coach and these kids were ruining everything.

The turning point comes when he confides in the school custodian. He told the custodian everything that was wrong with the team – they were selfish, and they had no leader. Even when his team won they looked bad.

Things continue to topple and punishment is not working. The coach was out of possible solutions and was ready to listen to the janitor’s advice. The custodian didn’t give advice on basketball strategy or how to run the pick and roll; he told the coach how to deal with people and how to truly become the team’s leader. One of the greatest lines from the janitor was “you must change your heart before you can change someone else’s”. You have to ask yourself “Why am I coaching?” That’s the key – “why?” What’s your purpose? This is a question every coach, young or old, should ask themselves. If your purpose is to help others then you are on the right track.

As a young coach, I had the opportunity to be a head college football coach at 25 years old. I got on the right track almost by accident. I got great advice from an elderly trainer everyone called JB. “TD, just look after the boys” was the advice from JB. My goal was to give my players the best possible chance at success on the field and in the classroom. I also started getting the players into community service. I felt that if the total person was developed, then winning would be a by-product. Fortunately I had outstanding players who survived a young coach’s mistakes and taught me as much as I taught them. The key was that I truly cared for those players as men not just players. They knew it and we won two championships in four years. It was not about Xs and Os – it was about caring and developing relationships based upon mutual respect. Those men from that team have since gone on to accomplish great things in their lives. I’ve been the Head Coach of three other college football teams and I used the same formula at the other schools as well. The results were similar – winning games, graduating players and success after graduation.

The high school coach in Todd Gongwer’s parable also learns the lessons of purpose and caring. He learns the lesson of being the person he wants his players to be. When you put your focus on your players; you become a better coach. Be the example. I always get a good laugh when I see coaches screaming at their players with their veins ready to burst that “we need more poise.” Remember “the best way to pass on the message is to be the message.”

I am not going to ruin the book by telling you the way that HS coach finished the season or what happened to the wise custodian but I strongly recommend this book. It’s a quick read because you won’t want to put it down. The story is not only insightful but also very entertaining. If you are in a leadership position of any kind then Lead for God’s Sake should be on your bookshelf.