#21 Leave the place better than you found it. It is the last of 21 ways Jon Gordon (2015) suggests one can be a great teammate. I have some thoughts I’d like to share about several of the ways to be a great teammate but I’ll start with #21 .
Jon Gordon’s book outlines the example of George Boiardi, a lacrosse player, a very special lacrosse player at Cornell who passed away on March 17, 2004 while playing lacrosse. It was certainly with mixed emotions that I read the book and considered the lessons contained therein. Anyone who has coached for any length of time has seen glimpses of the behaviours Gordon illustrated through the life of George in their players and can likely recall a few who draw out special memories perhaps different and yet the same that can lift us all in the reflection.
As I came to realize when George had passed away, what year, I was reminded of a very special athlete who embodied many similar attributes who also passed away in 2004, Sept 1st while at football practice in his case, Jeff Halvorson. I’ll write a little more about some of the great teammate traits Jeff embodied in a future post. To me there are many similarities.
Today I want to focus on this 21st way; “Leave the place better than you found it.” If you consciously strive in your interactions with others to lift and improve there is no limit to the impact you can have. I’m also certain that for the most part, you may never fully know how far the ripples of your actions reach through the thoughts and lives of others.
One of Jeff’s high school teammates was a young man by the name of Brian Ridgeway. A year behind Jeff in high school they played on the Grande Prairie Warriors and played against each other in junior football in BC. Brian played a few years with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL before his second major concussion led to an early retirement. Brian was entertaining as a high school football player, a safety for the Warriors he played with reckless abandon. In his post-secondary and professional career, he moved up to linebacker, he loved to hit.
The Okanagan Sun were the dominant team in BC Junior football through the ’90s and into the early 2000s. In 2004, they advanced to the national championship, lead through the early part of the season by Jeff Halvorson as he scored 17 touchdowns to lead the Canadian Junior Football league despite passing away midway through the season. Two years later as the Sun wrapped up the regular season they hosted the Vancouver Island Raiders, a team that had been founded in Nanaimo starting in 2005. Brian Ridgeway was an original captain and exemplified this 21st way to be a great teammate.
I remember a conversation with the Sun’s head coach, Jay Christensen at the time. Jay shared that following that last regular season game, a game the Raiders had won, that as he walked through the building he observed this senior captain in action with his teammates and walked back to his own coaches’ room announcing that he didn’t think his team could beat the Raiders in the upcoming playoff game. It might not have seemed like a big thing to others but as a football coach of 19-23 year olds he’d been in more than one locker room and observed more than one veteran interacting with rookies as a visiting team hurried to get showered and get on the road.
What he had observed was a captain not berating the rookies to hurry up, players certainly wouldn’t have been first in the shower, but rather a captain helping rookies gather up their equipment and even carrying their bags out to the bus. Brian’s example in the locker room (and his exceptional play on the field) convinced him that the leadership of the team from its lead players was something special beyond the physical talent of the players. The kind of difference that makes it difficult to lose.
I’m convinced that the attitude of giving, of checking your ego and working toward taking anything you do from where it is to a higher place is inspirational and changes the DNA of the organization or the people impacted by that effort. There is a song, it’s a hymn really, entitled “Have I Done Any Good?” The lyrics ask the questions that someone committed to leaving any relationship, place or situation better than they found it would consider. I’m grateful to Brian, Jeff, the story of George as shared by Jon Gordon and the hosts of people I’ve been blessed to work with, teach and coach who work at leaving it better than they found it. Have I done any good in the world today? Keep those memories and chances are you have and will.
Gordon, J. (2015). The hard hat: 21 ways to be a great teammate. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.