I’m With the Band

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When I was in college, I was cool enough to be in the Marching Band.  That’s right, you read that correctly. “Cool enough” and “marching band” in the same sentence. This band was elite (and still is) – hundreds auditioned each year, and many were turned away before the coveted 500 spots were finalized. This band was best-in-class and was invited to travel internationally to perform for world leaders.  They've been featured in different media, including Sports Illustrated which noted that the football team may lose some games, but the band “never lost a halftime show."

During the time I was in college, the football team was quite good and in the hunt for a National Championship. The school had never won one at that point and was very hungry to do so. Every week, we joined the football team at the games - cheering for them and playing music in support. One away game was particularly tough. The home fans were hostile. After a close game, our football team won the game. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, players, coaches, trainers and security spilled onto the field to meet half way, shake hands, and stumble in opposite directions. Our football coach was swarmed with security due to the hostile crowd. They were trying to guide him off the field to the locker room. He stopped and pushed in the opposite direction – directly towards the band. When he stood directly in front of us, he took his hat off, reached back, and flung it as us as hard as he could into the stands. 20 band members leapt for the hat and ended up in a pile, with one lucky person ending up with this incredible souvenir.

We had a long drive home – and you could hear everyone across the ten buses talking about what the Football coach did. This man was well respected and well liked. Not just at our college, but nationally and in the folklore of football coaches. For him to go out of his way to make such a gesture was amazing and humbling. Then he did it again at future away games. Each time was just as thrilling, and it was never taken for granted that he would toss his hat. 

While this gesture may seem minimal, the impact and ripple effect has been vast. The people that caught the treasured hats have amazing stories to tell their grandchildren about what this famous football coach did and how they benefited. The others of us who never caught a hat had a wonderful story to tell. And more important than that, the feeling that we mattered. That we were integral to the game and a part of his overall team.

This gesture took the football coach nothing other than two minutes of his time, donating his sponsor-provided hat, and annoying security who didn’t want him to dawdle on the field. He could have kept the hats for himself as a memento of the year we won our first national championship (spoiler alert – we won!).  Instead, he chose to do what great leaders do.  Recognize people on their team.  By tossing the hat, he told us we mattered, we were important to the game, and he was grateful for us.  He did all that without saying a word. (Note - he did later come talk to the band and verbally acknowledge the role he felt we played in winning the National Championship). He put his team before his own interests.  And in turn, we would do anything for him, including ride a bus 24 hours one-way to travel to a game.  His gesture also had an impact on others who took notice. Fans would up come and want pictures with band members. Football players would stop and talked with us. Every organization on campus stopped by practice. We were cool because the coach showed the university we were important to him.

Now that I have made a career out of working with and helping coach leaders, I think back to this gesture. I share this story with leaders to show how a little awareness and gesture on this coach's part has had direct and indirect impact on 1000s of people.  A small moment of your time can mean the difference from someone feeling invisible and feeling integral to the game.  Putting your team before yourself shows that you are all working towards the greater good – and it’s not just about serving your own interests.  Sometimes you also need to take note that your team may include more than just the obvious players. Help everyone involved know you are aware of their contributions, which will result in each person feeling validated and ultimately stronger performance. Additionally, in doing so - others will notice. 

If only the band could have received a National Championship Ring as well...