R – There are two more things that immediately come to mind when I think of Larry Bird, Carl Yastrzemski, Dale Earnhardt Sr and Tom Brady.
3) Work hard at getting better; work hard all the time. Yaz was in his mid 20’s, had won a batting title, and was the captain of the Red Sox when the winter of ’66-’67 came along. He decided that he needed to get stronger to hit the inside fastball. So he went into a strict training regiment over the winter with Hungarian trainer, Gene Berde. Yaz said that after the first day of working out, Berde just laughed at him and said, “You’re a major league ball player?” But Yaz was the one laughing when the season began and he proceeded to win the triple crown and resurrect baseball mania in Boston that hasn’t let up since. Larry Bird was the same way, perhaps even more so. As the offseason of 1985 began, Bird was coming off his second straight MVP season, and he had finished second in the voting the previous three years too. His response? To work on shooting with his left hand so the opposition really wouldn’t know what was coming! Are you kidding me??? Inspiring. Honestly, I don’t know if I could ever have that level of conviction about getting better at my professional craft. But my sports legends remind me that I need to try. I am scared to death that my level of self discovery and self improvement will diminish as I continue through my career. Icons like Yaz and Larry Bird are examples that no matter your age (Yaz was hitting .323 at the all star break in 1983 and had started a game in center field… just weeks before turning 44 years old), your experience, your laurels, your abilities, it is irrelevant the moment a new year begins. You are impacting a whole new group of people or a group of returning people in a whole new way. There are SO many opportunities for professional development, books to read, colleagues to learn from. It’s inconceivable to me that if Larry Bird was a music teacher, he wouldn’t have spent EVERY summer and EVERY school year constantly evaluating his skills, doing whatever it took to get better at his craft.
4) Care… and not just when people are looking. Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. His legacy to the sport is perhaps the greatest in the history of NASCAR. But what came out in droves when he passed away was the endless telling of stories of things he did behind the scenes for others and for his sport. On many occasions he donated time and funds to charities and individuals without those things making it to the press. He’d take the fall and the heat when things would go wrong for others. He made it a habit to empathize with other people, and it didn’t matter who knew. This isn’t bad advice for all of us in music education, especially in tiny northern New England. We need to continually care for and watch out for one another. It’s easy to walk up to friends at District or All-State Festivals and catch up… less so to walk up to a complete stranger, introduce yourself and ask about that teacher’s program. Following up by keeping in touch and asking if there’s anything you can do for them. It is easy to get the auditioned choir or the top band into a rehearsal and enjoy their work… but does the same happen to an even greater degree when the lower level ensembles or kids walk in? Checking in on your top students is one thing, checking in on the students who are a thorn in your side, apathetic or going through the motions is another. I would argue that the latter is a greater need: if we aren’t making the “at risk” students our highest priority, what are we really doing here?
As I said in part 1 of this, I am not a hero worshiper… every one of these four personal sports legends were humans with imperfect lives who, like everyone, had some questionable decision making and actions along the way. I’ll leave the worshiping thing to my faith. No, what I love about them is that they were imperfect humans, showing everyone – exemplifying – outstanding characteristics that we could all learn from while enjoying their greatness in their sports. I love reading about them, hearing about them, talking about them. And learning from them.