“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano
As many of us here in the US are consumed with March Madness and the college basketball finals this weekend, I thought I would use a quote from one of the more storied coaches of my time – Jimmy Valvano. Jimmy was the head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack and went on to be a well-known sports commentator for ESPN.
While he led his college team to a college championship in 1983, he is more widely known for the content of his character – determined, driven, passionate, and a coach whose reputation of caring for others was rivaled only by the grace he showed in his final battle with cancer. For those of you who know of Jimmy Valvano, no introduction is necessary. For those who don’t, it’s worth some research, as one of his lasting legacies is the Jimmy V Foundation – a charity set up by Jimmy in his last months of life for the express purpose of ‘winning the battle against cancer once and for all’.
And so I found myself last weekend watching an ESPN documentary on Jimmy. This documentary – 30 for 30 – Survive and Advance – chronicled the story of the ‘83 Wolfpack team on their way to a national championship. And as many of these 30 for 30 documentaries do, it told the stories behind the story, including how Jimmy Valvano came to take the job and eventually achieve the success he has become known for.
There was one particular part of the documentary that struck me to write this month’s message. It was an outtake from a speech Jimmy gave later in life, one in which he shared some of the background behind his success. And that success wasn’t immediate. In fact, the first year he took over the North Carolina St. team, his record was just north of 50%. And for the next two years the team didn’t do much worth noting. It wasn’t until the end of year three that the team did something magical – winning 9 games in a row to earn the national championship. And even then, he did it with a team whose players were not the stars in the league at the time. This group had to play and beat other teams whose players included Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Ralph Sampson. Jimmy believed in them, and in the end, that belief along with hard work and determination resulted in a national championship.
Let’s go back to Jimmy’s speech, and let me capture a moment he referenced in his life. Jimmy tells the story about visiting his family immediately after taking the job with North Carolina St. In that visit, Jimmy’s father asked him to come back to his room so he could show him something. That something was a suitcase, specifically packed to bring to the NCAA championship game. “Jimmy, I know you will win the championship”, he told his son, “I believe in you, and I’m ready to be there and celebrate when you do”. And in fact, Jimmy tells the story of that suitcase remaining packed and sitting in the same spot for three years. Every year his father would say, “this is your year, and I’m packed and ready to go.” Three years later he finally used that suitcase.
Belief. What a simple yet powerful word. Its meaning is more than simply acknowledgement – it’s almost factual. As if a proclamation of the future. It conveys more than just confidence – it’s more of an endorsement. An endorsement that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to. That we are capable of more than we might ever imagine. Or differently, that we are capable of exactly what we put our minds to.
Jimmy knew that. He knew that one day he would lead a team to a national championship in basketball. He even made the team take one practice each year to rehearse cutting down the nets. Imagine that confidence, that belief in himself and his team. One entire practice doing nothing but cutting down the nets.
What are you capable of achieving? What goals do you set for yourself? And do you work with diligence and determination to reach those goals? What do you believe? And do you believe in yourself?
Because I believe in you…