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As a basketball coach I know a team cannot win without talent. More importantly I know you can’t win consistently without principles. At a practice a few years ago one of my players was giving me attitude. This kid (let’s call him Tommy) was the most talented player on my team at the time; he could do it all. I had just given him an ear full about his effort in a drill and he didn’t like it. He gave me a “look” in front of the other players so I asked him to follow me into the training room.

When we got there I told him to get his stuff and call his Dad. I informed him that we didn’t need him on the team anymore. Tears filled his eyes; he looked shocked that I would kick him off the team. “Tommy,” I said, “You’re the most talented player on this team, but teams are built on principles, not players. If you don’t want to work hard and show respect to me and the other players we don’t need you.” Tommy vowed to change and begged for a second chance. I sent Tommy home that day and he came back the next day with a greater drive and more respect. He finished the year well and so did the team.

Talent is never enough. To have success in basketball you have to practice dribbling, shooting, passing. You have to lift weights, improve footwork, be in proper position, and have good communication with your teammates. To have success in society you must “ask not what can be done for you, but ask what you can do” (paraphrasing J.F.K.). We must build and not tear down, be positive instead of negative, hope instead of despair, love instead of hate. All of this takes the principles our country was founded on—the principles of character. Thomas Jefferson said it well, “When it comes to style flow with the current, when it comes to principle stand like a rock.”

National statistics show that we have faltered in the matters of principle. Common sense tells us that things can’t continue on like this. We have to return to the foundations of character and we have to do it as a society. If each of us does our part the whole will succeed and we’ll find our way out of the rut we’re in. If we don’t you can believe what the newscasters say and what the “negative Ned’s” say at the water cooler—we will dig the rut deeper and deeper.

Let’s all contribute to turning things around by turning our attention to being the best us we can be. You become the best you for me and I’ll become the best me for you. Great teams are built on principles, not players.

(This is a subscript of Michael’s book, Overcoming the Character Deficit)

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