Sample Speech # 6

Coaching Character: Inspiring the Will of the Team

by William S. Wallace, General Commander, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine

General Commander William S. Wallace was asked to speak at a breakfast in San Antonio, Texas, on January 4, 2008, honoring the football coaches of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. When analyzing this speech, consider how the audience demographic and the occasion itself might have influenced the content of the address. Note the speaking techniques General Commander Wallace employs to ensure that he conveys his message clearly and effectively to his audience.

            Good morning. It's an honor and a privilege to be here this morning and to speak with so many great leaders and motivators of our fine young men and women.

            Let me start by congratulating each of you.

            Your selection to attend this elite, two-day Coaches Academy was not based solely on the accomplishments and efforts of your players. Your attendance here today is in large part due to your achievements and is a direct reflection of the leadership and dedication you've provided all your players, all year long.

            The players selected to play in this eighth annual Army All-American Bowl are all very talented but their success and selection is not due to their exceptional abilities alone. Rather their abilities…in combination with the character you've helped to mold are what have distinguished them above their peers.

            Your impact and influence on the performance and in the lives of your players cannot be overstated. They play their hearts out for a lot of reasons…and one of them is you.

            I'd like to take a few moments this morning to offer a few insights and anecdotes on building winning teams, and maybe a few thoughts on training and “Character.” While I was thinking about what I wanted to say this morning, I was trying to remember some of the folks that made a difference in my early years. I started thinking back to my time at West Point, but I couldn't remember a single name of any of my professors.

            Ironically, what I do remember are the names of just about every high school teacher and coach with whom I had contact with during my time at Eastern High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Each provided me a life lesson about what it's like to be an individual, what it's like to be a leader, and what it's like to go out into this big world of ours and try to make a difference.

            My mind goes back to a man by the name of Charlie Hord. Charlie was the head football coach at Eastern. Coach Hord had an interesting way of conducting himself during practice. Coach Hord used to carry a clipboard with him. To get a player's attention he'd whack you on the head with that clipboard, which was always an added incentive to keep your helmet on during practice.

            As I recall, Coach Hord went through about a dozen clipboards during my senior year, but at the same time he taught us something about ourselves, and about teamwork. He taught us that individually you can be okay, but by instilling the attributes of unity and teamwork greater heights are achievable.

            I can tell you that our team in 1965 won the county football title and went all the way to the state championship game. I can also tell you that my team was not particularly talented. We were not particularly big as far as height and weight were concerned or particularly fast either; but as a team we achieved superior performance largely because of what we were taught by Charlie Hord.

            There were several other people of great influence throughout my high school years that I distinctly remember, like my biology teacher and track coach, Coach John Ochsner. Coach Ochsner taught me a lot about work ethic and stamina.

            Mr. John Elliott, my chemistry teacher, taught me to really think—not what to think, but how to think. . . which I believe is an incredibly important difference to understand. Mr. Elliott was a tough teacher and was somebody that you didn't want to disappoint. I believe that my high school experiences are not much different from that of your players. I know they don't want to disappoint you either.

            The ability to inspire and make a difference in a young person's life is an awesome responsibility. Good coaching brings out the very best in both players and coaches. Coaches, like Army Drill Sergeants, teach a lot more than just skills and tactics, they teach determination, discipline, and character, both in and out of uniform.

            American historian Stephen E. Ambrose, the author of the acclaimed book Band of Brothers and countless others, was General Dwight D. Eisenhower's official biographer. Long before Eisenhower attained all of his distinguished titles—Five-Star General of the Armies, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, and President of the United States—he was known as “Little Ike,” a powerhouse West Point football player.

            Prior to World War II, Ike's previous claim to fame was that his very promising football career was abruptly ended the fall of his sophomore year, when he sustained a near-crippling knee injury attempting to tackle legendary All-American and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Jim Thorpe. That anecdote aside, Stephen Ambrose describes Eisenhower's continued contribution to the West Point football program as the coach for the junior varsity team.

            Ambrose writes, “[Eisenhower's] experiences as a coach strengthened his love for the game. Like many fans, he made football into something more than just an athletic contest. The act of coaching brought out his best traits—his organizational ability, his energy and competitiveness, his enthusiasm and optimism, his willingness to work hard at a task that intrigued him, his powers of concentration, his talent for working with the material he had instead of hoping for what he did not have and his gift for drawing out the best in his players.”

            There are a lot of parallels between football, coaching and the U.S. Army, some more valid than others. Football coaches and military leaders often use figurative phrases and language, interchangeably, to “fire up” their troops or emphasize the importance and urgency of a situation.

            ESPN's “Coach of the Century,” Vince Lombardi, often referred to the “gridiron” as the “field of battle.” Hard fought contests and rivalries are described as “wars,” and football players as “soldiers.” The offensive and defensive lines play “down in the trenches,” and on the flip side, army leaders often use the phrase “in the red zone” to indicate close combat.

            But not every football and military term is reciprocal. . . the “bomb” and the “draft” immediately come to mind as having significantly different connotations, and we certainly don't want our Army to ever have to enjoy a “home field advantage.” We and our nation prefer “away games.”

            There is one very profound and common correlation between high school football and the U.S. Army, and that is we are both exclusively composed of “walk-ons.” Every single one of our members is a qualified volunteer seeking greater opportunity to challenge and better themselves and be a part of a winning team.

            Coaches and military commanders face a similar prospect; how do you develop and maintain a winning organization year in and year out, when the capabilities and competence of your “bench” and the cohesion of your unit are constantly in flux?

            To develop formative training and innovative leaders, you have to instill a “warrior's spirit” in your players. And to cultivate a “warrior's spirit, “ you must first establish the core identity, direction, and doctrine for your organization.

            In the U. S. Army, our core identity is ingrained and advanced through the adherence to and advocacy of our seven army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. These are the values that bind us and serve as the bedrock of our great institution. Soldiers adopt army values as their own at basic training, and they live them every day through their total commitment to each other and the mission.

            Former LSU, Army, and South Carolina football coach, Paul Dietzel, made this interesting observation: “You can learn more character on the two-yard line than anywhere else in life.” He's absolutely right. It is when your back is up against it that the unrelenting determination of the individual and the team are truly tested.

            Midway through the third quarter of the 2006 Army All-American Bowl, East and West were tied, 7–7, but momentum had shifted to the West. In a solid defensive stand, the aggressive West defense forced two offensive off-sides penalties and sacked the quarterback for a loss to pin the East back on their seven-yard line and force third down—27 yards. Taking the snap out of the end zone, the East's quarterback scrambled to avoid the blitz, but maintained his composure and connected with his receiver for a 58-yard completion. Momentum swung the other way. The West's coach, Jim Rackley, credited the quarterback and that play as the pivotal moment of the game. The East went on to win the game 26–16, and the quarterback, Tim Tebow, went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Tim was quoted as saying, “We believed as a team.”

            But the development of a “warrior ethos” is not a goal line or battlefield revelation.

            It is a principled work ethic that builds mental stamina as well as physical prowess. Coaching character is as much, if not more, about the will of the coach as it is about the will and the work of the athlete. The “will of the Coach”—I like that. It emphasizes that the onus for results resides with the one who leads, who teaches, and who sets standards for the unit.

            As combat and football are both human endeavors, there exist some very real and decisive elements to these contests of wills that dramatically affect their conduct and outcome. “Shifts in momentum,” “seizing the initiative,” “fan base and fanaticism,” “national will,” “officiating,” “media bias,” “play making,” “pressure,” “injuries,” and “leadership” are all indisputable and unpredictable aspects of these activities.

            How do you develop that elusive “something” that soldiers and players draw on at “crunch time”? It is the character of the leader and the character of the organization that inspires loyalty across the formation, musters the reserves and evokes a “warrior's ethos”:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

            Coaching character is about demonstrating and developing the internal fortitude, mental toughness, confidence, and conviction that comes only through shared goals, shared pain, shared fortune, and shared values. Stirring the warrior's spirit is an all or nothing proposition. You can't half-step trust or integrity.

            In football as in combat—to win the day, you've got to win the moment, and when that moment arrives it's the character of the man, the character of the team, and the character of the coach that will decide the contest.

            High school football is more than just an extracurricular activity, it is a proving ground for building young men's character and in many communities across this Nation—it's an American institution. The Army is much more than just an occupation; it's an American institution as well, a uniquely American institution. Throughout our history, the U.S. Army has been a power for change in our nation and for the advancement of people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to advance.

            Our ranks are filled with men and women who have raised their right hand and committed to something larger than themselves. They are purpose driven, proud to answer the call to serve and work with men and women of character who inspire them.

            I'd ask each of you to remember that right now in places like Kandahar and Mosul, Kabal and Baghdad, and hundreds of places around the globe, there is a young American soldier walking point for his squad, his battalion, his army, and his Nation.

            “On point” is a position of great responsibility and great honor. Their very presence represents opportunity to people who would otherwise have none.

            High school coaches are also “on point” in our schools, in our communities, and in the lives of young men and women.

            Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, and again congratulations to each of you and your players.

            Have a great All-American Bowl and an Army Strong Day.

Discussion Questions

1.  What is the general purpose of the speech? What is the specific purpose?

2.  What type of special occasion speech is this? Identify evidence from the speech that supports your answer.

3.  Do you think the analogy between football training and military training is an effective one? Why does he reference the seven army values?

4.  Why this speech is called “Coaching Character”? What message is the speaker trying to convey?