LAWRENCEVILLE — Coaches in any sport are used to being on the giving end of delivering lessons, whether it’s one directed toward their respective sports or life in general, to their athletes.
Saturday night, approximately 2,000 coaches in a variety of sports and their guests gathered at 12Stone Church’s main campus in Lawrenceville to voluntarily put themselves on the other end of the lesson at a coaches summit putting on by the Coaches Leadership Network.
They listened intently to master of ceremonies and noted sports broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr., as well as two guest speakers — Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and noted author, speaker and pastor John C. Maxwell — inspire them, challenge them and make them think about how they approached their profession and how to do it better.
“It’s not just about how (your athletes) play between the lines,” Johnson told the coaches in his opening remarks. “It’s developing the next generation of leaders. … Hopefully, you’ll take away information (Saturday) night that will help you do your job better.”
Both Quinn and Maxwell touched on a variety of topics designed to help provide the coaches in attendance such information.
For Quinn, who has led his team to a 30-19 regular season record and two playoff appearances, including a trip to the Super Bowl, in his three seasons as the Falcons head coach, his best advice came from a question he implored all coaches to ask themselves.
“The question I’d like to ask everyone here is, could you be coached by you?” Quinn said, challenging the coaches to take a look at how they delivered the message they wanted to convey to their players. “If the answer is no, the next one is, why not? If the answer is yes, you’re being true to your own standards.”
That message was one Quinn said he took to heart following one of the toughest times of his coaching tenure after the Falcons lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI just over a year ago after holding a 25-point lead in the second half.
“I felt like I’d let the whole city (of Atlanta) down,” Quinn said. “It hung on me for a while. But as a coach, I owned that responsibility. This is the life we lie as competitors.”
Maxwell’s message to the coaches centered more on the general qualities of leadership, something he’s written about in more than 60 books on the subject.
“Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less,” Maxwell said. “You have to lead yourself before you can lead somebody else. If you wouldn’t follow yourself, why would anyone else follow you? Start with yourself.”
But Saturday’s summit wasn’t only about defining leadership and inspiring to do so. It was also about honoring and recognizing those who have already done so.
Chief among those was Meadowcreek head football coach Jason Carrera, who was named the CLN’s 2018 Coach of the Year.
The plaque he received and the video that was shown in commemoration of that award was something he knew about in advance, but there were other surprises in store for Carerra, who guided the Mustangs to its best record (7-4) in 20 years and their first postseason appearance in nearly 30 years last fall.
In addition to being presented with the trophy by three of his players — running back Chauncey Williams, defensive end Qu’Vella Calhoun and linebacker Kevin Martin — he also received other gifts from the CLN and various sponsors to help aid the Meadowcreek program.
Stan Hall, executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission, presented Carrera with a check for $3,500 to aid in the program’s expenses.
In addition, after Meadowcreek’s “Uncle Pigskin” program — which was started by local businesses to provide, among other things, transportation to Mustang players who can’t get a ride home from school after practices — was mentioned in the video honoring Carrera, a local automobile dealership donated the use of a 12-passenger van, plus maintenance and tires for five years.
Carrera found all those gestures overwhelming.
“When you’re able to walk up on that stage and see kids like Chauncey and Q and Kevin walk out there, and you know that there’s a love for those kids and they love each other and there’s a brotherhood between those kids, yeah, it means a lot,” Carrera said. “It’s great to know that not only we impacted a team of 55, 60 kids, we impacted a school, we impacted a community and hopefully we impacted a county because they got to see something — you know, people came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been around here forever, and … I’ve never seen Meadowcreek do this.’
“And it’s so generous by 12Stone and (the CLN and the local donations) to do all this. It’s just amazing to come and help out our program.”
Overall, different coaches had different takeaways from the evening’s event.
For Mike Phillips, a former football coach and athletics director at multiple schools who serves as director of Gwinnett County’s adapted sports program, a reminder of how much coaches can affect the lives of student-athletes and being re-energized to do so.
“It was just an incredible night,” Phillips said. “What I took away from it was that we have a tremendous opportunity to really influence young people. The key to it is to let them know that your really care for them.”