The movie Invincible is based on the true story of Vince Papale, a 30-year old bartender who gets a late-in-life chance to join the Philadelphia Eagles professional football team. In the film, Vince has lost his teaching job, his marriage has ended, and he’s contemplating going to the Eagles’ open tryout. His father is a blue-collar pragmatist, and suggests Vince not get his hopes up because, “a man can only take so much failure.” Vince goes anyway, earns an invitation to pre-season training, and makes the cut to formally join the team, ultimately becoming a central force in revitalizing them. This week’s story says similar things about how failure can drive us…
When young Pete would call his friends, he’d speak a single word into the phone: “ballgame.” Not “hi” or “it’s Pete,” just “ballgame.” Growing up in the bay-area town of Larkspur, California, Pete was consumed with sports. When he’d call and say “ballgame,” there was no telling what he meant—an all-day basketball marathon at the local school, a San Francisco excursion to watch baseball from the cheap seats at Candlestick Park, or a gathering at his house to see whatever big game was on TV. The only certainty was that it would be fun.
A talented athlete, Pete excelled as a boy in Pop Warner youth football. However, he faced his first disappointment in high school, when his lack of physical growth left him a slender 110 pounds as an incoming freshman. Initially told he was too small to play, Pete wasted no time obtaining special clearance from his doctor. After that initial speed bump, Pete became a three-sport standout, playing basketball, baseball, and nearly every position on the football team. He washed dishes to pay his way to football camp the summer after his junior year, and received his school’s Athlete of the Year award as a senior.
Pete went on to play football in college, earning numerous athletic honors while getting his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. After graduating, he tried out for a professional team, but didn’t make it due to his small size. He got a job as a roofer, and entered the first period of his life without football. It wouldn’t last long.
Pete wanted to find a way back into the game. Starting as an assistant, he began a long climb through a series of coaching positions. His enthusiasm for the game and ability to empathize with players at every position earned him high regard as he gained experience. After 18 years in a variety of roles, Pete finally got a coaching position at the professional level, as head coach of the New York Jets. But the dream job was short-lived: after just one disappointing season, Pete was fired.
After two seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator, Pete got another head coaching opportunity, this time at the helm of the New England Patriots. However, his style didn’t mesh with the goals of the ownership, and after three seasons in New England, Pete was fired again. With the unfortunate label of “damaged goods” beginning to follow him around, Pete spent a year consulting for pro and college teams, writing a football column, and doing charitable work for the NFL. In that time, his sense of competition intensified, and he began doing everything he could to prepare for his next opportunity.
When USC took a chance on Pete, who wasn’t their first, second, or even third choice, he was ready, and credits his firings as a huge part of making him a better coach. He must be right. Under Pete Carroll as head coach, the USC Trojans established a record of 96 wins and only 19 losses in 9 years, during which time they won two national championships. This set the stage for Pete’s return to professional football, becoming head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. Pete completely revamped the Seahawks roster and built the team that, just three years later, advanced to Seattle’s first-ever Super Bowl and a victory in 2014.
Pete Carroll’s path to football greatness was a checkered one, and says much about the critical, life-enhancing value of failure as a component to future success. Failing seems like something we should avoid, but the simple truth is, some of the most important experiences we’ll need to live our best lives can only be gained by enduring and learning from failure. Don’t give up, view failure as a source of constructive feedback, and you can coach yourself to the top of your game!
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams!