Win a Championship, Ruin a Program

“Coach Dunn, I want to thank you for ruining our basketball program.”

I can still hear that voice from 15 years ago. It came from a grandparent of a former player who had quit the team the year before. To this day, that moment remains an incredible lesson learned that I now rely on as a school administrator.

There is so much truth to the quote “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.”

Leaders cannot please everyone. 

I learned during the spring of 2005 that it doesn’t matter what you will always have detractors. The program wasn’t “ruined.” The community had just experienced the most successful two years in school history.

In 2004, we went 23-8, won a district championship, advanced to the state final four, and finished the season winning the 3rd place game.

In 2005, we went 27-4, won another district championship, and again advanced to the state final four. That season ended with a victory in the state championship game. It remains the first and only state championship in any sport in school history.

The program was not ruined. This family had simply been frustrated with the role their grandchild had on the team. While many were thrilled to have been a part of or witnessed what was an incredible two-year journey, not everybody was. 

Those two years were just my 2nd and 3rd years of teaching. I was young, naive, and still had much to learn. That moment with the grandparent has been one of the greatest learning experiences in my career. No matter what role I felt I had in the team’s success, that statement in 2005 carried an incredible dose of truth. That truth was not in the statement itself. That truth was in the fact that you truly cannot make everyone happy. We shouldn’t even try.

This is not to imply that we shouldn’t care about proper leadership, collaboration, communication, and taking care of those under our supervision. Not at all. This is to say that we must be strong enough to make the decisions we feel are best for the team - whatever that team may be. We must make them with integrity and the best of intentions. And, we must do what we can to communicate those intentions. 

We still won’t please everybody. When we try, we end up upsetting even more people. We need to believe in our decisions and be strong enough to stick with them despite the naysayers. Those decisions will sometimes be unpopular, but that does not necessarily mean they are wrong.

We won’t always win. And, we won’t always be right. But, it is the only way to win “championships” in whatever arena we may be in.

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.