I attended a meeting last week where Congressmen Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart shared their thoughts on the challenges ISIS, rogue states and radical Islam present to the world. It was a discouraging presentation that left everyone in the room feeling ill at ease. After 20 minutes of disturbing banter about terrorist threats, suicide bombers, Iran with nuclear weapons and other horrors, a man raised his hand and asked a poignant question. He said, “I’m just a guy with a business, the father of four children and the coach of my son’s Little League baseball team. What can I do?”
I can think of many responses to the man’s question — such as support the U.S. military or vote for candidates who are educated in foreign policy — but Rob Bishop had the perfect answer. With conviction he said to the man, “Keep coaching Little League baseball.”
I think Bishop hit a masterstroke with his simple response. It provides a guide for all of us as we define our role in a troubled world.
And let’s be clear — we live in a troubled world. I have a family friend who serves with distinction in the U.S. Marine Corps. He recently returned from a lengthy tour of duty in Afghanistan where he lived the horrors of war in a hot and high-tech command post in the middle of who knows where. Each week he would converse with his wife via Skype. Reflecting on what she learned during these conversations she told me a chilling comment. She said, “It’s like those of us living in the Western world live in a glass bubble and go about our everyday lives. Outside the glass there are a bunch of zombies pounding on it trying to break in and ruin everything.”
The detachment of the description rang true for me. Many of us drive around in our Land Rovers and Hondas from place to place. We fill up our Costco carts and decorate our homes with the latest trendy products from Etsy. We plant our flowers with just the right sun exposure and color mix. We give our very best to our children and help them build prosperous lives. But outside the glass bubble there are confused and angry people who despise everything we do and everything we represent. Modernity to them represents all that is wrong with the world.
At the Zions Bank International Business Conference this year, Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist with the Wall Street Journal said, “Most revolutions begin with hope and quickly descend into terror.” He continued, “If you go around creating power vacuums in the world, willful and violent men are going to fill them."
This is the world we live in. It is a world with serious conflicts and major threats to peace here and abroad. We are not immune to it; we are very much at the center of the conflict. We are reminded of it every time we navigate a crowded airport security line.
That’s why coaches are so important. They impart upon our children and grandchildren life skills that help them become better people. The best coaches know it’s not about the sport and winning; it’s about building character. It’s about teaching young men and women the skills that make them better people. And each time a coach contributes to the character of a child, whether in the U.S. or abroad, the world becomes a better place.
I am a product of numerous soccer coaches who taught me life lessons that help me each day. My children have benefitted from outstanding coaches who sacrificed their time, money and freedom to help them have a stronger sense of purpose in their lives. Great coaches help America raise talented and productive human beings. Each time this happens the grave challenges facing the world get just a little bit easier to conquer.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.