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The Midweek Motivator – Kicker Story

Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz was the centerpiece for last week’s column; it evoked a surprising number of comments! So here’s an encore from the coaching icon. 

For years before every Notre Dame home game the Joyce Center filled with as many as three thousand fans attending this pregame tradition, and those who couldn’t get a ticket could watch from the Irish’ Hockey arena’s big screen next door. Holtz made it an upbeat affair. As the excitement built in anticipation of that afternoon’s kickoff, Holtz usually included a couple of his players to share the stage to say a few words. Following players’ comments Coach would take a few questions from the audience. But one Saturday it backfired. 

Coach introduced his flamboyant kicker Craig Hentrich who had already amassed a great career for the Irish, arguably the best kicker in Notre Dame’s history as he doubled for both punting and field goals! But instead of reminiscing about his Ivy-covered sun-and-honey days in South Bend, the kicker launched a diatribe about how the coaches took him for granted, short on appreciation for what it took to be a dual-threat kicker under the pressure of major college football! 

He went on the stress that virtually every major college team traveled two kickers. But Notre Dame traveled with one kicker and two priests! Two priests meant there was only room for one kicker said Hentrich, not to mention the isolation a kicker experiences with no one to talk to before games, finally finishing by pointing out if he sustained an injury there was no back-up! 

Holtz said it felt like an eternity before his kicker sat down. The audience was somewhat taken aback in awkward buzz…until Holtz stood up, turned to his aggrieved kicker and quipped, “Well Craig, if you kicked a little better, I wouldn’t need two priests!” In his inimitable style Holtz had the audience reeling with laughter, including his aggrieved kicker. 

Later, Holtz said he realized his Hentrich was exactly right; he hadn’t been shown due respect for his steel nerved performances-so automatic the coaching staff had him set on “cruise.” 

In leadership sessions with our radio clients we sometimes talk about the perils of “Performance Punishment” and never more than in the present moment; downsizing, the current virus menace, and the uncertainty that prevails in several highly leveraged national groups. Simply defined, performance punishment happens when we overlook our stone-cold winners. It’s so easy to take them for granted because they perform at high levels, never seem to falter and always at the top, so we can easily-but-falsely assume they don’t need as much time from us. 

In fact they’re the people with whom we need more interaction; not because they’re prima donnas or under-performing but because they thrive on our validation and reinforcement.  

Usually that further elevates your super-performers to an even higher level…and, at which time, you won’t need two priests!