If You’ve Been Trying to Become a Leader ~ “Coach Carter” Film Analysis

Hey fellow bloggers

~~Just a friendly reminder that I also post on Vocal now and if you’ve got a moment you can read this article there instead to support my writing career. Appreciated~~

In 1999, news channel headlines were brimming with the scandalous disciplinary measures taking place at Richmond High School, California. Ken Carter, the basketball coach, had suspended his undefeated team due to their poor grades. The chaos that these headlines fueled lead to outrage outrageous…the ensuing movie that these headlines inspired lead to  legendary leadership lessons. Here’s how the characters of the film Coach Carter display excellent leadership qualities which we can all use when developing our strength of personal character .

Let’s begin with Coach who is both the protagonist and the beacon lighting the path to a better future for his team and town. In a district where students feel hopeless and defeated by destitution, Coach has a dream where they rise to their highest potential. What makes Coach a good leader is that despite unwavering social adversity, his perseverance of his goal to help others rise is undeterred. He decides to help the basketball team to receive great sporting and educational opportunities and no amount of opposition will stop him. Not when the team’s best basketball players immediately quit upon hearing Coach’s objective. Not when parents, teachers and Richmond High’s principal herself accost Coach for introducing his higher goal. Not even when aggressive citizens vandalize Coach’s home, trying to signal that he should leave the town’s tradition of not being good enough. If crowds need leaders to fall back on for support, then the ability to stand firmly in one’s beliefs, which Coach demonstrated in these scenes, is essential to being a good leader.

Perhaps an even bigger lesson that we learn from these scenes of the movie is that “leader” is not the role to undertake if you’re looking for glory, credit and praise. In Coach’s case, successfully leading the boys to a better life involved having his job threatened in court and being spat on, sworn at and mocked in front of his own son. To be a leader is to sacrifice your personal pride so that the crowd which you lead can see another day; if you can’t sacrifice this, you’re just as lost as the crowd who needs saving. Leaders are genuinely satisfied being like Moses; they are the first to trudge through a figurative sea of shame or criticism, clearing the way for those they care for.

Even if they receive no satisfaction at all, true leaders know that during teamwork, it’s important to take one for the team without thinking about themselves at all. We learn this in the practice scene where Timo Cruz can’t complete 1000 pushups to re-join the team. Jason Lyle, already exhausted from the long practice, finishes the pushups for Timo. Jason knows that if “One person struggles, we all struggle. One person triumphs, we all triumph.” Like a true leader Jason was observing his teammates needs, then making decisions for the whole instead of focusing on how inconvenienced and tired he will be himself. This is a critical leadership skill to enter group projects with because group dynamics fall apart when everyone is nurturing themselves instead of the whole.

On the other hand, while it’s important to inquire about teammates’ feelings, good leaders also develop the emotional intelligence to distinguish how to go about inquiring. The movie teaches us that leaders must be versatile, knowing how to navigate people’s’ emotions based on timing and personality types. For example, at that dancing party, Kenyon knew his girlfriend had gotten jealous and left the party after he was mindlessly grinding up on some other girl. His logical solution? To chase her down in her angry state only to then interrogate her about her pregnancy. Perhaps he was trying to be a good leader by listening to his partners solutions…but a true leader would have approached such a sensitive issue at a better time. His approach lacked emotional intelligence and consequently he poorly navigated his girlfriend’s rage thus worsening it. Aspiring leaders who wish to successfully persuade or lead a crowd must clearly avoid Kenyon’s mistake by first understanding people’s emotions and gauging proper timing.

Speaking of mistakes, we all make them and a true leader is able to show mercy in the face of their followers’ flaws. Coach shows us this, after Timo openly defies Coach TWICE by quitting the team, then comes crying on Coach’s doorstep after his life of crime leads to the death of a loved one. Coach could have shouted “I told you so,” in Timo’s face and sent him to the police. However coach shows excellent strength of character and brings Timo in to his home and back onto the team with open, non-judgemental arms. This kind of mercy isn’t just an important quality in leadership because it makes people like leaders and more willing to forgive their future mistakes. The mercy Coach shows is important because it gives members of the crowd kindness to pay forward to the rest of the group. Instead of isolating Timo and leaving him to wallow in self-hatred and grieving, a good leader would offer him a shot at redemption and at improving the world.

Finally, like Coach, good leaders need to bring vision, innovation and hope to the table. They need to enlighten people to make them see options that they never saw before. In other words, people need a leader to show the way because they can’t see the way themselves. The students on the basketball team couldn’t see that they were headed for a dead-end life of either gangs, prison and poverty before Coach came along; the boys’ biggest dream was winning a non-memorable high school sports trophy. The boys are changed for the better when Coach opens their eyes to the statistical reality that men from their hood would amount to nothing after high school…if they even graduated from high school. After that, the boys were freed from that district’s tradition of low-standards. Instead of hoping for just a basketball trophy, they had been equipped with the tools to win the game of basketball and life. Coach brought vision to the table and gave the people the vision to a path they didn’t even know they were asking for. For this, Coach is the ultimate, excellent epiphany of a true leader and we could all learn a thing or two from him.

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