How to Impact a Person for the Rest of Their Life

Dear Joshua Medcalf,

I’m writing this in an attempt to express the appreciation I have for you and how you’ve helped me. It’s hard to find the words to tell you how grateful I am for your mentorship. You loved me. You believed in me. You pushed me. My world is totally different because of the messages you shared with me, the books you asked me to read, and the ways you challenged me to grow. I can safely say I never would’ve gotten here by myself. Thank you for helping me realize all I am capable of being. I continue to think of you, your words of wisdom, and your belief in me as I chase my dreams. I will be forever grateful for you.


Author’s Note: I write this with coaches in mind, but the principles still apply for people in other positions. Just substitute the words “coach” and “players” with the words that fit your situation.

Why We Coach

I believe that 99% of coaches enter the profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. Of course we’d all like to win a few games in the process, but if we reflect on our true purpose of coaching I’d find it hard to believe that it doesn’t boil down to something about impacting lives and leaving the world a better place.

Coaches: Flash forward to your retirement dinner. Who would you want to be there? What would you want said about you? Who would be willing to speak about the legacy that you’ve left?

For me, I’d hope that the time spent recounting wins or championships would take no longer than one minute and would be an inconsequential portion of the evening. The thing that would mean the most to me would be a room full of former players spanning multiple decades. They’d be excited to see me and reminisce about the time we spent working to see just how far we could go together. I’d be thrilled to be spending time with them again. I’d love sharing those memories with them. They’d introduce me to their family and I’d beam ear to ear seeing how they’ve grown. A few of them would be willing to stand up and speak about time we spent together loving our sport together.

They’d share how even though at the time it may have seemed like we were trying to win more games, they’d realized at some point that the lessons could be applied beyond sports. That because of our time together they’d come to believe in themselves, they’d learned how important it is to treat people with kindness, dignity, and respect, they’d discovered a resilience strong enough to defeat any obstacle, and they’d felt compelled to share these lessons with others.

If I’ve done my job as I aspire to do it, they’d say, “Thank you, coach. My life is better because of you and the person you helped me become.”

At the end of this article I have some bonus resources you can share with your team to help make an impact like this.

But How?

Once we get in the thick of things, the day-to-day of coaching can pull us away from the vision of how we want to be remembered. Sometimes it feels like our messages aren’t getting through. Sometimes the pressure to win becomes overwhelming. Sometimes differences in personalities make it hard to connect. There are so many things that can make it difficult for us to implement our vision.

That’s why I’m sharing my experience of what made an impact on me.

I sought out Joshua in winter of 2014 in hopes that he could help me become a better basketball coach. Through his mentorship I didn’t just get better at coaching basketball, I became an entirely better person. I’m a better fiancé, friend, brother, son, and teacher because of the time I spent learning from him.

Through working with Joshua, I experienced firsthand the kind of transformational impact every coach wants to have on the players they coach. As I reflect on the progress I’ve made, I feel compelled to share the recipe for impact that Joshua Medcalf imparted on me.

1) Love Unconditionally

If you’re going to impact a life through sport, the person has to matter far more than the player. To love unconditionally simply means that how you feel and how you act toward a person doesn’t change based on what they produce for the team, nor does it change in response to that person’s attitude or effort. Whether they’re at their best or their worst, you love them just the same. If you do just this one thing, you’ll impact more lives than you can even imagine.

If you’re going to impact a life through sport, the person has to matter far more than the player.

I remember making a trip to Denver to spend time with Joshua and his partner Jamie. At that point, I hadn’t been very good about following the blueprint Joshua had given to me. I’d spent the past couple of months without great execution of my process. I was a little bit afraid to see my coach and admit that I’d fallen short of our vision. In that moment, Joshua’s unwavering support of me made all of the difference. We spent a few days of high-quality time together and I could feel how much he cared about me and believed in me. He could have said, “I’m not giving you my time and energy until you start to live up to your potential,” but he didn’t. He poured into me and re-ignited my belief in what was possible. Since that moment I’ve been far more motivated and committed than I would have been otherwise. The reason I’m writing this email is because of how Joshua made me feel: loved.

2) See More Than They See

When I reached out for mentorship, I didn’t really know what Joshua and I would work on together. I knew that I wanted to become a better coach, but I had no idea what the “how” was going to be. Joshua’s vision for what was possible was SO much bigger than I ever expected. His belief in me and what I was/am capable of achieving was far greater than I ever gave myself credit for. It’s as if I was a high school basketball player saying to his coach, “I just want to make varsity this year,” and the coach responding with, “You have the potential to star at the Division I level in a few years.” It blew me away how big Joshua was thinking and it lit a fire in me to explore the edge of the possibilities.

As coaches, one of our greatest strengths is the wisdom of our experience. We’ve seen success and failure play out over many careers. We understand the process of excellence far better than the people we coach.

Most of the people we coach will make the mistake of setting the bar for themselves too low in an attempt to be “realistic.” (I hate that word!) We are often capable of things far greater than we could ever comprehend in this moment. To really impact someone’s life you have to take them to a place where they didn’t know they could go. You have to take them to a place beyond where they think they can get to themselves.

I plead with coaches to look at their players with an attitude of possibility, rather than seeing them for their current limitations.

When I look at one of my basketball players I can see her for poor shot selection, inconsistent effort on defense, and occasionally brash attitude, or I can see how incredibly valuable she can be to the team when she plays to her strengths. I can believe in her ability to change and get better and see a future for her that she might not even know is possible. If she comes to me asking how she can get playing time this year, I want to be thinking, “How can we get you good enough to be in the discussion for all-conference and beyond. What would that look like?”

3) Keep Your Standards High

Only once you’ve established the first two can you move to this third step. If you skip straight to step, your players may be more likely to see you as a tyrant rather than an influential coach. Your players must know that you care about them. You must see a vision for that person that stretches them beyond their current capabilities and takes them to a place they didn’t realize they could reach. From there, your job is to hold them accountable for staying on track.

Holding people you love accountable can be difficult. Sometimes you may question whether you’re being unfair. A lot of the times you’ll empathize with their excuses and want to relent. There will be times when there’s conflict between the two of you. Your faith in the vision must be stronger than any doubt, frustration, challenge, or excuse.

This is a critical part of the mentorship process. I worry that if we set a huge vision, but later drop the standard, that this process is more damaging than it is motivating. If you fail to adhere to the vision and hold your players accountable, they’ll believe that they don’t have the innate ability to make the vision a reality. You saw something in them to begin with, but once they started working for it you second-guessed their capabilities? You decided you were wrong and they actually don’t have what it takes?

Seeing your change of tune they’ll start to believe there’s some magical talent gene that they weren’t given at birth, and they’re a victim of their circumstance. They’ll feel less empowered and will learn to make excuses for why things don’t go their way.

Joshua really pissed me off by holding me accountable. I’ve come to learn a little friction is a natural part of the mentor/mentee relationship.

I woke up Monday morning to read an email from him that said, “You need to email me the draft of your book Wednesday morning so that I can review it before we talk that evening.”

I wrote back something like, “I have a game Tuesday night that I need to finish scouting for, but I’ll try to get it to you by then.”

He wouldn’t budge. “Try” was not acceptable. The draft of my book must be emailed prior to our conversation Wednesday. Period. No other options.

When the standards are high and there are no other options, you figure out a way to meet them.

The books I’d ordered so I could do my research to begin the book hadn’t even arrived yet! I didn’t have a single word written! I barely understood the subject I was writing on. None of that mattered. Wednesday morning was the deadline.

In the moment I was doing a lot of muttering to myself. His expectations were unfair. He didn’t realize how many other things I had on my plate. He didn’t understand how hard I was already working to meet his demands. What was I thinking entering into a mentorship program during the basketball season? How in the hell was I going to get close to finishing?

When the standards are high and there are no other options, you figure out a way to meet them. I found new research resources. I found new time. I found new energy. And I’ll be damned if the draft of that book wasn’t emailed around 12:15 AM on Wednesday morning before I went to sleep.

It was in this moment where I experienced what Daniel Coyle calls the H.S.E. (holy shit effect). I was amazed with myself. I just did that? Me? It was here I got a glimpse of my own potential and what happens when excuses aren’t allowed.

Even though I was the one who did all of the work on this project, I still look at Joshua as the one who made it possible. Without his guidance and mentorship I never would have discovered this within myself.

Wrapping It Up

We coach because we want to impact people’s lives. We want to leave a legacy. We want to accumulate more than wins and trophies. We want to leave the world a better place.

Love your players. See possibility in them. Understand your role in helping them discover their own potential.

Eric Duffett
@UndauntedAthlete on Twitter
Undaunted Athlete

Bonus Tools for Impacting Lives

I’m busy creating apps for players and coaches to use to learn resilience and character through sports. My first app, Undaunted Golf, is directed specifically toward golfers and is already on the App Store. College coaches have begun using the app with their teams as one of their tools to have a transformational impact on their players. It’s one of those things that makes kids say, “Thank you, coach. I never would have done this on my own.”

My second app, Undaunted Athlete, will be directed for athletes in general and will be available in the very near future. If you want to be the first to know about when Undaunted Athlete is released, you can get insider access to the product launch announcement by clicking here. I’ll even give you an additional free month of access to the content just for signing up for the announcement.