Leadership Profile: Coach Dick Burton

Have you ever had a coach, teacher, or mentor in your formative years who pushed you to be more than you thought you could become on your own? If so, you’ll strongly appreciate this month’s leadership profile featuring my high school football coach, Dick Burton – even if you’ve never been an athlete.

FootballerWho is Dick Burton?

You probably don’t know Dick Burton. The highest level of competition he ever faced as a football player was NCAA D-II at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO. To my knowledge, he’s never been featured on any televised games either as a player or coach. Instead of sticking with one school for life, he’s coached several different programs over his 40 year football career. In fact, Coach has never been on a full-time coaching staff. He’s worked as a full-time businessman to support his family of a wife and ten children (including eight football playing sons) and squeezed in his head coaching duties on the side.

What Can We Learn From Dick Burton

It’s been well over a decade since I played my last football game. But the lessons I learned from Coach continue to this day. Here is a small sample that I’d like to share with you.

There is a Right Way to Do Business. One of the first things all my teammates learned from Coach is there is a right way to do things and a wrong way. There was a right way to play the game, face an opponent, run on and off the football field, and even put your uniform on. I still remember the day Coach sent a car full of our best players home from practice because they didn’t show up on Lombardi time (15 minutes early) as a way to instill discipline for the rest of us. Ultimately, our actions either honor or dishonor ourselves, teammates, families, God, profession, sport, and even the field itself.

Life is a Collision Sport. Finally getting to play tackle football for the first time in high school was a pretty jarring experience to say the least. But Coach reminded us early on that our greatest competition wasn’t the fellow on the other side of the ball. It was our own mothers, who didn’t want their sons engaged in such a rough activity. “Dancing is a contact sport,” Coach used to say. “Football is a collision sport.” Because of that, Coach knew making things easy on the practice field would leave us unprepared, both for Friday nights and for real life.

Fear is Your Greatest Enemy. If there was one thing my teammates and I heard more than anything else, it was that “God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” For Coach, football was the perfect venue to learn to overcome fear. On the occasional Friday nights we let intimidation get the better of us (even when playing an over-matched opponent), Coach wouldn’t be able to sleep over the weekend. At Monday’s practice, he’d voice his disappointment not at our lack of victory but for not giving it our best like we’d been taught. Coach knew that fear wouldn’t disappear after high school so the training we received on the field was crucial to leading successful adult lives where many of my teammates now work as military officers, businessmen, musicians, teachers, and coaches themselves.

The Little Things Matter. I’ll never forget one practice my senior year. I was absentmindedly running through a routine drill, somehow oblivious to the fact that Coach had been harping on discipline all practice. Apparently my lack of effort was the straw that broke Coach’s back and he let me know it immediately. The public dressing down was even worse considering my status as a senior team captain. For Coach, it didn’t matter who you were or what your record said, you never became too big for the little things.

Coaching Never Ends. I don’t keep in touch with all of my coaches from my younger years. But I do keep in touch with a few. Just recently Coach Burton let me know he was coming to town so we got together for dinner. We talked about business, family, plans, etc. Not only had coach been further down the road in football when I was a player, he was still further along in life and provided some timely pointers and encouragement. I realized then that even though players eventually graduate from the team, true coaching never ends.

I know not everyone had the benefits of a great coach like I did. But most people can point to a single coach, teacher, or mentor who made a significant difference in their life.

Who inspired you?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting work Nathan is doing with young professionals.

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2 thoughts on “Leadership Profile: Coach Dick Burton

  1. A great coach helps you win in every area of your life, not only on the “field” but in life. John Wooden came to mind when reading this post. I had a couple pastors really help me through my teens and young adult years. I now hope to inspire and help others become successful in life. Great post!

    • Thanks, Dan – it’s true! Funny thing is that I tried to help out on the coaching staff one year after college and just didn’t have that much to say. I need a different venue myself!

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