La Salle's Blueprint: What is a Spartan?
De La Salle High School football coach
Preface by Mitch Stephens, Highwired Sports Region Editor, Pacific
Bob Ladouceur sleeps very well at night.
The calm, Buddha-like coach of the nation's most successful prep football
program - De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) - absorbs many hits from the
skeptics and envious of the sporting world.
After all, how could one team, one organization, one entity be so successful
without some deceit or dishonor? How could you possibly win 106 straight
games - by an average score of 46-9! - and 184 of the last 186 without some
After 19 seasons, Ladouceur's program had been blindsided enough.
One night, like Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire," the then-43-year-old coach,
who was voted one of the 50 most influential Bay Area sports figures in the
20th century by the Oakland Tribune ahead of Harry Edwards, Steve
Young and Kenny Stabler, responded to the pessimists and curious with a
thoughtful, heart-felt, five-page dissertation entitled "What is a Spartan?"
In it, he wrote to the public's perceptions. He quoted author Thomas
Elliot, Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, and his childhood hero,
Bobby Kennedy. He referred to the program's backbone, qualities such as
commitment, brotherhood and yes, even love.
Ladouceur, who is oblivious to his 242-14-1 career mark, is obviously not
your everyday high school football coach.
In short, this is the blueprint of De La Salle's program. This is what
Ladouceur attempts to instill season after undefeated season. This, it
could be argued, is the foundation now for all De La Salle sports.
He presented it to his 1998 mythical national championship team at its
end-of-the-year banquet and in August he presented it to us.
is a Spartan?
By Bob Ladouceur
public's perception of what we do or what we stand for is drastically
different than what actually takes place. I can imagine that this is
probably true for many organizations. This is especially true for our
football team. People are constantly writing the local papers questioning
the integrity of our program. They say we cheat by recruiting the best
athletes, give out athletic scholarships, actually pay money to players and
occasionally buy a car for a superstar. My opinion about this is usually,"
Someone's got too much time on their hands - or they need to get a life."
It's upsetting in so much that it questions the integrity of school
officials and coaches sworn to uphold the ideals of our founder St. La
Salle. What's worse, it completely nullifies the hard work, sheer grit and
determination of our student athletes at De La Salle.
Society has its share of pessimists and skeptics. Many believe that success
cannot be achieved without dishonesty. It's hard for them to see our success
and not assume that is was achieved by cheating, stealing, or just blind
luck. But I don't care what society believes. I know the truth and I sleep
every night with a clear conscience.
You see, success is in the eyes of the beholder and is most certainly
relative. Many measure success in wins accumulated and titles won - we
don't. Don't get me wrong, we are very proud of break the national record
for consecutive wins and being ranked in the USA Today. But wins and
titles are just an outcome generated from true meaning of success. It's
what got us those titles that we are most proud of. Winning is just a
by-product of many, many short-range goals that must be accomplished along
To explain the experience of a team sport and pinpoint its success is very
hard to articulate. This is true for most experiences where people are
involved in interpersonal relations. The reason is, the knowledge gained or
lessons learned are very hard to measure. We are far from a scientific
environment and there are too many variables that contaminate the project.
This is why some educators see little value in interscholastic sport. The
knowledge gained cannot be measure by GPA's or an aptitude test. It's
difficult to measure what we call intangibles. That would be like trying to
measure one's faith or someone's capacity for love. What is learned is
written on the hearts, and minds of every member who participates and
We measure our success by how well we have embraced the spirit and essence
of those intangibles. And I'll share of few of them with you.
there are many student athletes who have fought, sacrificed, achieved and
won at De La Salle the past (20) years. They have set the groundwork or
foundation for a tradition. The first thought of tradition or the word
tradition seems to have a negative connotation in today's rapidly changing
world. The word itself conjures up the thought of being old-fashioned,
backward, and even stubborn in the face of truth; and for some traditions I
would suppose that's true. Thomas Elliot once wrote: "Tradition by itself
is not enough; it must be perpetually criticized and brought up to date
under the supervision of orthodoxy."
Please don't me mislead, our tradition is not the color of - or how we wear
our uniforms. It is not what we eat at a pregame meal. It is not the plays
we run, and to a large degree it is not how many wins we have accumulated.
The wins are just a by-product of what our tradition actually consists of.
These are just the trappings of a tradition; shallow, hollow; in fact this
has nothing to do with tradition at all. Those who believe that this
tradition will eventually realize that they didn't belong to; or experience
Our tradition begins with a commitment. There is a qualitative value we
place on that word - commitment. If I had to choose just one lesson a
student would learn from participating; it would be learning how to make a
commitment. If they say yes to participating, then they must understand that
(have said yes) to entering into a relationship with me and everyone
involved with the program. With that comes enormous responsibility.
Essentially it means that I am going to expect the best from you and you can
expect the best from me. It isn't enough to say "I'll show up." We may say
we are committed to many things in life; but to what degree? Commitment is
a precursor to many adjectives used to describe our tradition. It is the
title of (this piece - What is a Spartan?). They key is to infuse commitment
into everything we stand for and what we do.
* * *
Is it enough to say we work? No. What makes our work ethic special is that
we are committed to work. We don't just go through the motions. We know the
pain and dedication necessary to ready our bodies for top flight athletic
competition galvanizes us into a team; and through this process we are
already heavily invested before the season begins.
Success to us is understanding that where preparation meets opportunity -
greatness can be achieved. Preparation for us is long, tedious, and
difficult, and the windows of opportunity are brief short and intense. I
know for a fact that nobody - at least our opponents - out work us. We
prepare well and when ready, we welcome, not fear, our opportunities. This
is the cornerstone upon which all achievement emanates - that boring,
monotonous, nose-to-the-grindstone, hard work.
We are committed to the achievement of short, long-term individual and team
goals. These goals are carefully planned and diligently monitored. They are
not just wish lists. Our goals serve as the blueprints for our success.
What makes our goal setting different is we don't just state our goals or
write them down; we figure out actions, behavior, and attitudes necessary in
order to accomplish those goals. Every goal must be accompanied with a plan
of action and if it's not, it really isn't a goal at all.
Our tradition calls for a commitment to accountability. This is not an
assumption - this is a promise that I will be there for you; and I can
count on you being there for me. From the way you spot my barbell, to the
effort you give on a double line team block, to the lift you give me home
after practice. In the end to be able to claim: "I was there for you" is
not only the most difficult one could make upon himself, but one of the most
rewarding when it comes to assessing the quality of our humanity.
Our tradition is built on trust and honestly. Having the courage to say,
"this is who I am, can you help me - or can I help you?" it begins sometimes
with a painful evolution of our strengths and weaknesses. Laying our self
open to be vulnerable. But it is only through this process that real growth
and change can occur. To fool ourselves into believing we have arrived is
just closing the door on life itself. I don't know if any of you have
figured it out but I have thought that someday I (we) will arrive at some
fantastic conclusions; in so thinking, I have lied to myself believing life
would be complete. But the truth is we never arrive, and never will. The
best we can hope for is to come as close to that destination as possible.
That journey is no walk in the park, it is littered with setbacks,
disappointment, and broken hearts. It is only through the pain of
significant self-examination that we can hope to right ourselves and remain
on the straight and narrow path that will lead to true fulfillment and inner
To be a part of Spartan tradition means one must be courageous. This does
not mean just being brave in the face of a tough opponent - rather it's
having the courage to conquer our own cowardly spirit. That little voice
inside of us that says, "I can't." - "It's too hard" - or "I am not good
enough." The biggest reason why we don't achieve is because we don't
believe we can. We place roadblocks in our own way, sabotaging our own
efforts. It takes courage and determination to crash down those roadblocks
and push the limits we have placed upon ourselves; what others have placed
upon our ability.
* * * * *
The famous Jesuit scientist and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin claimed that
"the meaning to existence is the passing on to something greater than our
own immediate selves." It was his belief that everything living is in a
constant state of striving for perfection. Isn't this the essence of
fulfilling human potential? The reason why we achieve is because we believe
The most important component of Spartan tradition is our commitment to
create a brotherhood among ourselves. This task is bigger, tougher, and more
elusive than any opponent we ever face. It's understanding that I must lose
some of myself in order to find others. Individual egos must die in order
for a team to live. It's learning how to be a team player. To claim I am a
good teammate or team player simply means I know how to sacrifice for a just
cause, cooperate with my fellow human, respect the dignity of others, and
can respond when called upon. This is what I call harmony, the key to
understanding. Which one of us at this very moment is not a member of a
team? Everyone here today is a team. Parents work as a team raising and
caring for their children. When involved in clubs, city government, and
community projects we are members of a team. My classrooms are teams. The
question we all must ask ourselves is, "what kind of team player are we?"
We must understand that sometimes are needs and wants are secondary to the
greater good of the whole.
Now this may sound odd to you; but the reason we win and what beats at the
heart of our neighborhood is love. Yes, we win because our players love each
other. They are not afraid to say it or embrace each other as a sign of that
affection. This is just an outward sign. To love someone; words are nice
but insufficient - actions speaks volumes. And that's not too easy. Put
simply, love means I can count on you and you can count on me. This
translates into being responsible. Responsibility is learned and not
inherited. Being responsible to 45 teammates is not so simple. It means
following team rules and knowing that my attitudes and actions have a
profound effect on the success of the whole. We pride ourselves on that
exact accountability. We recommit to each other on a weekly basis before
games. We commit that my contributions to the team will be my best self.
This commitments extends to all facets of my life. It's how I conduct myself
as a person - from the classroom to the field, to the outside community.
Wherever I go or whatever I do, I carry my team with me knowing full well
that I am connected to a group that loves, accepts, and respects me. We try
to make our football team a safe place to be. Safe to be our self. There is
nowhere to hide on a football field. Teammates know each other, coaches know
the players, and the players know the coaches. All attempts at not being
yourself fail miserably. The key is to be the best self you were created to
be. We work hard at breaking down the walls that separate us called race,
status, religion, jealousy, hate and culture - and truly experience each
other on a purely human level.
Now, what does that all translate into? Well, our founder, St. John the
Baptist De La Salle, say that the sprit of our Lasallian family is a spirit
of faith and ardent zeal. And that the motivation force of zeal is love. I
have witnessed this zeal. Another word for which I call passion. You should
see the passion with which our students play. I stand on our sideline
sometimes in utter amazement. I watch them fight, compete, and push
themselves far beyond what they though was previously possible all because
they felt connected to others we care. This point brings me back full circle
to a question I asked you in the beginning - what are you doing in your
environment? What is your passion? Is there something in your life that you
have faith in and are passionate about? I challenge my students with this
question and regrettably more often than not the answer comes back, "I don't
know." How unfortunate.
* * * * *
Please don't miss understand me; I am not a football nut. I have often heard
it said that football builds character. I disagree; I believe it reveals
character. There are many different people, events, and experiences that
contribute to character formation. Every single person at this gathering has
a special talent. Mine I think happens to be coaching - many times I wish
that I had certain talents my students possess but that's what God gave me.
This point could not be better illustrated that in Jesus parable of the
Three Servants in Matthews gospel. In it, a wealthy landowner gave three of
his servants a certain sum of money to see what each would do with it. The
first two returned the money with profit. They used their courage and
ingenuity to parlay their sum into something more. The third hid the money
and just returned what he originally received. The landowner didn't expect
much - he just wanted the servants to have the courage to use what talent
they had and do something. The key point to the story is and I quote, "The
land owner gave to each servant according to his ability." The assumption
here, is that each of us has some sort of ability: talent. Now it's our
responsibility to discover what that is and what's more, have the courage to
Again the question, "What are you doing in your environment?" Are you
sitting still or are you working on discovering and developing your talent?
In my mind I say, "I hope so." You see we are privileged to be here. God not
only gave us some sort of ability but also by fate or will placed us in an
environment to develop those talents. And for what purpose? Is it to allow
us to make a fortune? I don't think it is.
Let me share with you some words from one of my childhood heroes Bobby
Kennedy. He said, "For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to
follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial
success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education.
But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not we
live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the
creative energy of human kind than any other time in history."
Those words were spoken 30 years ago, however I believe they are more
applicable today than they have ever been. Ignorance is not an option for
us; we are the fortunate that Kennedy spoke. We now have a choice and that
choice is a moral decision. Either we except and serve or we don't.
We open the paper everyday, breathe a collective sigh and cry out "why?" Why
is there hate, prejudice, war, crime, pollution, etc. We see ourselves as
victims, powerless to control what happens to us. We too often want to
relieve ourselves of all responsibilities and believe that things are beyond
our control. The sad or good news is there is very little beyond our
control, and what is, we should offer up to God's will.
As for now, my faith remains with us assembled today. That we will put on
the armor and join the fight in this wonderful, beautiful, yet fragile
world. That we use our talents and abilities to be agents of change knowing
full well that many of us have the solutions to our collective problems.