6 Life Lessons From a Hall of Fame Coach

Learn the principles that created national championship teams and apply them to your life as a dad

As a student-athlete I was always afraid to fail. When I reflect on my early twenties there were many times that fear influenced my decisions. Fortunately, as an athlete I had a series of great coaches who believed in me, challenged me to go beyond my fears, and provided the motivation to make incremental progress. 

Among the coaches who supported me there is one who stands out. His influence helped me go beyond fear as a professional, and more importantly as a person. That coach is Larry Haylor

I played football for Larry from 1999-2003 and benefited from his leadership, fierce determination, and ability to challenge people to go beyond their self-imposed limitations. Larry was a master motivator. His talks on ‘the hill’ would make the hair on players’ necks stand on end, pupils dilate, and our focus narrow, energy ready to explode as if we had to play the game at that moment! He knew exactly what we needed to hear, and how we needed to hear it. His delivery appeared effortless, yet the intensity of determination emanated from his eyes. When his bottom lip curled out while his jaw was thrust forward at the end of an emphatic sentence – it was the signature tell that he was ready for a fight. And we would be too.

During my five seasons under Larry I learned the nuances of the game. He knew his craft, and expected his assistant coaches and players to as well. There was no denying he was a brilliant technical coach, but where I believe Larry cemented his Hall of Fame status is beyond the X’s and O’s. He consistently taught fundamental principles, that when followed, yielded immeasurable results. As I reflected on my experience as a player, I saw clearly the brilliance of the man, and came to understand – and appreciate the legacy of his coaching. 

In a series of 6 posts inspired by the LinkedIn's blog to #ThankYourMentor I will share the principles I learned from Larry, and how they have influenced my life. When followed they will yield success for anyone who embraces and applies them.

Empty Buckets

When it came to effort, Larry had one standard – give everything. He constantly taught us the football term “finish every play,” meaning to give your maximum effort from the snap of the ball until after the whistle blew. Finishing was required, and when you didn’t finish, you heard it from Larry – “you gotta finish!” He would reiterate this principle and emphasize its importance in pre-game talks by saying, “Remember men, at the end of this game you want to have empty buckets!” 

Empty buckets was finishing every single play of the game, so by the end you had nothing left – your proverbial ‘bucket’ of energy completely exhausted. It was obvious which players embraced this principle, and it was certainly evident when you faced an opponent who embodied it. They were your toughest battles. Empty buckets provided absolute certainty you gave your very best.

This lesson applies everywhere in life. Whatever I do I ask myself – am I emptying my bucket? Have I exhausted every effort to achieve my desired outcome? Looking at this practically I then ask how can I finish today, and every day in the work/family/school/play context? When I challenge myself with these questions, I often find there are ways I could give a little more, areas I could work a bit harder, and excuses I create that limit productivity.

Assess yourself and apply this lesson:


  1. Do you empty your bucket?

  2. If so, in what areas of life are you emptying your bucket?

  3. What is one area of your life you haven’t yet, but can commit to finishing today?


What do you think of this principle? Add a comment, like and/or share this post, and join the conversation to #ThankYourMentor

In the next 5 posts I will share a story from Larry's coaching, highlight the lesson learned and how I've applied it, and ask 3 questions for you to assess yourself and apply them to your life. 

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