by Shannon Caughey
Before becoming head coach of the Indiana University football team, Tom Allen was hired to be Indiana’s defensive coordinator. Coach Allen knew he needed to change the culture of the struggling defense. So the first thing he did when meeting with his players was to write “LEO” on the white board. Coach Allen wanted LEO to be the foundational element of his team’s culture. What does LEO mean? Love Each Other.
For Coach Allen, building his program on this LEO principle begins with making sure his players know they are deeply loved by him. He then challenges them to be unselfish, to genuinely care about their teammates, and to work for their teammates’ success. Coach Allen says that LEO is about “the ability to play for someone other than yourself.” Coach Allen’s LEO value comes directly from his faith in Christ.
Like Coach Allen, you desire to set the right culture for your program. When your commitment to Christ guides the culture you establish, “love each other” will be a key value for you as well. In John 15:12-13, Jesus says, “12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus sets the bar high: “Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” Jesus demonstrates his love by laying down his life for us at the cross. His sacrificial love for us gave us the opportunity to be rescued from what we deserve because of our sinful rebellion against the holy God. His great love for us made a way for us to be reconciled to God rather than being separated from him forever. When we respond in faith to Jesus and his love, we receive the gift of new and eternal life with him.
In your program, how can you encourage a culture of love that reflects the love of Christ? First, sacrificially love your players and fellow coaches. Give of yourself for their benefit even as this feels costly. Loving each other as Jesus loves us requires willingly giving of our time, energy, and other resources. It requires laying down self-centered agendas. It’s impossible to build a LEO culture without you genuinely modeling this “love each other” value.
Second, teach what real love is as defined by Christ. The world is filled with confusing and inaccurate definitions of “love.” Even if your setting doesn’t give you the freedom to point specifically to Jesus as the source and model of love, you can articulate what real love is and what real love does according to his definition. Help those in your program understand the “why” behind playing for someone other than themselves.
Third, find ways to reward expressions of love. When you see your team loving each other well, highlight this. Celebrate it. The mantra is true: what gets rewarded will get repeated.
As you seek to make the LEO principle foundational to your program, Coach, you’ll build a great culture. You’ll impact those you coach. And you’ll honor Christ, reflecting his sacrificial love for us.
For reflection: What are “next steps” for you in encouraging a culture of love in your program? Ask the Lord for his wisdom, power, and grace to follow through with these steps.