Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach who spent a decade at Notre Dame as well as four seasons leading the Wolfpack, knows quite a bit about living well. After all, he says on a call from his home in Orlando last month, it’s the same three things—trust, commitment and love—that will bring you success in life as what will bring success on the football field.
Since he retired from coaching at the end of the 2004 season, Holtz has worked as a broadcaster for CBS Sports and ESPN and recently authored his tenth book, “Three Rules for Living a Good Life: A Game Plan for After Graduation.” This month, Holtz returns to the Raleigh area—a short distance from the home in Cary’s MacGregor Downs community that he built with his wife, when they lived there with their four children in the 1970s—to share what he’s learned.
“You make good choices when you follow three simple rules,” Holtz says. “Do what’s right, do the best you can and show people you genuinely care. Doing what’s right is the only way you can build up trust. Doing the best you can is how you show you’re committed. And by showing people you care, you’re showing love, or a feeling for one another. That’s how you have a total commitment to excellence. That’s as simple as the message is and I’ve never needed a fourth rule.” That’s not to say you won’t always have difficulties in life, Holtz emphasizes. Whether you’re on a team, or part of a corporation or even at home with your own family, you’re always going to run into problems, difficulties and concerns, no matter how old you are or how much you’ve achieved. “But it’s how you handle the difficulty that comes up that is the most important,” Holtz says.
One way he practices this is by always criticizing the performance, or the action, rather than criticizing the performer, or the person. “That’s exceptionally critical,” Holtz continues. “You never criticize a performer, but you have an obligation to criticize a performance. I say, ‘I know that’s not the best you can do, and I want to know why.’ I understand also that when people need understanding the most is usually when they deserve it the least.”
Holtz says he thinks a lot about the two most important days in a person’s life: the day they’re born and the day they discover why they’re born. And that reason why we’re born? It’s to add value to other peoples’ lives, a lesson Holtz constantly lives by, especially in regard to his players. When he coached at Notre Dame and other colleges, Holtz told his players that, if they did everything he asked of them for four years, he’d do everything they asked of him for the next 40. “Thank God, those 40 years are almost up,” Holtz says with a laugh. “They’re starting to wear me out. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear from four or five athletes, each and every week.” But if there’s something sports have to teach us about life, besides to work hard, of course, it’s to savor and enjoy every minute.
“When I look back, you’re so involved in different things, reactions, results, you don’t always enjoy the trip,” Holtz says. “Enjoy your children, your grandchildren, enjoy life and have fun with what you’re doing. It’s all about choices and the most important choice you make each day is your attitude, how you look at things. It’s all about how we approach life and the attitude we have.”