I draw great inspiration and motivation from the James Kerr book, Legacy, which details the unparalleled success of the New Zealand Rugby Club, the All-Blacks, considered by many to be the dominating international athletic team of any sport. Their superiority, Kerr writes, is not only about athletic prowess, but, about a character- and culture- driven mindset which powers the mission of the Club. He repeatedly draws attention to the team jersey, an image of identity which serves as a metaphor for the role of the individual player. He writes that it is not the role of the player to simply wear the jersey, but, “to leave it in a better place.”
A player’s place on the roster honors those that came before, and for those yet unborn. The seamless connection of the past, present, and future unites all members with a sense of higher purpose. When individuals are connected in a common culture, where all efforts are focused on a common journey, favorable results are sure to follow. All of our teen volunteer coaches are issued a staff jersey when they sign up to coach in our Sunday morning special needs sports program. Initially I gave no thought to any meaning of the shirt other than to differentiate some of the smaller coaches from the older challenged players. Mind you, the shirt is quite simple. A plain white T with the words “Backyard Sports Staff” screened on the front. Nothing branded. Certainly not very cool. Outside of the gym, the shirt gives little value or recognition to the individual. But within the confines of the program, I see a stream of white jerseys all connected with a shared purpose, using their love of play to enrich the lives of others.
Recently I have noticed a certain amount of pride associated with receiving the shirt. While teens frequently leave their “heads” home for an early Sunday class, very rarely do they forget to wear their uniform. New volunteers often ask about the jersey at the very onset of our initial orientation. Apparently, the simple white T has taken on added meaning. Kerr concludes that it is the All Blacks’ goal to aspire to be good ancestors—individuals planting the seeds for trees that they will never see. Undoubtedly, our staff jersey will one day be tucked away in a dresser drawer or placed in a Goodwill bin. Given the promise and nature of our volunteers, I am hopeful that the legacy of our work will outlive the shelf life of a plain white T.
Danny Bernstein Head Coach, Backyard Sports Cares