A Little Inspiration.

HERO PORTRAIT 02

And now, a piece that has a bit to do with advertising and a lot more to do with our purpose as human beings and as parents.

Last weekend, I began filming a series of inspirational videos for Oberto Beef Jerky around our tagline, “You get out what you put in.” Most of the time, this slogan speaks to the fact that the performance you get out of your body is directly related to the quality of the food you put in. For these videos though, we were focusing on something bigger — the karmic cycle of how putting good out into the world, often results in good coming back to you.

For the first of these videos, I spent two days with six-year-old Brady Wein, his parents and their extended family, the Brady’s Bunch Lacrosse program. Small for his age, Brady is full of energy, full of life and full of tales from doctor offices and hospitals. You see, he’s been battling leukemia since he was three-months old. As his mom, Rachael, will tell you, Brady has never known what it’s like not to have tubes stuck in him. Or to get painful shots, drink “yucky” medicine or race to the hospital in an ambulance at a moment’s notice. He’s spent days, nights, weeks and holidays in hospital wards. He’s played more with nurses than children his age. He talks about the “port” in his chest as if his condition is so common we should all be familiar.

And yet, I dare you to find a more happy and enthusiastic kid. His parents will say, “That’s just who he is. That’s just Brady.” But it’s more than that. It’s who they’ve helped him become. And it’s not simply that Mike and Rachael quit their jobs and effectively dedicated their lives to being by their son’s side during this long, often heartbreaking journey. It’s that they’ve expressed the words many of us have all too often swallowed. They’ve voiced more “I love you’s” and taught more life lessons in the last six years than most of us will have heard by the time we turn eighty. They relish it all — the laughs, the tears, the temper tantrums. Because Mike and Rachael have come to appreciate just how special a gift life is and how wonderful each moment is with their child. They take nothing for granted.

In the way that the toughest of circumstances seem to birth the most beautiful of results, Brady’s Bunch was born. Equal parts inspiration and personal therapy, Mike formed The Bunch around a photo of Brady, the line, “B Strong” (The similarity to Boston Strong that came years later is not coincidence) and the faith that this organization could somehow keep his son alive. Whether by intention or happenstance, the cornerstone of the program became not the performance on the field, but Mike’s speeches to the players and parents on the Friday night before each tournament began. Speeches that six years later, still seem as cathartic for him as they are motivating for his players. You see, unlike 99% of what you hear from coaches in youth sports, Mike’s (AKA “Papi’s”) speeches have very little to do with lacrosse and even less to do with X’s and O’s. He wants to teach the kids to be winners at life. To appreciate their parents. To value themselves and their teammates. To understand what a gift it is to be able to play a sport, because whether it’s for financial, medical or other reasons, not everyone is lucky enough to get that chance. And so, between the tears and periodic efforts to catch his breath, Mike talks about how character, family and something that typically makes teenage boys very uncomfortable– Love. He explains that if they choose to wear one of the Brady’s Bunch rubber bracelets, they’re not just representing themselves, they’re also representing his son. And with that comes an obligation to try to do the right thing, not just on the field, but off it. He tells them that over the weekend, they’ll win some games, they’ll lose some games and that in the end, the score won’t really matter. What will matter, is that they were good to their parents. That they believed in their teammates. That they were respectful to the referees. And that they picked up the trash on the sideline afterwards.

The speech concluded and as I wiped a tear from my own eye, I looked around the room and saw something you don’t normally witness: fifteen and sixteen-year-old boys crying. And suddenly, it hit me just how rare this all was. I had played sports my entire life and sat in more bleachers and stood on more sidelines watching my kids play than I care to remember. And yet, I had never heard anyone reach young athletes on such a profound level. Sure, there were some good coaches who talked about how we’re all in it together. Who encouraged the players to seize the opportunity and leave it all out on the field. But nobody had opened eyes and hearts like this. Nobody had told them, “You’ll send out what, 300 text messages today? Send one to your mom and tell her you love her. You probably won’t get in trouble for it.”

Gradually, something more enlightening and disturbing hit me — Not only had my boys not heard a speech like this from any of their hundreds of coaches. They hadn’t heard it from their dad, either. Yeah, I spoke to my oldest about the importance of driving to the hole, being unselfish and keeping his composure on the court. And I talked to my youngest about using his left hand more, believing in his natural athletic abilities and taking control of a game when he needed to. But of all the times I praised my sons for a great a move, shot or pass, I don’t recall ever applauding them for helping an opponent to his feet or making the worst kid on the team feel like the best. I never truly used sports as an opportunity to make them better people or an excuse just to tell them how much I loved them.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in these failings.

If you have a son or a daughter in youth athletics, ask yourself how much money you’ve spent on coaches and specialists to perfect your child’s skill, versus how much you’ve spent to help them perfect themselves. If this calculation comes out the way I imagine it will, and if it becomes clear that you don’t have a Mike Wein in your child’s life, find one. And if you can’t find one, become one yourself. Because I guarantee, when high school ends—and I can say this as someone who has both a son in college that’s stopped playing competitive sports and one who is going to continue on at the Division 1 level—every dollar you invested in making your son or daughter a better person will be worth a hundred you invested in making them a better athlete.