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You get what you model



10 Years ago one of my mentors, Dave MacArthur,  tragically passed away at the age of 36. Here’s something he taught me about leadership, which is frequently overlooked.

Many people think that work ethic can’t be taught.  And I completely disagree. I believe almost everything is learned somewhere, somehow, even if we don’t consciously know it.  As Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson states in The Talent Code: “We’re pre-wired to imitate.  When you put yourself in the same situations as an outstanding person and attack a task they took on, it has a big effect on your skill.”  When have you ever seen a highly motivated employee or player under the supervision of a pessimistic, negative manager, parent or coach?

Modeling Behavior

A team is a reflection of their coach.  If you want your players to remain calm and collected in pressure situations you have to remain calm and collected.  You can’t scream at kids in a timeout and expect them to come out and execute a set you just drew up.  It’s a monkey see – monkey do world. Why? It’s neuroscience.  It’s how we’re wired. It’s how we learn.  Recent technological developments have allowed scientists to see what is exactly going on with the discovery of mirror neurons. These are specialized brain cells that can actually sense and then imitate the feelings, actions and physical sensations of another person. (Happiness Advantage)

If you want your kids to be professional you have to act professional.

If you don’t want your kids to drink alcohol, do drugs or smoke – you can’t do it either.

If you want your players to tuck their jerseys in at practice – take a look at yourself.  Does our staff have our shirts tucked in?  Does our staff show up on time? Is our staff prepared for practice?

Are we working as hard on our “coaching game” as a staff as we are asking our players to work on their game?

If you don’t want your kids get technicals and let themselves be affected by the calls in the game – look at yourself – are you?

The phrase “Do as I tell you, not as I do” is the quickest way to lose trust and the ability to influence over your players.

Dave MacArthur

Dave MacArthur, a varsity boys coach at nearby Colby High School took me under his arm when I was a sophomore at Marshfield Columbus.  I don’t have regrets, but if I could do one thing over it would have been to transfer schools to play for him. One of the greatest traits of leadership is to inspire, and that’s exactly what he did. He possessed not only that, but enthusiasm, work ethic, and compassion, which gave him the ability to push people to their potential.  I will never forget the days we spent in the gym when he pushed me so hard I felt like I was going to pass out. Those times taught me to do the same both on and off the court.  Dave passed away tragically at the age of 36, but I only hope that I can continue to teach the way he taught me, and to influence, the way he influenced me.

Below is a short note I wrote that was displayed at his funeral services


The ability to influence is regarded as one of the greatest traits of leadership. You

possessed not only that, but enthusiasm, work ethic, and compassion, which gave you the ability to push people to their potential. I will never forget the days we spent in the Colby gyms. There were days I worked so hard that I didn’t think I could take another shot, and then you pushed me some more. Those times taught me to do the same both on and off the court.

It was always enjoyable to watch your teams play because they were a direct extension of your work ethic and passion for the game. The same qualities you demonstrated on the sideline, your players demonstrated on the floor every time I came to watch. Each game I wanted to put on a Colby uniform and play just 1 minute for you. There is no doubt that your teams would have won state titles.

Even though your time in this world was limited, you made an impact on us that takes many others a lifetime to achieve. I am grateful to have been one of those many lives that you touched. As I continue this life that you influenced me to lead, I only hope that I can teach the way you taught me, and influence the way you influenced me.


You get what you model.

When Dave was the Men’s Basketball coach at UW-Marshfield, a junior college in Wisconsin, he coached the Marshfield High School boy’s basketball team for the summer in leagues and tournaments. He would run some practices for them and always offered to work them out, “whenever you want. As long as I don’t have something going on with my family I’ll be there”.  So on a hot, muggy, midwestern summer night in July, at 1am one night, Dave’s phone rang.   It was one of the players from the Marshfield team.  “Coach, can we get a workout in” one of the kids asked, as Dave heard a couple of the others trying not to laugh in the background.  “Yep, I’ll be there in 15 minutes.  You better be there” and he hung up.  15 minutes later he was working out two of the players just like it was 1:15PM, not the middle of the night. Brad Fischer was there, now the UW-Oshkosh Women’s Head Coach, remembers him getting after it telling them, “No one else is working out right now”.  Music going and coaching them up, he was trying to motivate them to be the best possible version of themselves.

Brad says, “That one night has really influenced my coaching.  You better backup and do everything that you say.”

His assistant coach in high school, Rick Golz recalls, “Every time he saw you he greeted you like he cared, with energy and enthusiasm.  He made you love life because he loved life.”

The behavior that you model is the behavior that you will get. And the more you’re aware of what you’re modeling the more intentional you can be about your communication, actions and other behavior.  You can model what you want your players to become. If you don’t have this awareness to accurately perceive what you’re modeling you’re going to be battling behaviors that aren’t moving your team or organization towards your vision. Mindfulness creates this awareness.


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