September 11, 2012
As a newly minted first lieutenant, I was overjoyed with my orders to join a fighter wing being formed in
France. We faced many challenges in creating a cohesive unit on foreign soil,
reactivating a mothballed base and reaching combat-ready status in record time.
My greatest challenge came on the basketball court.
The base special
service officer was a bachelor officers’ quarters’ mate of mine. Learning of my
long, though largely undistinguished, playing career in high school and
college, he asked me to coach the base basketball team. I was pleased to find
we had some talented players. They came together well and learned the offensive
and defensive schemes I developed. We started to have fun and won our first
We then were
invited to a tournament that included the Air Force teams in the area and teams
from several Army posts. We did well in the early rounds and qualified for the
final, championship game. The day we were to play, I watched our opponent, one
of the Army teams, demolish their opponents. They were bigger, stronger, and
faster than we were at every position. Defeating them was out of the question.
Fate played its
hand, and the lights went out. After waiting for an hour, the tournament
director called me and the Army team’s coach into his emergency-lit office. He
announced we would postpone our game until the next morning. If the power had
not been restored in time, he suggested the championship be awarded to the Army
team, with us getting the runner-up trophy. He said it was up to the two of us,
which meant it was up to me. Knowing we had no chance of winning, I agreed.
The Army coach, a
noncommissioned officer, went to the barracks that night, found most of my
team, and told them the arrangement. In the morning when the power was
restored, my team expressed what they saw as my
betrayal in conceding defeat without even giving them a chance to try.
We did play the game and were hopelessly overmatched. We lost by a wide margin
and went home the runner-up.
continued, but my team was never the same. Our rapport had been destroyed. I
should have remembered a leader must demonstrate confidence in his team; if he
does not show that confidence, his team will lose confidence in him.
Needless to say, I never again forgot this lesson.
About the author
: Frederick Ward is a retired Navy commander who resides in Wethersfield, Conn.
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