In 1982-83, Jim Valvano coached the North Carolina State basketball team to a National Championship title. The Wolfpack was a mid-ranked team that entered the NCAA tournament looking like anything but a title contender. It was improbable that they’d win their first two games, and even if they did, no one in the world would have put even a dollar on them upsetting #2 ranked Virginia. No one, except Coach Valvano. He believed he and his guys could do it. Even when his guys didn’t.
The rather unassuming Valvano was known for that unshakeable—borderline irrational even—belief in himself and in his teams. In his coaching career. In his battle with cancer. In every aspect of life, he lived by a quote he heard when he was a young boy, “Every single day, in every walk of life, ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things!”
Valvano was, himself, an ordinary kid with ordinary parents from an ordinary town where he received an ordinary education. Still, he did extraordinary things in his life. Valvano wasn’t yet out of high school when he first told his dad he had decided what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He was going to be a collegiate basketball coach, he told him. With that high schooler’s naivete, he said, “Dad, I’m going to win a National Championship.”
Think about how your parents would have reacted if you’d told them that. Maybe you can feel—in your heart, if you’re being honest—how you’d react if you heard your own kids say that. Well, that’s a really hard thing to do bud. Are you sure? Maybe have a backup plan.
That wasn’t how Mr. Valvano was built. A few days after Jim told his dad about his plans for the future, his dad called him into his bedroom.
“See that suitcase?” he asked, pointing to a suitcase in the corner of the room.
Confused, Jim replied, “Yeah, what’s that all about?”
“I’m packed,” his dad explained. “When you play and win that National Championship I’m going to be there, my bags are already packed.”
“My father,” Jim would later say in his legendary ESPY speech, “gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” Stricken with the cancer that would soon after take his life, that belief drove Valvano’s Wolfpack to the national championship in 1983 and it gave him the strength to give that very speech.
We talked recently about not being a minimizer, about how important instilling the growth mindset in our kids is. Our job is to spur our children to conceive of big dreams, to encourage them to go after them, to give them the greatest gift anyone can give another person: belief. If you don’t believe in them, who will? And if they are, in fact, lucky enough to find someone else who believes in them, think about what it will do to your relationship when they are able to compare, when they are able to say, “This total stranger saw my potential, but the people who birthed me and raised me and claimed to love me, just could not.”
You have to give them your belief. You have to be ready to root for them. It’s the greatest gift you can give. It’s the one they, whether they tell you or not, want more than anything.