In 1987, with his career on a roll and determined to use his status as head coach to do more to help others, Bob Burt’s world changed forever when his 19-year-old daughter Erin died unexpectedly. Burt, who won the 2013 AFCF Power of Influence Award – an award that has grown in notoriety and is now officially presented by TeamSnap during the general session of the AFCA Convention – discovered that, despite the immense personal pain and sorrow he felt, that the horrific family event actually emboldened his determination to help others.
“Losing my daughter was an event that completely changed my focus on how I approached life on a daily basis,” says Burt. “It caused me to examine what I was doing each day, how I approached life and how I evaluated my actions each day.
“It opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t doing everything I could be doing to make a positive difference in the world. I could do so much more.”
Burt says that his responsibilities as a coach were always clear and that the role meant a lot to him. The family tragedy, however, sharpened his perspective, and according to the coach, it fueled his desire to help people.
“The whole situation showed me that life was valuable and short. You need to make every second of every day count while you can,” Burt says. “Make each day meaningful – because our time here on Earth is finite and precious. There is no time to waste.
“Losing my daughter didn’t fundamentally change who I was as a person or how deeply I cared for my players – that inner value was already in place – but it heightened my overall sense of urgency for making a difference in the community beyond just football games.”
New Take On Old Problems
Dealing with the tragic family events of 1987 not only lit the fuse on Burt’s sense of urgency to do more positive things, but it also altered how he viewed other adversity in life and how he handled everyday problems. He found himself possessed by a newfound personal demeanor that allowed him to stay calm, focused and logical during problematic situations.
“People are always running to the head coach to report some problem that’s going on. And they’ll often seem frantic or panic-stricken by the prospect of how bad things are going get because of it,” says Burt. “But after what my family had been through, suddenly, all these everyday problems just don’t seem like that big of a deal to me.
“Not to diminish or devalue anyone’s opinion of a problem, because I would never do that, but in a weird way, after my family tragedy, I became a much better problem solver than I ever was before. And for those problems that we can’t fix or change, I can now shake them off easier and move on to doing other things that would net positive results for our team.
“For situations we cannot change, I now say things like, ‘Well, guys, if that’s the worst thing that is going to happen to us, then we’re going to be just fine.’”
Another area where Burt found his new outlook on life useful is dealing with losses. Losing games exacts a large personal toll on many coaches – mentally, physically and emotionally. For Burt, a man who was forced to deal with real loss in his personal life, losing games became just another problem to solve.
“When I was a young coach, whenever I’d lose a game, it used to absolutely devastate me,” says Burt. “Does that mean I don’t care about losses today? Of course not, I hate losing.
“Look, I’m about as competitive guy as there is, and I still hate losing football games. But I approach it with a more problem solving situation that needs corrective measures. A loss is something that needs to be fixed.
“The idea or notion that winning or losing a football game is a life-changing event in any way, after all that has happened during my life, seems just laughable now.”
Taking Action, Doing More
Burt says his newfound perspective also impacted how he saw his role as a member of the football-coaching community. He made a concerted effort to better serve the game by taking an active role within coaching associations and serving as a member on various committees. As an AFCA member, he served on the AFCA Rules Committee in 1990 and 1992.
In 1995, he began serving as Vice President of the Southern California Interscholastic Football Coaches Association (a post he still assumes to this day) and since 1998, he has served as a committee member for three California Interscholastic Federation “Southern Section Committees” – the football advisory committee, ethics committee and playoff committee.
“If you want to affect positive change and impact how people view our profession, you have to be proactive,” Burt says. “You can’t let people outside the profession determine what is right or wrong about the game.
“Serving as an active member of the profession and being an association member shows people what the game is really all about. It demonstrates to those outside of football, who we are as individuals dedicated to the game and what we truly care about as coaches. It is a key component to the growth and prosperity of football.”
Accolades And Awards Honor Service
By the 1990s, people began to take note of Burt’s coaching achievements and all the positive impact his work was having on the community. The professional honors and community service awards soon began to flow in the coach’s direction.
In 1990, Burt received “Coach of the Year” Awards from both the AFCA and the Western Football Conference, followed by CIF “Coach of the Year” awards in 1995 and 1998. His coaching career was honored by his Southern California peers in 2003, when he was inducted into the SCIFCA Hall of Fame.
Burt also received recognition for his off-the-field work in the community. In 2005, he was presented with three awards – the “Distinguished American” Award by the National Football Foundation, the California state “Model Coach of the Year’ Award and the “Sportsperson of the Year” Award. In 2007, he received the CIF “Champions For Character” Award, and in 2011, he received the Inland Empire “Home Town Hero” Award.
RELATED ARTICLE: Bob Burt: Service As Influence, Part 1
As the personal and professional accolades poured in, the coach found himself growing reflective on the work he had done. It all energizes Burt to do even more.
“I was surprised and honored by the awards, because you don’t do what you do to receive accolades,” says Burt. “Seeking personal recognition for doing something positive is counterintuitive to the mindset that motivates you to help people in the first place.
“To be honored by your peers in coaching, or to be recognized by a community – in a county of more than two million people – for, hopefully, doing some good, is a humbling thing. At the same time, it’s also extremely rewarding because it gives you a sense that the work you’re doing to help people, might actually be making a difference.”
Rewards Of Coaching
More than any award or industry honor, the thing that clearly touches Burt’s heart the most, are the personal bonds he’s formed with people and players during five decades of coaching
“During my 50 years coaching, the most-rewarding part has been the relationships that I have with people,” says Burt. “I still receive phone calls from former players I coached in the 1960s, who ask me to join them for golf on the weekends. It means the world to me.
“I’ve seen young males transform into responsible men before my very eyes. Unfortunately, I’ve also attended far too many funerals of former players and coaching friends. I have gotten a chance to coach my own son in college football. All these rare opportunities are incredible.
“As coaches we give a lot to this game, but I hope all coaches take just a moment to reflect on all the special things that football gives back to us.
“I can’t think of another industry and or another job that offers the kind of personal growth, life-long relationships and emotional satisfaction that coaching provides.”
In Part 1 of our series, we learned how Coach Burt influenced the game through a collective volume of positive work. This article was written by Mike Podoll, associate publisher of AFCA Magazine. To connect with Podoll, follow him on Twitter @fcdaily_podoll.
TeamSnap is the official sponsor of the AFCA Power Of Influence Award, presented annually during the general session of the AFCA Convention. Founded in 2009 and headquartered in Boulder, Colo., TeamSnap has taken the organization of youth, recreational and competitive sports into the 21st century. 15 million coaches, administrators, players and parents use TeamSnap’s web and smartphone apps to sign up, schedule, communicate and coordinate everything for the team, the club and the season. TeamSnap makes organizing sports as simple as click, tap and go. For more information, please visit www.teamsnap.com.
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