Second Chances

Apr 30, 2021


Second chances aren’t easy to give and are even harder to take. The movie “Hoosiers” shows mercy AND expectation from different viewpoints.

After already being ejected twice from games earlier in the season, Coach Dale asks the referee to eject him from the game. The referee says, “Well, I guess you’ve got your reasons,” and throws him out of the game as the crowd erupts with anger. Coach Dale walks off the court barely concealing his grin. The panicked assistant coach and a recovering alcoholic, Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, now holds the black playbook as the team huddles around him seeking guidance.1 The movie Hoosiers, inspired by a true story, intertwines the gift of second chances as the team advances with unexpected success.

Former college basketball coach, Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman), was previously banned from coaching for hitting a player. His second chance starts in the small town of Hickory, Indiana where star player, Jimmy Chitwood, abandoned the team to pursue his high school studies. The townspeople claim they can’t win without Jimmy, and disenchanted by the team’s losing streak, vote to fire Coach Dale. Jimmy surprises everyone by rejoining the team, insisting he will play only if Dale remains the coach.

What is especially challenging about second chances?

  1. Insisting on Fundamentals: Given the importance of his second chance, Coach Dale insists the team pass 4 times before shooting a basket—in practice and, to the dismay of the players and fans alike, also during games! He was increasing conditioning and teamwork of the players. Second and third chances are not about high performance or optimum results, expect slow improvement (even early decline)-- often at your expense.

  2. Letting Others Lead: Letting others lead is not only about delegating responsibility, it’s also about setting expectations and allowing mistakes. When Coach Dale invites Shooter to be the assistant coach, he asks him to clean himself up, shave, be on time, and wear a shirt and tie.1 Spoiler Alert: like in real life, that doesn’t always happen. Second and third chances are not tidy, expect lots of practice and lots of learning-- often at your expense.

Second chances are critical to recovery and development, for the one receiving a second chance and the one granting a second chance. Generosity of “one more try” requires a leader transcend above expectations of simple productivity toward deeper maturity of human character and team culture.

The young team advances to the final game of the 1952 State Championship and is overwhelmed by the size of the arena. Coach Dale asks the team to measure the distance from the free throw line to the basket and to measure the height of the basketball rim. “I think you'll find it's the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory,” he declares. Gaping mouths close and concern fades from the players’ faces. As he walks off the court, Coach Dale confesses under his breath, “It is big!”3 

He could have told the team the court was the same size, yet he asks them to measure it and report their findings. Everyone knows this is a big game, but Coach Dale lets the team discover for themselves parameters are the same. Where do you need a second chance? Who on your team (at work or at home) needs a second chance? What fundamentals need practice? Which emerging leaders need more responsibility? After a comparison to David and Goliath, the team huddles and Coach Dale takes their hands in his and says, “I love you, Guys.”4 They haven’t won, they haven’t even played, he just loves them. That is our greatest gift, that and a second chance.

Sources:1Hoosiers (1986): Assistant Coach "Shooter" Flatch (Dennis Hopper) (YouTube: 4m 08s); 2Hoosiers (1986): Coach Offers Shooter a Job (YouTube: 2m 35s); 3Hoosiers (1986): Measuring the Massive Gym (YouTube: 2m 22s); 4Hoosiers (1986): State Championship Pregame Words & Prayer (YouTube: 3m 05s).

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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