Back when I was growing up, I was taught two different definitions of success: the so-called “self-made man,” and the person who creates community. For me, two very different people have proved this point.
One was a client of mine in the early years of the law firm I’d created as a sole practitioner in 1990. He was a businessman from rural, hardscrabble Pennsylvania, who had moved to Maryland when he was young and made a lot of money, developing lots for home construction in the Baltimore suburbs. With his success, he built a grand house, lavished gifts upon his wife and three boys and, for himself, he bought a limousine and hired a driver.
The businessman defined himself as a “self-made man.”
The other was my soccer coach at the Cambridge School of Weston, who built a high school sports team at a progressive school in the late 1960s. He was soft-spoken, had an easy smile and natural authority.
Both were entrepreneurial but their styles couldn’t have been more different.
Cambridge School of Weston was a little progressive school outside of Boston. For every other school, the preferred fall sport was football. CSW offered either soccer or rugby, I think because the equipment was cheaper and both of these sports served the character of the school better than football.
Another difference was our mascot. The schools we played against had lions and tigers, bulldogs and bears. We had a gryphon, and our school newspaper was called The Gryphon’s Eye. For half my first year, I didn’t know what a gryphon was. When I looked it up, I found out it was a ”fabulous beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.”
All the other schools had fierce animals, and we had a myth as a mascot, which seemed fitting.
This little progressive school changed my life. It bucked the system and the traditional trends of the times. It taught a Socratic education. It encouraged us to question everything.
Anyway, our soccer coach was typical for this school because he taught us to challenge traditional authority and conventual behavior.
At this time, the strategy of high school soccer was to kick the ball as far as you possibly could down to the other end of the field and then try to score before the other team’s defense would kick the ball back up the field and then try to score using the exact same logic and conventions.
This strategy for the long kick game was dependent on speed and power. It required constant, repeated substitutions of the entire offensive, midfield, and defensive players whenever there was a whistle or break in the action, before the players became exhausted.
Finley was outside of the box from the start. He had to be. We only had about 15 players to fill 11 positions and, to make matters worse, we were ragtag free spirits who sang and played guitar during free periods and attended school in sandals.
Discipline, like running laps, took some reprogramming.
Finley built his future team by turning disadvantage into advantage. He told us that we would not substitute any of our 11 players unless there was an injury serious enough to cause removal. He knew our fear of exercise was real.
He informed us that we would have to get in shape, but he would not run us the way the other teams were trained. He had a plan. He informed us that anyone who kicked a ball that went over the height of the knee of the teammate we were passing to would have to instantly do a lap.
Findley built an offense out triangles. All we had to do is maintain control of the ball by passing, no higher than the knee of the recipient, and that person did the same thing to another teammate to complete the triangle. Once that was established, we were in control of the ball until we could take a shot on the opposing goaltender. If we could perfect this style, we could run the other team ragged, no matter how many substitutions they made.
Basically, it was pinball, but we bonded around it, pretty much mastered it, and my recollection is that we lost only one game against huge high schools, who replaced lines and kicked the ball down the field until we got the ball and again controlled it and scored.
We never were as big or athletic as the other teams. We were in shape, but we never ran like the other teams did. We didn’t have to. Because I was the laziest person on the team, I was the goalie. I think I only was scored on once the entire season not because I was any good but because I never saw the ball.
Findley was admired as a genius but not because he was a self-made man.
The client I represented who saw himself as a self-made man believed the soul of American capitalism was dog-eat-dog. He would, where possible, never pay his bills and, before I represented him, his prior lawyer had set up corporations within corporations that had no assets so that when a lawsuit was filed against him, there would be no money to pay the opponents if they won.
Eventually, no one would do business with him.
He lavished gifts on all of his children because it was important that they loved him, but he refused them a college education because he had none and he did not want them to be superior to him. Two of his three boys became dependent on drugs and were homeless for a period of time.
In contrast, Finley built a team that was a small but cohesive. He forced us to get out of ourselves and into supporting each other and our goal, which was to patiently beat better teams.
I’ve always believed that you are what you do, not what you say. Findley was way ahead of his time in the world of American soccer. The passing game that he taught us had been used before in Europe but he adopted it to fit his needs.
I learned from his wonderful madness.
My client’s wife called me moments after her husband died. He had been waiting for a heart transplant and was receiving daily transfusions to stay alive. When she called me, she was in tears. She said his last words were, “I can’t see! Why can’t I see? I’m not ready to die yet. I’m not ready to die.”