Inside the locker room…

Coach Tom Herman invited me to join him in the locker room after the first football game of the season, University of Houston against Tennessee Tech.

“Locker room? Me? Are you sure?” I had never been inside a locker room so I was surprised, but also curious at the same time. I paused at the door until the voices of alert, “Stay dressed! The president is here,” subsided. I walked in behind the coach.

This was not the locker room scene that I had seen in the movies. There were no high fives, no victory chants, and no hearty embraces. Even though they had just played their hearts out and had won their very first game of the season, all the young student-athletes were crouched calmly on their knees.  

Coach walked to the front and stood before the players. His voice was still hoarse from coaching the first game of his head coaching career. I was sure he would start out by saying, “We did it! …yeah! …we won! …now, go out and celebrate!”

Instead everyone bowed their heads as one of the student athletes led a prayer of thanks. Then Coach Herman began, “I am proud of you…you did well today, but now, I want you to think about how blessed you are to be in Houston, a city that supports you. I want you to think how blessed you are to be at the University of Houston, a university that gives you the opportunity to be educated…” Silence settled over the room, and everyone was tuned into the coach.  

“…Think how blessed you are to have a brother playing next to you and giving you everything he has got… for you…so that you could do what you need to do…so that you could win,” Coach continued and then paused for few seconds. There were just the murmurs of “Yes sir, yes sir!”

Coach then called out his assistants who, in turn, called out the best performers of the game. Each player stood and received rousing cheers and applause as he walked to the front of the room. Then each one expressed his gratitude for his football brothers who helped him and the coaches who guided him. Many thanked God, and many thanked their families. Everyone seemed to be competing to give credit to others, and there was no “me and my win” attitude in the room.

During the next 15 minutes, I witnessed what is often rare from anyone, let alone from younger people: the courage to show gratitude! Gratitude is a virtue that only the strong can have. A weak person is busy basking in the glory of his success because doing so makes him feel stronger than he is. But a strong person does not have the need to feel strong because he knows the depth of his inner strength. The source of his strength is not external validation, but his own belief. Because he has no need for the credit himself, his natural reaction is to share it liberally with others.

I had heard that a coach is more than a skills instructor; he is a father figure, a leader, a guide and a role model. I witnessed it first hand in the locker room that night.

To my surprise, Coach also called out my name, handed me a football and expressed his gratitude for my support. I was overwhelmed and fumbled for words – but not the football! – though I do recall telling the team that with this kind of attitude, they can take on any Power Five team and even beat them on their home field. Seven days later, they did exactly that in Louisville.

Coach concluded the session by congratulating the team again and said, “Now, go and enjoy with your family, but remember that tomorrow is a work day. We all need to be here, working!”

I cringed slightly at this order because I had planned to take the day off and do nothing. I thought I deserved it after nearly five hours of walking, shaking hands, cheering, and screaming during the game.

The next morning when I woke up, I saw the football resting proudly on my dining table, and it reminded me of a night full of blessings, brotherhood and gratitude. But most of all, it reminded me of the potential that was being unlocked in that locker room. These student athletes will win games on the field, but more importantly, they will win the game of life.

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13 thoughts on “Inside the locker room…

  1. I thank you every day for having approved the hiring of Tom Herman as UH’s new Football coach and the support you are providing to the UH Athletic department. Having witnessed your leadership these last few years, Tom Herman appears to mirror your leadership skills and will make the University of Houston and its supporters proud of the young men he is teaching to become future leaders.

  2. Beautifully captured Dr. Khator. It is so needed in today’s hectic, fast moving environment not only to stop and give thanks but to have mentors that truly guide our youth in the right direction.

    An ATA BOY is great to hear for the athletes when they win one for the team but your’s and Coach Herman’s leadership is what they will learn from the most and carry with them for years to come.

    Congratulations on the victories (in more ways than one!!)

  3. To many in the general public athletics represents the character of the schools for which the athletes play. Under the leadership of Dr. Khator and Coach Herman UH’s public reputation will reflect all that is good about our university.

  4. Pingback: President Khator talks about her first time inside a locker room: This season after the Tennessee Tech win. | CardiacCoogs

  5. We are all certainly blessed….Great job!!! To our University, our President, our coaches, our team. This well written piece demonstrates that you can accomplish so much more when you don’t require the credit. Thanks for the motivating words.

  6. After reading your article, I have a renewed pride in MY University of Houston! Our young men and women are blessed to have such fine role models in their lives.

  7. As a Cougar (Class of ’86) and Educator/Coach for 30 years myself, it does my heart good to see our University led by such an outstanding President and current Head Football Coach. What I witnessed this Fall from the football program, was nothing short of phenomenal. I’ve always been a loyal Coog, but this only solidifies it more. Thank you for all you do as our President and for the people you hire to direct our future – the students.

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