Thank you, Charlie Fredrick

I really feel a certain kinship with sports lovers — people who love a given sport or particular team. I get it.

I have loved track and field my whole life.

I loved to run. I loved to go to a track meet and follow all the varied events going on at once. To watch a shot-putter one moment, a pole vaulter the next, followed by a race on the track! For me, a perfect weekend was going to a track meet!

I ran competitively all the way through high school. I was an average runner who became good by being the hardest worker. Nobody ever accused me of having much talent. No, the genes were not on my side!

So, my running career for the most part was over at age 18 when high school finished. I wasn’t good enough to go on and run at the college level.

So, in 1982 at 18 years old, I started coaching instead. I was an unpaid assistant at my old grade school, St. Vivian’s School. I took over the girls’ program. I ended up being pretty good at recruiting new runners and motivating junior-high girls to stick with it, train hard, and to finish hard workouts. We won everything in 1982, went undefeated and were city champions in the Catholic league.

I guess I caught the eye of a guy named Charlie Fredrick. Charlie was a sports legend in Cincinnati, my hometown. He had studied and played football at the esteemed University of Notre Dame. He was the athletic director, head of all sports in the Winton Woods school district, a massive area with many schools and coaches under his command.

One of the schools Charlie oversaw was called Forest Park (FP). FP was a former track powerhouse that had fallen on hard times in the early 1980s.Charlie wasn’t happy about this downturn in performance and decided to make a coaching change, letting go of an accomplished senior runner and coach.He decided he would take a risk on a now 19-year-old volunteer coach of St. Vivian’s School. He called me up in early 1983 to meet.

Charlie Fredrick

I was 19 and intimidated and scared to meet this legend. What did he want with me? I showed up in his office in a suit and tie. He laughed when he shook my hand.

He told me he had been watching me. And what I had done with a group of teenaged girls in my first year at St. Vivian’s was impressive. He told me he wanted to offer me the Forest Park job. He explained I would be on a professional coaching contract and explained my pay. He could see I was stunned, and he told me to go home, think about it, and we would meet the following day to agree to go ahead, or shake hands and walk away friends.

I went home dazed and could not believe I was being offered a coaching contract at 19, to coach athletes basically within a few years of my age.  What a huge honor and responsibility. But I decided I would do it. I would try. I would sign.

So the next day, I went back to sign. Charlie handed me a pen. I scribbled my name on each page and handed it to him. He smiled and then uttered several sentences about life that have stuck with me and changed me forever:

“Jim, let me be clear. I want to read about Forest Park in the newspapers. I want to fill the trophy cases with trophies. I want to win. And if you can’t do this, well, we won’t be renewing this contract.”

I swallowed hard and digested my first lesson on accountability. It doesn’t matter how nice I was, who my daddy was, or how hard I worked. It was all about wins and losses. That’s all that matters.

I coached Forest Park for three years from 1983 through 1985, right up to when I started my professional career at Procter & Gamble. Charlie cried and hugged me when I didn’t renew for the 1986 season because I had a job, a wife, and a baby by that time. Forest Park won two city championships over a three-year period. In two of the three years we finished undefeated. Several of my runners such as Clinton Davis and Calvin Bostic went on to represent the United States in international competition, including Olympic qualifying.

I will always be thankful to Charlie. He gave a young 19-year-old a chance. And he taught me a valuable lesson about accountability at a very young age. I will be forever grateful for the lesson.

Over the past 36 years since that fateful day with Charlie, I learned that most coaches and athletes really understand the concept of accountability. There are no excuses. It’s win or lose. Football strikers understand if they don’t score goals, they get fired. Coaches know if they don’t win, they get fired. Nobody complains. Nobody thinks it’s unfair. This is life. It’s all about wins and losses. If you want to be a success, well, you must win, whatever winning is defined as for your situation.

What has always blown me away is how so many people in business don’t get it. Clearly, they never played a sport seriously at a high level or coached professionally. The athletes and coaches get it. But no, some folks just miss it altogether. They think it’s all about managing politics. Or tenure. Or kissing a boss’s ass. Or having a good excuse. So, they miss their targets, be it a sales target, a cost target, or a profit target, and they think it’s okay. They think if they are “nice” and “loyal” and “hardworking,” it’s all okay.

They are dead wrong. It’s not okay to miss. And clearly, they never played a competitive sport or coached professionally. How nice one is doesn’t matter. Work ethic doesn’t matter. It’s about wins. Hitting targets. Winning trophies. Bringing home the money. This is all that matters. We are paid for results, wins, not activity or big talk or promises.

Charlie Fredrick died a few weeks ago at 82 years old. I shed a tear and said a prayer for my old boss and friend. I can’t ever repay him for the lesson he taught me. I learned accountability at 19 years old. I sadly know people who are 30, 40, 50 years old who still haven’t learned this lesson. I was blessed to have Charlie Fredrick in my life.

Thank you, Charlie.

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James Michael Lafferty

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