3 Principles of Success from the Most Accomplished High School Coach in American History

(with David Houle)

3 Principles of Success from the Most Accomplished High School Coach in American History
Coach David Houle has the most wins of any high school coach in American history. He and his teams have earned nearly 2,000 victories in basketball, football, baseball, track, and cross country. His teams have won 68 state championships and seven national championships. David is a member of the National Sports Hall of Fame and was named by USA Today as the most successful high school coach in America. His athletes are known for their love and support towards each other and opponents, and for years of community service.  In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss David’s journey to success and three principles that helped him become the most successful high school coach in American history.


David grew up one of 11 brothers and sisters. The family only had three bedrooms and one bathroom. Early on, his mom taught them to get along and share. His mom also taught David and his siblings to do what they love and go all out with it.  When David was 12, he asked his dad if he could coach. Everyone was being drafted and they didn’t have any other options, so they let him, coach. After his own practice, he would coach the six- and seven-year-olds, and he fell in love with it. He kept coaching until he got to college. There, he ran track, cross country, and played football, and David convinced the basketball coach to let him be his assistant. He ended up becoming the head football coach at 22 years old, the youngest head football coach in the state. He got the job only four days before the first football game, and they were playing the defending state champions. His goal was to keep the game close, and they ended up losing six to seven. David progressed and started setting records. He set a goal to win at least one state championship in his life. He went on to win 68 of them.

We Must Take Risks to Succeed

David is often teased that he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose, but he has lost the state championship 22 times. We often forget about the failures of successful people. Instead, we focus on all their wins and put them up on a pedestal. Michael Jordan, a former professional basketball player, said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Nobody remembers Michael Jordan for the shots he missed. We remember him for the shots he made. So often in life, we’re afraid we’re going to miss the shot, so we don’t take it. We don’t take the risk. But if we don’t take the shot, it’s impossible for us to make the shot.  Wayne Gretzky, a former professional hockey player, said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  Be 1% better _Blog This same principle applies in business. Just think of some of the most famous entrepreneurs who had to fail before they became successful. Elon Musk was fired before he founded SpaceX. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he “lacked creativity” and then he founded Disney. Oprah Winfrey was fired from reporting the evening news but is now worth $3 billion.  The most successful people have missed a lot of shots. It’s part of life. In order to win, or in order to succeed, we must take the shot. Sometimes we’ll miss, but our life will be defined by the shots we made.

Finding and Motivating the Champions

When David started coaching the track and cross country team at Mountain View High School, there were only six kids on the team. His goal was to build the team, so he started recruiting anyone with legs.  One day, he was walking through the hall and he saw a shy girl named Laurie. David said, “Hey Laurie, have you ever thought about running cross country?” She said, “Um no.” David told her she ought to come out. It was track season then, but he told her they’d get her in shape for cross country. Laurie came out, and she got lapped so many times. She was last in every race she ran, but she started to work hard and didn’t quit. When track season ended, David told the team he’d meet them every day at 6:30 in the morning to train. Pretty soon, he heard that Laurie was running twice a day. When David asked her about it, she said, “I believe in your workout, so I just do it again at night.” She worked hard and went on to win the state championship. She became an All-American and led the team to the state national championship, gaining a lot of confidence in herself along the way. 
“In every school . . . there are state champions. In every single school, there are state championship teams. . . . It’s up to us to go find them,” David said.
Just like it’s a coach’s responsibility to find those players or athletes and help develop and motivate them, it is our job to find the diamonds in the rough, put them on our business team, and help develop and motivate them to succeed. We can invite employees to take on new responsibilities, stretch themselves, and push themselves to become something greater than they imagined. If we hire someone onto our team and tell them we think we can help them find great success, it is our responsibility to teach them everything we can to be successful. We have to believe in them and make sure they feel welcome. “You have to encourage them to become better, and then, wherever they’re at, you praise them. You give them something to look for the next day. Be 1% better today than you were yesterday. It’s up to us as leaders to motivate our team to endure,” David said. We must paint a dream for them to hold onto, setting weekly and monthly goals for them to work towards. 

David’s Secret of Success: Love

I treated my team_Blog David learned the secret to his success as a coach from his family. His mom would often put him and one of his brothers in charge, and they had to learn how to take care of nine kids and handle them when they were being crazy. “Always do it with love. Always show them that you love them and that you really, really care. That’s why you’re here,” David said. He carried this principle into his coaching, showing every kid that he cared about them.  He wanted to know if a parent was sick or if they were having a hard time with their grades. He wanted to help them in whatever way he could. If someone was struggling with their grades, he’d ask a straight-A student to help them out.  “I treated my team as a family. Everybody was part of the family,” David said. They all participated together. If they were doing a service project, everyone from the team captains to David would help. He made a point to tell every student good job as they came back from runs. He didn’t give any special treatment or attention to the varsity team.  We need to do the same thing with our business teams: treat them with love, and act like a family. When our employees, partners, and customers know we love them and care about them, they’re going to want to follow us much more. They’re going to listen to what we have to say. We’ll be more united in our goals, and we’ll be able to achieve them easier because we’ll be able to work together better. 

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much David for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode: 1. As David did, we should go after what we love and pursue it with everything we have. 2. To succeed, we must take risks. We miss all of the shots we don’t take. 3. There are champions on every team, in every field. We must find them and help them become something great. 4. The secret of success is love. Whatever we do, always do it with love. If we treat our teams with love, they will be more willing to listen to us and we will be more united.

Connect with David

To learn more about or connect with David:

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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