The Players’ Tribune has started a meme across the Internet where famous and successful people write letters to their 16-year-old selves. Plenty of these pieces are self-reverential fluff meant to drive home the point that the author of said piece eventually became rich, famous and successful.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is rich, famous and successful, but you know anything about the man you know he doesn’t do fluff. This is a guy who once slept in his family’s car to avoid his angry-drunk father. He shared an apartment with his mother as a college football player. He sold commercial real estate when he couldn’t find a coaching job. Dabo climbed to the height of college football, and he made that climb up a slick rock face with nothing but his bare hands.
So when Dabo gives a talk to his 16-year-old self, it’s worth listening. Clemson hosted a Men of Color Summit on last week, hosting 2,000 black and Hispanic males, and Dabo gave a 9-minute talk that was worthy of transcribing every single word.
“If there’s hope in the future, then there’s power in the present, right where you are. That’s powerful and, man, that would have been a blessing to me,” he opened.
“The other thing that I would want to know is for them to make sure that I understand — because, man, I love ball — this ball is not the foundation of your life. Don’t ever let it become the foundation of your life, because the air is going to go out of that ball. To know that the true hope and the true joy of the life is through Jesus, not a ball,” Swinney said. “That’s where the true joy comes from.
“The second thing I would say if I was sitting right there, I would say, ‘Man, Dabo, you’re special. I want you to know that you’re special.’ And that’s what I would say to each and every one of you. You’re special. Y’all are special. You need to act like it. You need to act like you’re special, walk like you’re special, talk like you’re special, associate and choose your friends like you’re special, eat like you’re special, because you are.”
Dabo then went into a section where he explained how he built his program with the future versions of each player in mind.
“I care more about the 30-year-old version of them than I do the 19-year-old version of them,” he said. “When I meet them at 30 I want them to come hug my neck, not turn and go the other way. I want them to know that we empowered them, that we disciplined them, that we encouraged them, we equipped them, we didn’t use them, we didn’t entitle them. We taught them that there’s consequences, and that’s what I’m here to tell you today. The 30-year-old version of you is counting on you. Don’t give up what you want most for what you want in a moment.”
Watch the full speech here.