Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson
A Passionate Leader Who is an Ultimate Teammate
as a Player, Coach and Person
You can’t reach every single one of your goals, says former New England Patriots Hall of Famer and former college coach Steve Nelson. And he’s learned not only to be philosophical but to recognize how much there is to be learned from that lesson. For example, when he finally achieved his goal of playing in the Super Bowl in 1986, his team lost. The disappointment only served to underscore his belief that “as you dream and you set goals, you also come to realize that you don’t make all your goals, and that’s okay.”
In some ways, the Minnesota-born linebacker has made a career for himself out of recognizing the value of the team over the individual. Following his 14 seasons playing for the Patriots, he worked as an assistant coach for that team and later became a head college coach. “The first thing you have to recognize about playing on a team is that the team comes first. Once you understand and accept that, you really start enjoying what team sports are all about. When you’re part of an effectively functioning team, you appreciate everyone else more. And as you become a better teammate, that translates into you becoming a better person.”
Recognizing the value of teamwork was woven into the fabric of his childhood, Steve says. His father was a high school coach, and Steve grew up with an understanding of a coach’s role in his players’ lives. “My father taught his players that it’s important to work out in the off season. It’s important to be a good student. It’s important to be a good person. All of these things add up to being a good teammate, and if you have a bunch of good teammates, you’re going to have a good team.”
Steve’s father, now in his nineties, remains one of his most powerful role models. “In World War II, he was part of the fighting on Omaha Beach. He took care of my mother after she developed Alzheimer’s for as long as he could, and when she finally had to go to a rest home, he visited her every day. He still lives in his own house, cuts wood, mows his lawn and plays golf. And this is someone who really grew up with nothing. He was one of four kids, they had no father in the house, and my grandmother earned a dollar a day.”
He recognizes that many kids are not as blessed as he was with a father who taught valuable life lessons. But what matters, Steve believes, is that kids find someone else. “Somehow, the community has got to rally around the young people and provide leadership and good role models. Being a good role model is not somebody taking them to the ice cream store every Saturday; it’s someone who sits down and tells them to knock it off, or don’t do that, or that’s not the right choice.”
Part of what makes Steve such an effective coach is that he truly believes in a holistic approach to learning, something he demonstrated by switching traditional roles with his daughters when he asked them to teach him to ski. At the time, they ranged in age from about 8 to 14 and were all good skiers; he was 36 and had finished his football career. “It was a reverse mentorship,” he recalls. “I think it was really good for all of us. You learn a lot about kids when they start teaching you stuff: not just about their knowledge level, but how they hold their frustrations in, how they re-create learning experiences, how they think on a different level.”
An unshakeable sense of Christian faith has always guided him as well. “I believe that there is something much bigger than me,” he says. “If you go to Alaska and look at the mountains, you realize how insignificant you are in the whole grand scheme of things. You’re human and you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. But when you can’t change what you’ve said or done, you apologize and forget about it.”
After ending his coaching career, he went into business: first as a restaurateur and later in the high-tech field. His number, 57, has been retired by the Patriots, and he now has what he believes to be the means for happiness. “I think fundamentally, the key to being happy is to be appreciative,” he says. “If you appreciate your health and you appreciate all the good things that life has given you, you’re going to be happy.”
This sense of profound gratitude, along with his sense of commitment to and respect for other people and his abiding faith, make Steve Nelson the embodiment of an Insightful Player® team member.
Instant replay of Steve’s guiding principles:
- Recognize that in football, and often in life, you win or lose as a team. How you are playing individually at any given time matters less than how your team is doing.
- Children thrive when they have strong role models who are not afraid to guide and direct them.
- Playing to the best of your abilities always matters more than getting a win; and losing is nothing to be ashamed of if you’ve put in your best effort.
- Respect the abilities and expertise of other people, who may have important skills that you do not possess.
- Help other people – whether they are your teammates, the players you coach, or your own children – to realize their goals.
- Dream big, but also know how to set small, attainable goals for yourself as steppingstones to a bigger goal.
- When you have wronged someone, possess the capacity to apologize sincerely and move on from it.
- Put forth your best attitude in whatever you choose to do.
- Develop a sense of faith, wonder and gratitude.
The Insightful Player® series is brought to you by Coach Chrissy Carew, Hall of Fame Master Certified Personal and Business Coach and Author of INSIGHTFUL PLAYER: Football Pros Lead A Bold Movement of Hope. Chrissy has been deeply inspired by her father, the late Coach Walter Carew, Sr. Her father is in several Halls of Fame as a high school football coach and baseball coach (as well as high school and college athlete). He used sports to help kids build strong character and teach them valuable life skills. The Insightful Player® initiative was created to help make our world a much better place by inspiring youth. To contact Chrissy Carew visit http://www.insightfulplayer.com or call 603-897-0610.
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