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Larry Gelwix

5 Winning Strategies for Life

President Richards, faculty and staff, it is wonderful to be here. I was there when he put the move on my wife with a hug. I was okay with that, but I was ready to step in if he went for the kiss. Seriously, it is such a pleasure to be here. I can’t tell you how excited Sister Gelwix and I have been to share this devotional with you. Just out of curiosity, inasmuch as President Richards mentioned the movie Forever Strong, how many of you have seen the film? [Audience members raise their hands.] Just about all of you—there are two back there that need to repent. I’ll deal with you later.

The movie opened in theaters coast to coast in 2008. It was an exciting time for the Gelwix family and the Highland team because there were premiers. There were three premiers: one here in Salt Lake; back in New York, and they had the spotlights going back and forth; and one in Los Angeles, the same thing. And while in Los Angeles, I was asked to do an interview for one of the networks. It was a coast-to-coast, live interview on television about the movie and about the coaching career. And of course, what caught their attention was—all false modesty aside—418 wins, 10 losses, and 20 national championships in 36 years.

And so, on this live network interview, the gentleman that was interviewing me was asking me questions, but the big question that I’m always asked is, “Coach, how did you do it? How did the team do it? How do you sustain success over and over again?”

So, I talked about you’ve got to have good players—I mean, come on, you can’t have a bunch of guys tripping over their shoelaces—but you don’t start out with a bunch of Heisman Trophy winners. One of the keys is moving from good to great. I talked about having a “laser-like focus”[3] on a goal, an objective. I talked about a commitment to excellence, and then I said that, after we have these, there are five championship strategies that guarantee success. They will guarantee success in our personal life, in our family, in any business, in our church or synagogue, in a community effort, and yes, they do work on a boys’ high school rugby team.

And so, he asked me, and I quickly—bing, bing, bing, bing—identified the five strategies. And then he asked me a question. He said, “Coach, what is the basis, what is the foundation of these five championship strategies? Where did you learn them?”

It was an honest question, to which I gave an honest answer that he was not prepared for, especially on live, coast-to-coast television. I said, “Well, the basis of the five championship strategies that will guarantee success in every situation are based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

You should have seen his face. It was like, “Uh . . . Well, uh . . . Coach, just tell us about your team.”

I want to tell you that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the teachings of the Savior, are absolutely the perfect business plan, the perfect school plan, the perfect family plan, the perfect anything plan. They work.

When I was talking on this network interview, I mentioned you have to have good players. In my 36 years of coaching, I saw a lot of really good players, teams, and coaches. But you know something? I only saw a few great players, great coaches, and great teams. And I asked myself, what separates good from great? You want to be a champion in school, in your social life, in your personal life, in your family, in your community involvement, in your business and work? It’s moving from good to great. And let me tell you what great is.

I learned that great is not a comparative virtue. I am not great if I compare myself to you or you to me. I am great when I am growing; I am expanding; I am taking on more; I am open to the influences of others, and especially open to the influence of the Spirit. In other words, I am getting to the point where I am performing at my max. I’m giving it all. I’m leaving it on the field.

Do you know what the greatest obstacle, the biggest obstacle to greatness is? It’s goodness. You see, when we’re good, when the team is winning, when things are good at home, and things are good at school, at my job, or whatever, I don’t always feel a very positive and righteous pressure—never diminishing—to push myself beyond playing down to the level of my competition. You hear that in sports all the time, don’t you?

Well, you want to be a champion? We move from good to great. Take out your patriarchal blessing—the Lord outlines the game plan for you and me to become great, doesn’t He? Does he compare you to anyone in your patriarchal blessing? Well, there is the blueprint, there is the outline—moving from good to great. Because we are increasing our abilities.

I also noticed in champions, in great players, teams, and coaches, a laser-like focus. They are not pushed off their goal or objective very easily. Now, a laser-like focus is deeply rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Savior called it single-mindedness, or having an eye single. In section 82 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 19, what does the Lord say? He says “[do] all things”—not some things—“[do] all things with an eye single to the glory of God.”

When we are moving from good to great—not a comparative virtue—when we have a laser-like focus on our goal and objective, we then allow the Holy Ghost to be our ultimate teacher. How will He do this?

In section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 2 and 3, the Lord gives us the game plan, where He said, “Yea, behold, I will tell you.” All right, time out. Time out right there. What did He just say, and what did the Lord not say? What He said was, “I will tell you.” What didn’t He say? I could tell you. I might tell you, or I’ll think about it. No, He said, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by [the power of] the Holy Ghost which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. . . . Behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”[4]

If the Lord is to speak to our mind and to our hearts, how will He do it? Well, you already know, don’t you? Thoughts, ideas, impressions, and feelings come to us. As Elder Scott counseled us, write them down.[5] And so we ask ourselves this question: what is the Holy Ghost teaching me, you, all of us? What is the Holy Ghost teaching me right now?

The Savior, in his own words in the 14th chapter of John, verse 26, said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost . . . shall teach you all”—not some—“all things.”[6] Elder Bednar put it this way: Thoughts will come to your mind. Feelings will come to your heart. There will be assurances. There will be invitations to change. And there will be instructions.[7]

I thought President Packer gave maybe the best definition of the Holy Ghost I’ve ever run across when he said, “The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear.”[8]

And so, we ask ourselves again, “What is the Holy Ghost teaching us right now?”

Here is the question. In about 25 minutes or so—20 minutes—we will be walking out of the doors of this conference. There is a question that everyone of us absolutely will answer. And if we don’t answer it, we answer it by default; that becomes our answer. Here is the question: as a result of being at this devotional; more importantly, as a result of our individual worship at devotional; and ultimately most important, as a result of partaking of the sacrament every Sunday, will I walk out of these doors having been changed or just merely entertained? And by the way, in the next 20 minutes, you will be entertained.

But if we walk out of here only entertained, so what? Big deal. There are so many ways that we can entertain ourselves. But are we having an Alma 5 experience, even if it’s little baby steps? Because the Lord delights in Alma 5 baby steps.

I mentioned that there were five championship strategies. We don’t have time to discuss them all. I’m going to talk to you about one, maybe two, today. You want to be a champion—don’t play with snakes.

Now, as we move from good to great, as we have a laser-like focus—let me tell you about Mike. Mike was one of the best rugby players I ever coached, and when he was 14, he told me of an experience he had. Now, being 14, we know something about him. We know he was brain dead. You think I’m kidding—I raised them and I coached them. There’s only one thing that a 14-year-old boy thinks about, and that’s “what am I going to eat and when?”

So, he’s 14, it’s a hot July morning, and he lives up on the bench there. He walks out in his garage. He sees a snake. It’s a rattlesnake, and being brain dead, he walks up to it. He gets a piece of plywood, and he just kind of puts the board on the neck of the snake without hurting it, but immobilizing it so he can reach behind and pick up the snake. Now he’s holding the snake by its neck.

I want you just to think. What would you say if your younger brother, your nephew, or your neighbor said, “Hey, I found a rattlesnake, and I was holding it by its neck.” What is the first thing that would come to your mind? Something like, “Do you really have stupid tattooed on your forehead?” I’m going to make a self-confession: when Mike told me he was holding a rattlesnake by the neck, that’s not the first thing that came to my mind. The very first thing that came to my mind when Mike told me this was this: “Do snakes have necks?” I don’t know. Think about it. Does a snake have a neck? Hey, go ask your biology teacher if it has a neck. Anyway.

So, soon, all of the kids in the neighborhood had come over. They’re out in the driveway now, and Mike is doing that typical 14-year-old brain-dead boy thing with the snake—Ha! Ha! Ha! And of course, he is chasing girls around with it. “Hey Mary, it’s going to bite you.”

At one point, he was just standing there, kind of twirling the snake, “Hey Bill, I’m going to throw it at you! It’s going to bite you, George! And here comes the snake!” And everyone is yelling and screaming, having a great time. Everyone except the snake. Now this snake didn’t feel loved. And—the worst curse in Utah—this snake did not feel special. Because we all feel special. Another story for another day. Anyway, so a buddy of his comes up and says, “Hey Mike.” So, he holds the snake out here, and he starts talking to a friend.

Now, you already know the story because a 14-year-old boy has the attention span of a mosquito, and this happens as he is talking. He didn’t drop the snake, but he just kind of loosened the grip, and POW! Right on his hand, he gets bit. He drops the snake, like, “It bit me!”

I said, “Mike, duh. What did you think was going to happen? It’s a rattlesnake. You know what it is. You know what rattlesnakes do. How could this story have ever turned out any other way? You play with a rattlesnake, you tell me. What’s going to happen, sooner or later? You’re going to get bit.”

Now, a rattlesnake that we all have had in our personal and professional lives is this: it is something that we know what it is, we know it is not right. It might even be legal, but it is not right. And we want to play with the rattlesnake one more time. We’re always going to get rid of the rattlesnake sometime in the future, but we know what it is.

Think about the rattlesnakes. Starting with myself, we all have rattlesnakes—things that are simply not right. It might be a behavior. It could be an attitude. It can be anything. It’s something; we know what it is. We know it’s not right. It reminds us of the words of Samuel, doesn’t it, in Helaman 14:31: for it is “given unto you that ye might know good from evil.” Come on. We know what our rattlesnakes are.

Let me give you an example of one of the great rattlesnakes that will destroy us—will destroy our family, destroy our society, ultimately destroy our business. And that is what it means to tell the truth.

I have a son named Keaton. A good friend of his is Bill. Let’s just imagine this situation. Keaton comes to me and says, “Hey Dad, I want to go over to Bill’s house.”

I say, “Well, that’s fine. But it’s a school night, so I don’t want you going to the movies.” And so, Keaton goes over to Bill’s house, and they hang out, and guess what? Forever Strong is still playing in the theaters, and so they go to the movies.

Now, I’m doing the good dad thing—you know, the good dad, the good mom thing—we wait for our children to come home, don’t we? And by the way, if it’s a boy and he gets in before curfew, you’ll hear three sounds; if it’s after curfew you’ll hear no sounds. But if it’s before curfew, you will hear the door slam, then you will hear the refrigerator door open, and then you will hear gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp—he’s drinking out of the carton that I’ve told him a million times not to drink out of. Have I got that right?

So, he comes back, and I say, “Where have you been, son?” Listen carefully to his answer.

“I went to Bill’s house.” And he puts a period where he should have put a comma. Now think of his statement. Is his statement, “I went to Bill’s house,” factually correct? Yes, it is.

You tell me: what do you want me to believe? What did he want me to believe? That that’s all he did. You see, he gave me factually correct information and just lied through his teeth to me. Because we know the rattlesnake of what it means to be an honest person in all situations is this: it has less to do with what we say, and more to do with what I want you to believe. It’s the message rather than the words.

Now, there is a test of who we are. It’s a wonderful test and so simple. It’s this: what do I do when no one will know what I do? You know, you walk into 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp or a Slurpee, and you walk out, and they gave you an extra quarter. And rather than walking back in and returning something that doesn’t belong to me—returning it on my own—I say, “Wait a minute. That was their mistake, not mine.” And I pocket it, and guess what? No one will ever know.

You know what is sad about that one? I just sold my integrity for a quarter. Or maybe I got myself in a bit of a jam, and if I just put a period where I should put a comma—if I just leave some of the facts out—there will be no consequences. I’ll get out of the trouble I’m in.

I used to say to my players, “Hey, what websites do you look at at 2:00 o’clock in the morning when no one will ever know?” Well, in short, that’s who you are. That’s who I am. It’s what do I do when no one will know.

You want to be a champion? With a laser-like focus, don’t play with snakes.

So, what is our take-away here? Our take-away is that every one of us, starting with myself, will identify—whatever you do, don’t shout it out. We’re going to identify one rattlesnake in our life—an attitude, a behavior, a something. And when we walk out of these doors in about ten minutes, we’re going to be done with that. We’re absolutely not going to play with that rattlesnake again.

Let me share another one of the five championship strategies. Hit the field running—attitude and effort. Attitude and effort are everything. Attitude and effort are more important than natural smarts or natural ability.

How many of you have ever had someone tell you, “Oh, you need to change your attitude”? How many? [Audience members raise their hands.] We’ve all had that. Wait until you get married. You know what bugs me about that? She’s right. She’s always right.

Anyway, I’m 66 years old. I’m a young man trapped in an old man’s body. All right? But I have an opinion and an attitude about everything. And what has shaped my attitude, my opinion? It is everything I have ever experienced in life. Just as you—you may be 23, you may be 18, 25, 110—well, I guess I won’t get invited back. But if you’re 22, your opinions, your attitudes are shaped by everything you’ve ever learned or heard or tasted or smelled or touched. It’s a lifetime of experiences.

And isn’t that the purpose of education, of a faith-based life? Our opinions, our attitudes are getting refined, they’re getting polished, they’re getting uplifted, they’re getting upgraded. That’s the purpose.

But some schmuck comes up to me and says, “Hey, Larry, you need to change your attitude.” Well, he may be right. But just a minute—[finger snap]—I don’t feel that way anymore so. It wasn’t that easy. It doesn’t work that way.

Here’s what I learned in 36 years of coaching and a lifetime of living: we can change an attitude. There is one way to do it, and one way only. If I want to change an attitude, I must first change a behavior. You see, attitude change will follow behavior change—never the other way around. That’s why most New Year’s resolutions fail.

In August of 2009, my telephone rang. I was sitting at my desk in my office. “Hello, this is Larry.” A familiar voice came on the other end of the phone. It said, “Coach Gelwix, this is Bronco Mendenhall.”

As you’re aware, Bronco Mendenhall was the head coach of the BYU football team; now the head coach at the University of Virginia. And he said, “In a couple of weeks, Coach, we’re going down on the road to play Oklahoma in football. And we’ve got some players who don’t believe we can win. I need to change some attitudes. Would you come down and help me?”

I said, “It would be an honor.” A few days later, I was down at the BYU football practice. Coach Mendenhall was a big fan of the movie Forever Strong. And so, he gave me some time with the whole team there. I knew that if we were going to uplift and even change some attitudes, we had to change a behavior on this team. I explained that to them.

I talked to them about a study that the New England Patriots had done about 15 years earlier when they were a good team but not a great team. And they went back and reviewed all of their film for 20 years. And they said, “Why did we win? Why did we lose?” And they were looking for trends. And what the Patriots found out is that every game that was in play—not the blowouts, but tighter games—came down to five or six plays.

Now, that’s the good news is that for the Patriots, every game, win or lose, was five or six plays. What’s the bad news? You don’t know when those five or six plays are going to come. And that’s why in football, you play it on your toes. Every play has to be, “Is this the play?” Is this the play? Is this one of those five or six plays? And I explained that.

I said . . . You know, Oklahoma, Sam Bradford was the quarterback. Now he’s with the Minnesota Vikings. He was All-American. And Oklahoma was rated number three in the nation. Nobody gave BYU a chance against the Sooners.

So, I talked about the New England Patriots, and then I got the offensive captain and the defensive captain up. And I said, “Listen. You’re going to be on the road against a hostile crowd, with the number three team in the nation. But we have to change a behavior, and it starts today. It starts in practice today. Every time you break the offensive or defensive huddle, I want you to look at each other. I want you grabbing face masks, if you have to. And I want you to say and everybody to say, ‘Is this the play? Is this the play? Is this one of these plays? One of the five or six plays that the game is going to turn on?” And I wished them well.

Well, BYU went down and played Oklahoma, and you remember that nobody gave them a chance. They won that game. They had a great season, and they finished nationally ranked. That was in 2009.

Fast-forward to just last spring. I was sitting at the Salt Lake airport. And this is kind of weird. You right here, in the white shirt and glasses? I want you to stare at me. You can sit there, but just stare at me. You know how, sometimes when you’re just looking and you’re talking to people, and you notice, particularly strangers, staring at you? You move away, don’t you? But what do you do really fast? You look back to see if they’re staring at you, because it’s kind of creepy, you know? You are totally creeping me out. And you do this, and you look—he’s still staring.

So, I’m at the airport and I saw this guy over there, and we kind of made eye contact. And I looked back three or four times, and he is staring at me. I said, “This is really weird.” And then he gets up—he’s about six-foot-seven—had to be three Bills. And he’s walking at me. And I’m thinking, he’s going to beat me up. I don’t even know this guy.

And then he breaks out into a smile. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to live.” And he walks up to me and says, “Hey, Coach. Are you Coach Gelwix?” And I said, “Yeah.” I’m thinking, “Who is asking?”

So, I said yes, and he said, “Are you the famous rugby coach?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know about famous, but yes, I’m a rugby coach, or I was. I retired after 36 years.”

He said, “You came and spoke to our football team before we played Oklahoma. I’ve always wanted to talk to you and thank you. You changed a behavior on our team, and in practice that day and thereafter, we kept asking ourselves, ‘Is this the play? Is this the play?’ And it changed everything about our team.”

Let me just wrap things up. You want to be a champion, first and foremost, in your personal life, in your social life, in your school work, in your testimony, in your service in the Church and community? Have an absolute commitment to move from good to great. Don’t let being good lull you and satisfy you. It’s a positive pressure to grow and expand, and the Lord will do that.

Number two is that once you’re moving from good to great, develop a laser-like focus on your tasks and your assignments. Allow the Holy Ghost, when you are single-minded, to be your tutor, to be your teacher. And be sensitive to every thought, every impression, every feeling that comes to you. And write them down and act upon them. Otherwise, how can the Lord trust us with more inspiration?[9]

You want to be a champion? Don’t play with snakes. We’re going to walk out of this door in just a few minutes, and every one of us, we have now identified—ask the Lord, “What rattlesnake? Maybe I can’t take on the whole basket of them today, but let me pick one that I’m absolutely going to be rid of.”

For it is given unto me, the Savior said, to make good from evil.[10] And with the attitude and effort, we’re going to walk out of here—what is an attitude about yourself, about your family, about who you are dating, about your school or work, about God—what is an attitude that needs to change? Our takeaway is that we are going to identify the attitude, and then we identify the behavior that must change.

This will motivate you to reach and achieve greater things—moving from good to great, a laser-like focus, not playing with the rattlesnakes of my life, and attitude and effort—changing an attitude by changing a behavior. When we do this, I promise you an Alma 5 experience. You will find yourself doing, thinking, saying, and feeling things that you presently think as beyond your ability.

I promise you that, and I promise you that you will know in the most personal and intimate way that you are loved by your Heavenly Father. He knows your name. And, with no desire to be irreverent, if He has a refrigerator, your photo, your picture is on it. That I know.

You will know that you are precious to Him. Notwithstanding our mistakes, notwithstanding our rattlesnakes, you will know and feel of your Heavenly Father’s love. I bear you my testimony these things are true. I bear you a witness that God is our loving Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ is the Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Leigh Dethman, “The ‘Winningest’ Coach in America,” PRWeb, Dec. 24, 2010; “Gary Cole’s Inspiring New Role,” Fox News, May 28, 2009.

[2] Forever Strong, Crane Movie Company (2009).

[3] Attributed to Bruce Lee.

[4] Emphasis added.

[5] For example, see Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Oct. 2009 General Conference; Richard G. Scott, “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Apr. 2012 General Conference.

[6] Emphasis added.

[7] See  David A. Bednar, “The Spirit of Revelation,” Apr. 2011 General Conference; David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water,” BYU Speeches, Feb. 4, 2007.

[8] Boyd K. Packer, “Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Oct. 1994 General Conference, emphasis in original.

[9] See Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Oct. 2009 General Conference.

[10] See Jeremiah 18:11.


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