Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lessons Learned from the Movie Hoosiers

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is well underway. Even though I'm not a big fan of college basketball or the tournament, I do love hearing about the "Cinderella" teams that make it to the tournament and, much to everyone's surprise, make it past the first round by defeating a higher seeded team. This just appeals to my natural love of underdogs. I love, love, love underdogs (hell, I was a Cubs fans long before they won the World Series and before being a Cubs fan was "cool"). 

Undeniably, one of the best underdog movies of all time is the movie Hoosiers, which will celebrate its 31st anniversary this year, is the story of a basketball team from a small town in Indiana who wins the state championship against a team from a much larger school. The movie was inspired by the true story of the 1954 Milan H.S. basketball team, who won the Indiana high school championship that year becoming the smallest school to ever win a single class basketball title in Indiana. 

There are many lessons that can be learned from underdog movies, the most common being perseverance, which is a evident in Hoosiers. Even though Hoosiers is not my favorite underdog movie, I consider it one of the most endearing and most valuable because of the lessons it teaches that has nothing to do with perseverance, lessons that are often easily overlooked. These deeper lessons, in my opinion, are what makes the movie a timeless classic.

Before you can be successful at something, you must possess strong, fundamental, foundational skills 

During one of the team's first practices, Coach Dale, played by Gene Hackman, runs the team through countless drills - passing drills, dribbling while weaving through chairs, and running what we used to call "suicides," but I think are now called “down and backs” or something. It’s apparent that the boys are not used to this kind of practice and one of them asks when are they going to scrimmage. Coach Dale explains, "We don't scrimmage and no shooting either. I've seen that you guys can shoot, but there's more to the game than shooting. There's fundamentals and defense." These fundamental skills are to playing basketball as crawling and cruising while holding onto furniture are to independent walking - fundamental prerequisites. Also, the physical conditioning he puts the boys through is essential for stamina and endurance, two vital skills that are needed to play a game from start to finish, especially when you only have seven players.

While winning is important, how you play the game is more important

We play games for fun, but there is no denying the desire that most of us have deep down inside that drives us to win. Despite this, Coach Dale knew that there was more to basketball than just winning. He knew that many of the skills learned on the basketball court, such as impulse control (passing the ball four times before shooting), discipline, good sportsmanship, and synergy (working cohesively together as one team rather than as five individuals), are lessons that are also beneficial off the basketball court in the real world. 

“Don’t get caught up in thinking about winning and losing,” he told them before a big game. “If you put your effort into playing to your potential, to being the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re going to be winners.”

Second chances are powerful

Coach Dale had coached college before in another state, but was suspended after an incident with one of his players. The principal at the Hickory knew Coach Dale because they attended college together. He knew of Dale’s suspension, but that didn’t deter him from giving Coach Dale a second chance at coaching, something that Dale was apparently good at. It’s obvious that the principal thought enough of Coach Dale and his abilities to give him the opportunity of having a clean slate.

Coach Dale goes on to give to one of his players, Whit, a second chance at being on the team after Whit was coerced by a fellow teammate to walk out of practice on the first day. This is something that he did not have to do, but he understood that teenagers sometimes make poor choices and gave him a second chance. 

Later in the movie, Coach Dale offers Shooter, the father of one of the player's who has a drinking problem, the chance to be his assistant under the condition that Shooter remain sober. Despite his drinking problem, Shooter was very knowledgable of the game and Coach Dale recognized that along with the fact that no one believed in Shooter, not even Shooter's son. Giving him a shot at being his assistant (and later getting himself thrown out of the game so that Shooter had to take over as coach) allowed Shooter to utilize his knowledge, gain confidence, and start to redeem himself in his son's eyes.

 Had Coach Dale not given him that opportunity, then he and his son's relationship would probably have remained strained and he probably would not have entered alcohol rehabilitation. Because Coach Dale believed in him, Shooter, we assume, was able to turn a new leaf.

There are many more subtle lessons that he movie Hoosiers teaches, such as taking responsibility, having respect for authority, and standing up for others. These are just the three most important lessons in my opinion and, as they say, opinions my vary.

Have you seen the movie Hoosiers? If so, what lessons do you feel the movie has to offer?

This post originally was featured on Jenn's blog, Quirky Pickings, last year when I appeared a guest blogger.


  1. I know OF the movie, but I don't think I've ever seen it. These are all great lessons and things to know though, so thanks for sharing!


  2. I also know OF the movie but haven't seen it. Sports movies are so often packed with metaphors about life though. I watched many of them when I was a kid.


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