Lessons from When the Game Stands Tall
- Monday, August 18, 2014
Sports, brotherhood and God: these are three of Jim Caviezel’s passions. So when he was asked to play the role of Coach Bob Ladouceur in When the Game Stands Tall, he knew he had to say yes.
Opening in theatres August 22, When the Game Stands Tall is the true story of a high school football coach and the impact he made on the players as individuals and as a team. Despite the team’s 151-game winning streak, Coach Ladouceur’s focus was not on winning, but on training his players to be men.
It only seemed natural for Caviezel, 45, to take this role: he spent his entire childhood playing sports, learning along the way what it means to be a part of a team. His roots as an athlete run deep: his dad, James, played basketball at UCLA under Coach John Wooden—another coach known for mentoring his players just as much off the court as on the court.
“Growing up, I played (basketball) practically all day, every day. During my senior year of high school I played on a very good team—but we weren’t good enough to play in the state tournament. Yet, we were selected to play the number one team in the state,” he recalled.
Incidentally, the same weekend he was to play in the state championship a little film called Hoosiers opened in theatres. The script for Hoosiers seemed to be ripped from the very pages of Caviezel’s team’s Cinderella story: an unlikely small town high school team makes it to the Indiana state finals.
The storyline inspired Caviezel and his team to play the game of their lives.
“We ended up beating that team. Collectively, we were fearless. As for me, I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” he said.
“So when I looked at the script of When the Game Stands Tall, what drew me is the story of coach Ladouceur and how he drilled the notion of 'don't let one another down' into his boys' minds and hearts. It somewhat mirrored my personal experience in high school sports.”
To prepare for the role, Caviezel attended Ladouceur’s last game at De La Salle High School. He studied Ladouceur’s mannerisms on the sidelines during the game so that he could learn the character.
But what he saw in the locker room after the game left an impression that will last far beyond filming: the love and respect the players had for their coach was visually astounding.
“When I saw the boys looking at their coach as he spoke to them, their eyes were glassed over—almost like they were going to burst into tears. He told them, ‘Whatever gets your heart swollen—think about that when you play.’ These boys were ready to die for this man,” he said.
“There is something very Christlike about Coach Ladouceur—something very powerful, very real. And many of these kids don’t have a father. Coach Ladouceur fills in the gaps for them. His presence in a room is felt, even with very few words.”
Another impressive thing about Ladouceur, says Caviezel, is his emphasis on character. Throughout the film, Ladouceur’s character gives advice to his players, such as, “Don’t let a game define who you are; let it define the way you live.”
For the coach, it was not about winning. He never asked the team to play a perfect game, but he asked them to give a perfect effort on every play from snap to whistle.
“Winning is what the world sees. He never chose to focus on that. It was about turning these boys into men. He really just wanted to create good men. Men of virtue. Courageous men. Men who would sacrifice for one another. You’re never more Christlike than when you are sacrificing,” said Caviezel.
“These virtues that Coach Ladouceur worked to instill in these guys transferred onto the field into incredible results. The wins were byproducts of the character they were developing. And that’s a great story to tell.”
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