A Stone? A Wall? Or a Cathedral?


“Why do you want this job?”  is one of my standard job interview questions. 

Once a very confident, quite credentialed coach I was interviewing explained to me, “I’m just here to coach gymnastics.” 

“Then you won’t be a good fit here, “ I replied.

The candidate looked puzzled, so I went on to tell him of an old story about a traveller in the medieval era who happens upon three stonecutters all doing identical tasks.  The traveller stops and asks each in turn: What are you doing?

The first answers,  “I am cutting stone.”

The second explains, “I am completing the wall.”

The third declares, “I am building a cathedral.”

At JAG, we hire and inspire cathedral builders. 

“I am here to coach gymnastics,” is not enough. 

“I am here to get kids ready for higher skills or even competition,” misses the full potential of the position. 

“I am here to positively influence children’s lives.”  Now you have my attention and most likely a job offer in hand.

Yes, technical knowledge and procedural skill are important elements of hiring great coaches, but lacking the passion and commitment to do good things for kids they are irrelevant. 

Former Porsche CEO and motivational speaker Peter Schultz is credited with saying “Hire character.  Train skill.”    We whole-heartedly embrace this concept along with one of our other favorite mantras “Care more about building children than building champions.”

I share this Parable of the Stonecutters not to be self-congratulatory but rather to explain tenets essential to our philosophy.  Because we place the child ahead of the champion we are not a gymnastics program that is focused on selecting the ideal competitive athlete and training her to the exclusion of her academic, social, emotional and physical growth. 

That is not to say we are uninterested in achievement or even winning: we are.  We simply will always put the child as a child ahead of the child as an athlete.  Therefore, we welcome all children (regardless of body type or inherent ability) into our program.  We believe it is our job as cathedral builders to meet the child where he/she is and help them get as far in the sport as we are able. 

Additionally, the stonecutter parable is useful in how we frame what a child is doing in a sport.  Is she learning a cartwheel?  Is she improving her athletic skills and reaching higher levels in the system of the sport?  Or is she learning life lessons like resilience, grit and goal setting while developing a lifetime habit of fitness?

Focusing on the big picture, the grander vision or the larger purpose helps put into perspective the importance of the work we are doing as coaches, teachers and parents as well as the work kids are doing as athletes, students and children growing into smart, happy, healthy adults with good character. 

A stone?  A wall?  Or a cathedral?   Which are you building? 


Some of JAG’s cathedral builders recreating the Oscars’ selfie!