Easter Island

Imagine the small town you grew up in and now take all 2700 people and put them on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

For the first few years, life is great as you get along and have town gatherings overlooking the ocean while you look out for one another. Then, in an instant, the number of trees you’ve been using for firewood, canoes, homes, and sculptures, decreases to a minimum. Following that, the ground grows unfertile and crops become depleted. Lastly, in a desperate measure to survive, you being to eat each other as families begin to die off.

A weird thought, but that is the harsh reality of what is known as Easter Island’s history.

900 years ago this island was settled by Polynesians who were likely horribly lost at sea. Palm trees covered the landscape and the settlers prospered as the population peaked near 15,000. Then, for lack of a better term, the shit hit the fan.

Around the 12th century, the Polynesians started to carve Moai, or massive statues carved out of volcanic ash. Tribesmen would drag these statues around the island and erect them near their village in homage to ancestors. They likely rolled them on the enormous palm trees, but there came a point when the natives had chopped all of the trees down. Thus, ending their ability to fish (no boats, poles, or spears) and beginning severe erosion, which ended traditional farming. After eating all of the birds, the locals turned to cannibalism.

In 1722 a Dutch explorer landed on Easter Sunday (hence the name) and for the next 200 years, Westerners would kidnap islanders or infect them with smallpox, which would drop the population down to 111. Then, to add to the destruction, 70,000 Scottish sheep were imported in the 19th century and grazed the island bare! Thus, a beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific stood without trees, birds, or fertile land and has since been rebuilding what is commonly known as Easter Island, home to 2700 locals, who are now full of life.

I landed to the sound of the ocean all around me and a flower lay being placed over my shoulders in front of a crowd, as landing is an event on this island as a plane arrives only three times per week.

From there, it was straight to the hostel and then the towns’ center, or one road with a few small shops. But the shops were not the attraction; rather it was the picture perfect surf coming barreling down at me from the south side of the island. So into the water I went and it was as fun as you are imagining right now while sitting in your computer chair.

Which brings me to a question; what would happen if you left your computer chair today? Other than the impending argument with your partner and the bills left unpaid, how would your co-workers remember you?

The reason I’m asking is because this small beach community reminded me of a retreat our staff had last off-season in a small beach town north of Los Angeles.

There, during our meetings, a member of our staff asked Coach Carroll a question regarding how we want our players to leave USC. Do we want them to leave as good citizens, All-Americans, Heisman trophy winners, graduates, etc?

A great question and one that all of us were excited to hear the answer to. It was there when Coach Carroll turned to that unnamed staff member and said, “Well, what do you want them to leave as?”

And like a quick jam at the line of scrimmage, we were all stunned.

Carroll then continued to ask us to write down the very first thought that came to our minds regarding what we wanted our individual players to leave the program as. At the same time he was beginning what is the first step in the Win Forever philosophy – finding out who you are.

He asked me what I thought and immediately, I reframed my initial response to a more academic, coach-speak answer. “Well Coach, I would like them to be worldly, good men, smart quarterbacks.”

He thankfully stopped me with a laugh and bluntly asked, “Yogi, what was the first thing you wrote down?”

And then, as I looked toward my notepad for no apparent reason, I smiled, as I knew in my heart what I wanted the players I coached to leave USC with. I wanted them to leave as “dreamers.” To leave with a knowing that they can achieve anything they dream up in their analytical quarterback head.

The point is, whatever you want your players to leave the program with they will leave with because you cannot hide who you are and the same is in life. We can’t hide who we are! Thus, as I am sitting in as Easter Island hostel chair in pain from sunburn on my now leathery neck I guess I’ll ask you what you would want your players, children, life partners, co-workers, or friends to take away from you if you ever moved on?

I’m off as I’ll be exploring this island for the next few days.  Let’s hope that the cannibalism was left back in the 1700s. And the Internet connection is minimal in the middle of the Pacific Ocean so I apologize for the delay.



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