The Primitive Podcast with Coach Chris Softley

Posted by Buffy the Bison | May 10, 2021

Chris Softley

Big cities can lure anyone with the noise of excitement, momentum, and opportunities.

But for some, the further away you get from the chaos, the more fulfilled you’ll find yourself, and the more clear you’ll hear your calling.

In this episode, Kade chats with coach and Athletic Director of Lubbock Christan School, Coach Chris Softley, and explores how to lead by focusing on the human heart.

Connect with the folks behind the episode: Coach Chris Softley and Kade Wilcox

Kade Wilcox: Hey, welcome to The Primitive Podcast. I'm Kade Wilcox, your host. On today's episode, we have Coach Softley from Lubbock Christian School. Coach Softley is the football coach there, the athletic director there. I've probably had over a half a dozen, if not more, people throughout the last year say, "Hey, do you know Coach Softley? Hey, do you know Coach Softley?" And they just raved about his character and his integrity, who he was as a person. And so finally I fired him onto the podcast. And as you will hear in this podcast, everything everyone said about him is true. I really enjoyed my time with him.I really enjoyed learning from him. I have a 10 and nine year old. And if I think about, you know, who I'd want them to be influenced by and shaped by whether it be a teacher or a coach or something like that, Coach Softley would fit the bill. So I really enjoyed my time, and I have no doubt that you're going to learn as much from this episode as I did. So please enjoy.

Chris Softley: The rat race doesn't exist as much in rural America. I can speak to that now because I've lived in Dallas for a little bit, and I know that tension you have that you're so busy. And so a small example of that is in Grant, Nebraska and rural Texas, Friday nights, it is live. There is - everybody is there. You go to a 5A or 6A Rockwall-Heath versus North Mesquite game; those programs each have 2,500 kids in the school. And I remember being there on a Friday night, and it was a basketball game, there were about 23 people in the stands. I remember looking around going, "Okay, this is different than Grant, Nebraska." And, "What is different about it?" And I really feel like it comes down to that there's so many good things in the metroplex that pull on you and maybe, not always, but maybe they keep you from some of the great or the ultimate things.

Kade Wilcox: Coach Softley, thanks for joining the podcast. I really appreciate you joining. I had about four or five people over the last year just randomly would bring you up. And I, you know, I don't know you that well. We all go to the same church. But every time they would say, "Hey, he is a great leader. He has really good character. Hey, he's someone you'd want your son or daughter to be like." And after the fourth or fifth time of hearing that, I'm like, you know what? This sounds like a perfect guest on our podcast. And so not to like to give you a bunch of expectations today. But I really, really appreciate you joining the podcast.

Chris Softley: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. So for those who don't know anything about Lubbock Christian School, about Coach Softley, about what you do, where you came from, kind of just give a brief overview of your background and what you do.

A Little Background on Coach Chris Softley

Chris Softley: Sure. So born and raised in Nebraska, small town Grant, Nebraska, and you know, I think that's formative in how you see the world. I grew up there in a sport-loving family and knew early on wanted to play as long as I could. I knew early on it wouldn't be very long. So the beauty of Nebraska is at that time we were actually good at football and Tom Osborne was the coach. And I just started to see the impact he could have on a state by the way he ran his program. And there were a couple of coaches on staff, Ron Brown, Turner Gill, that I started to follow a little more closely through Fellowship of Christian Athletes and things like that. And I thought, "You know what? I think I feel a calling to coach when this is all said and done."

And so as soon as I could, I went to Lincoln, went to school there, did my undergraduate, and then came to Abilene Christian University to be a GA to try to start that coaching process. And there was a little bit of an adventure there going from Nebraska to Texas. I didn't know anybody within 12 hours. So it was a little bit of a little unnerving there to start. But had a great two years there at ACU. I loved ACU. I really feel like that is a, that's a special place in my heart. Obviously, I met my wife there, so that helps, but just feel like the Lord's presence was there. And I feel like I grew a bunch. I finished that out in two years. And then looking for coaching jobs I ended up at Rockwall-Heath High School there in the metroplex. And then autumn and I were married. We moved out to East Texas and started coaching there. I had one more stop at Sunnyvale, which is a fantastic school right across the lake from Rockwall. And then we got the phone call to come to Lubbock Christian.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. You were telling me how some of the students started recruiting you. And I I wondered if they should have sent you a photo of a haboob, you know, rolling across the plains and instead they sent you sunsets and sunrises. That's really intelligent on their part. You talk about a rural community and growing up in Grant. And I was telling you before the podcast that my wife's grandmother lives in Arthur, which is really small. It makes Grant look like a major city. What aspects of growing up in a rural community do you think really shaped you and what are some things that come to mind in terms of the influence that had even on your leadership and your coaching?

Chris Softley: Yeah, that's good. I think the, and this may not be the right word for it, but the simplicity of just the rat race doesn't exist as much in rural America. And I can speak to that now because I've lived in Dallas for a little bit, and I know that that almost that tension you have, that you're so busy. And so a small example of that is in Grant, Nebraska and rural Texas, Friday nights, it is live. There is - everybody is there. You go to a 5A or 6A Rockwall-Heath versus North Mesquite game; those programs each have 2,500 kids in the school. And I remember being there at a Friday night and it was a basketball game and there's about 23 people in the stands. I remember looking around going, "Okay, this is different than Grant, Nebraska." And, "What is different about it?"

And I really feel like it comes down to that there's so many good things in the metroplex that pull on you and maybe, not always, but maybe they keep you from some of the great or the ultimate things.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah.

Chris Softley: I think there's so much peace and quiet to rural America. You talked about sunrises and sunsets. There's just a lot of opportunity to sit and enjoy nature. God's beauty. I think the people, kind of like West Texas - that's an attraction to West, Texas- I think the people are the greatest commodity. I think they're the greatest attraction to it. You don't move because of the scenery. But maybe you stay because of the people. And I felt that a lot out here. I think that's why this is comfortable for us. We feel blessed to be here because it reminds me of our upbringing, of really just good people that if you had car trouble, if mom and dad got sick, you just knew you'd be taken care of.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's really good. I grew up in a small town about 70 miles north of here called Nazareth. And I would echo everything you just said. I mean, just, you know, it's funny when I reflect on my own leadership and you know, what I'm learning as I go. I often find myself referring back to people I observed growing up and I have two people in my mind. One was an uncle and the other was my best friend's dad. And they're both farmers, but it was so fascinating about watching them grow up is one, is their work ethic. But two just how orderly they were. Their turn rows were perfectly clean. Their fence lines were straight. Their equipment yards were perfectly clean. You know, all the tractors were lined up precisely. And so I feel like, I feel like there's things that exist like that in a rural community that you get to be more present and cognizant of because there's, you know, there's only 340 people there. Ang Grant, I know, is just a little bit bigger, but not much.

And so that's cool. I appreciate you sharing that. So you're the head football coach at Lubbock Christian and then the athletic director as well, right?

Chris Softley: Yes sir.

Kade Wilcox: So when you think about your role, I mean, you're a football coach, which is obviously coaching football and coaching kids. You're dealing with their parents. You're the athletic director. So overseeing all the programs. So it's some administrative related things. How do you see your role as a leader, kind of, in each of those categories? Like, you know, how do you wear those hats and what does being a leader in that organization mean to you?

Chris Softley: Yeah, so, and there are a lot of hats, especially in the small school. And I think again, the background helps there. You know, my dad, he's a banker, but that's probably the least of the things he does. That's just what paid him. He was the volunteer fire chief. He's the rotary president and he's a farmer and he runs the track meets. Right? And those are the things he loves. And, you know, and growing up like that, I think our four boys in the family, I think we had a good appreciation for a day's work. And then also for service. So here at Lubbock Christian, a smaller school being the athletic director, you get to serve in a myriad of ways that in bigger schools, those would, those would be different positions, different titles.

Leadership Should Not Be Manipulative

And so I enjoy the opportunities that come with each new day. There's not a script that comes to each new day. And you mentioned, you get to work with parents, you get to mentor kids and coaches, you get to facilitate a staff and the growth of that. You run the budget, you run the facilities, there's a lot to it. And yet at the zenith of it all is really that purpose or that why, which if you can do your what in alignment with your why, it obviously adds greater trajectory to everything you do. So in answering the question, I think one definition we have for, that we hear from leadership, is the art of getting people to do what needs to be done. I feel like that's manipulative and almost, you know, autocratic if you're using people. And so what we like to say is leadership is about alignment and inspiring.

So it's about helping people get in alignment and inspiring people. And to me that comes, it breaks down a lot more into depth. Obviously, if you're gonna align people to something, you have to have some work done on the front end of what is our culture? What is our standard? What are we aligning them to? And then in the inspiration part, that is all about people. That's about moving the human heart. And that's the business that we're in, in coaching, dealing with people and moving the human heart and getting a chance to love them in their, in their needs.

Kade Wilcox: Wow. You just packed a whole lot in there in about 60 seconds and created a whole lot more questions in my mind. So let's start with the alignment part. How do you, in your own leadership journey, how do you - I get exactly what you're saying with the alignment - but what is your process, or what have you done to help accomplish why? So you talked about alignment, you know, getting people aligned around the purpose. What's your process in understanding that purpose and coming to a conclusion on what that purpose is? So what's that been like for you?

A Focus on Moving the Human Heart

Chris Softley: Sure. So I think that started out early on, obviously as a man of faith, early, I felt like, okay, I do not want to be a hypocrite at this. I heard there was an old musical artist named Carman way back in the day. I don't know if you ever heard of Carman. And maybe as a DC talk song, who knows, it's just coming to me right now, but there's a, there's a quote in there. And he says the single greatest cause of atheism in the world today are Christians who acknowledged them with their lips and denied by their lifestyle. And I thought, "Oh man, I do not want that to be me." Now, full disclosure, that has been me so many times. But early on, I felt like, okay, what's the plan here? What's the why?

And what can I do if I feel called to coach, that can be in alignment, or in integrity, with my main thing - of Christ. And so that has been a discovery phase with a lot of mentors, and wise counsel, and books, and podcasts, and trying to pick up as much as I can. Obviously the Word being number one in there. But where we're at Lubbock Christian is we want to center it on a biblical worldview. We call it as a Christ in our culture. And so our alignment is the two main distinctives we talk about. We're going to love your kids like crazy. We're going to be relationally based. And then we're going to align with scripture in everything we do. And when we fail, we're going to align with scripture in how we fail and how we apologize and repent. And we want your kids to be able to see us model that. So when they go out in the world and fail that they know there's a pattern that has been set for them. And again, all that comes back to scripture, but as you know, it is - we are very prone to wander. And so I am no different than that.

Kade Wilcox: What about- that's super good. Thanks for sharing that. What about inspiration? Like, again, you're dealing with parents, you're dealing with administrators, you're dealing with teachers, you're dealing with community members, then you're dealing with a bunch of teenagers. So what does inspiration look like on those levels?

Chris Softley: So relationships are messy because humans are involved, right? Number one, me and the number two you, right? And so that makes it hard. So inspiration at its root deals with moving the human heart, and that is individualistic, and it takes a ton of time because of that. And so it is about me getting to know you on a deeper level and you getting to grow in trust for me. And there's a lot of ways we kind of have down how you can build and how you can lose trust and what that looks like. But our investment in trust is heavy in our program. We want to model a life, I spoke about this a little bit earlier there, of authenticity. And so when we're trying to inspire you, we want to get down to the root of what makes you tick.

Why do you play football? What do you want to do when you grow up? And we want to get to those questions with you that are beyond the game. And then hopefully at some point you'll have a feeling that we love you as a person over you as a player. And we're going to love you a whole lot as a player. I'm going to coach the mess out of you as a player. And yet you can say, "Man, they pushed me to the Nth degree. And yet I know that they love me even more as a person, and they care even more about my spiritual growth and development." And so when we can get to that point, we feel like the best is yet to come. And obviously you don't know if it's a success until about 30 years after they graduate.

Kade Wilcox: Yea it can be a long journey, cant it? That's really good. Thanks for sharing all that. What about, how do you treat failure when you fall short like you're talking about? How have you, throughout your leadership journey, your coaching journey, your administrative journey, what has your approach, you know, been to try to learn from failure?

A Countercultural Approach to Failure

Chris Softley: Well, let me kind of turn it back on you a little bit. How do you guys here at Primitive define failure?

Kade Wilcox: Oh, no, this is my podcast, man. I ask the questions. you answer. No, that's a good -it's good. I think it's a good question on how we define failure. I think, simplistically, it would mean like when you don't accomplish what you set out to accomplish,. And then there's a whole, you know, there's a whole way that I try to approach learning from that failure.

Chris Softley: Absolutely. So we do the same thing. We start at the same route and then we break it off into, really, two definitions. One is non-accomplishment of the objective, but with an effort and attitude in line with our core values. And so we'll start there. One of the best examples of that to me is the weight room and just picture junior high or high school girls in the weight room doing squats. And she fails, but she's failing at doing a heavier weight. And she's trying to, what we call, push her ceiling. When she fails, we have a rule in our weight room and it is, everybody goes crazy. We drop what we're doing, and we just surround her. And we're trying to give her a whole bunch of affirmation, right? Nobody ever died from too much affirmation. And so the first times that we do that, you know, they're going to blush, they're going to get red-faced. Because it's really countercultural to - wait a minute. That's not how you're supposed to treat me when I fail.

But the point is is you didn't achieve the objective. You didn't rack the weight or accomplish the weight, but you pushed your levels. And that's what we want to be about. One thing we say in our culture is "max out", right? It comes, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, working for the Lord, not for man. Right? And so part of that is failing while trying to do new things. You know, I think - I'm not big on the social medias -but I think there's YouTube or things out there where it's like epic fails. Now some of those are foolish, okay? Well just distinguish those. Some of those are not intelligent, but some of them are like good for you trying it, right?

Like who knew you could run a four-minute mile until Roger Bannister did. And so in that area, we want -we tell our kids no fear of failure - we want to frame it properly. And we want to support you and love you through that. The other one is when you're not acting in alignment with our core values. And so that can be as easy as me losing my cool with a kid, right? We talked about that little bit earlier. I want to try to be in alignment with a Christ-centered culture. And when I don't, when I fail and I say something that shouldn't have been said, or I get more angry than I should have, we need to address that head on. And so sometimes that means me pulling a staff member and having a conversation, or a student, or sometimes maybe it's my counsel holding me accountable, right?

And then the second product of that, if they're mature, is then there's that apology and that ownership. And we were big on doing it in the same vein. So if I screamed at you in front of your teammates, me pulling you into my office and apologizing behind closed doors, that's not the same, right? I need to apologize and affirm you in front of your teammates. I was wrong. I was in my pride. It wasn't you. It was me. We talked about the mirror in the window there. I need to look in the mirror and point the thumb at me. It starts with me. If I'm going to give compliments, I'll move two feet to my right and look out the window and give atta boys. But that's really where we get to with how we frame failure.

Kade Wilcox: I'm really struggling with keeping up with my notes. So for those listening to the podcast, you'll have to forgive the awkward moments of silence. I'm trying to keep up here. Very good. 

I've never thought of failure in the way that you just talked about it, where you fail, but you're aligned with values are aligned with culture and you just, you know, failed to meet the objective versus failure because we weren't, whether it was, you know, me as a leader or it's a team member or whatever, failing versus where you're not aligned the culture, you're not aligned with the values. And I think that's a really important distinction and one should be celebrated and the others should be corrected. And it's really,- I appreciate the way that you said that. How have you approached your own personal growth? I mean, you're not that old or you don't appear to be that old, but you seem packed with wisdom. I mean, everything you're sharing is really insightful. So what would you credit for your own leadership development and what have you tried to lean into as you've tried to grow as a leader?

Growth Through Steadfast Obedience

Chris Softley: Well, I'm sure it's cliche to say Christ, but I think every time we open up that book it, you know, it's alive, right? It's living and sharper than any double-edged sword. And so there are times where it's just jumping off the page and I think that's a big one. Let me go back. When I was in Nebraska, I did an internship with Fellowship of Christian Athletes with Ron Brown. So I mentioned him. He was on staff with Nebraska football. And then when Bill Callahan came in, they removed the staff, and it actually worked out almost as if it was providential, like God is sovereign that he was removed. He took over Nebraska state FCA, and I was able to move into an internship under him. And he's the mentor for me that was able to sit down and go, "Okay, Christian ministry, or even athletics through a Christian lens, should not be about faith, food, and fellowship. It needs to be about how do we take this book and apply it into practice and into the game."

And I was, like, amen on that because I've been missing the mark. I've been trying to get it, but I've been confused on how to do that. And so I basically had a year and a half of kind of sitting at his feet as an older mentor who's been through it before. And just many books. There's a book called The Handbook on Athletic Perfection that if anybody was interested in that, I would recommend that. But his prayer, he just said, make this, your prayer, is Lord, as I open up this word, would you just have things jump out to me that apply to this calling in my life, to this daily application. And so I just came from athletics right here, and we were actually talking about obedience because we're doing our Old Testament reading at Redeemer church.

And it is just jumping off the page, about obedience. And I'm going, you know, this is speaking to me and to my team about why we obey and why God calls us to this standard. And he talks about how it will go well with you if you obey. And so all that to say is, really at the root of it is a purposeful approach to, a hopeful, purposeful approach, to everything. How about that? So if I'm going to listen to this podcast, or if I'm going to read that book it's going to be with the eyesight, with the lens better yet, how does this help me coach and mentor my team.

Leaning Out The Content Diet

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. Other things that you've really leaned into for staying inspired and your own personal development?

Chris Softley: Recently, what I've been feeling is the challenge to adjust my content diet. actually simplify it down. And so finding less podcasts, less books and really putting the bumper plates on of staying purposeful. So there's a lot of good wisdom out there. And yet the word talks about how the wisdom of man can be folly. And so I want to make sure that I'm not working really hard in the wrong direction.

Kade Wilcox: Has that been really hard? I mean, talk about content consumption. I mean, there's no end to our options. So has that been challenging?

Chris Softley: I think so. It helps that we're really busy, right? So there's not a ton of time that, you know, you can only listen to so many podcasts when you mow the lawn once a week, right? But I, what I would say there is, I rely a lot on wise counsel. And so if you came to me and you said, "Hey, this is a book I'd highly recommend," that's going to go into a key or a queue, right? And then if it sorts itself out, if somebody else recommends it, then it may make the final cut. But some of the guys, Tim Keller, there's a pastor, Tommy Nelson at Denton Bible; I listen to him a lot. I think he has great wisdom. Ron Brown, obviously mentioned him. And then really just have, again this year, trying to recommit to making the Word be my number one.

Contentment vs Complacency

Kade Wilcox: That's cool. Where do you - this is going off script a little bit - but like, where do you see yourself in five years? And I don't mean like a place. We don't know what tomorrow holds much less, you know, where are we literally going to live in five years or be doing in five years. But when you think of your ambition, when you think of what you aspire to do, when you think of what you're trying to accomplish, and you project that out over the next three years of your life, five years of your life, 10 years of life, what kind of things come to mind?

Chris Softley: Yeah. A lot of things come to mind. The first comes to mind that I want to clarify to all the Christian people out there that I have no plans. Because we get that question a lot. And sometimes that can be, sometimes that can be flattering. And sometimes it's like, ""Are you asking because you want me to move on?" But my answer to that is Paul talks about the secret of contentment. And I think it's interesting. He uses the word secret there because I just feel like it's like a treasure that is difficult to discover. And if you're not paying attention, you turn around and it's gone, and now you've got to go find it again. And so my challenge is, how can I be where my feet are (bloom where you're planted is, you know, a phrase that people say). and remain content?

I do not want to be complacent. That is the antithesis of what I want to be, but I don't want to be climbing the ladder of life. We talked about that hamster wheel earlier, the metroplex, I don't want to be on the hamster wheel and finish my life knowing that I succeeded at things that didn't matter. And so that is the constant challenge is "God, where do you want me to go where I can be used for your most strategic usage? Where the kingdom works, where the fields are ripe for harvest. But you want people - hands and feet." And so that's the prayer. I don't know what that looks like. I told you, I coached basketball for five years. I loved it. I loved being a basketball coach. And my AD came up to me. He said, "When are you gonna drop this basketball thing and go take a football job?"

Chris Softley: And he was a godly man. I looked at him and I thought, what kind of mentor advice is that? I said, "Well, coach," I said, "with respect, I feel like this is what God has presented me with right now. I think I need to be great at it." And so that's what we did. And I took one more basketball job and loved it. And then that call from Lubbock came that we weren't ready for or didn't, you know, anticipate, and now here we are. And so that leads us to this. Typically, my nature is to be really goal-oriented and have a five-year plan. But I feel like there's wisdom that the Lord has given me over the years of just sitting right here today and trying to max out today.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. I love that. I wish there was a guidebook. I wish there was like a, this like blueprint that said here's how you can have maximum contentment with maximum aspiration. So I wish this was like a secret sauce there, and unfortunately there's not.

Chris Softley: I'll get on that.

"Life lesson number three. Life's not about me"

Kade Wilcox: My - okay, well you write the blueprint and I'll read it. My last question is often my favorite for a guest and that, like, if you could go back 10 years ago, you know, when you're going to grad school or whatever, like if you could go back 10 years knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself, you know, 10 years ago?

Chris Softley: Hmm. I think I'd probably say don't eat that sushi at that corner gas station.

Kade Wilcox: Man I love sushi and that a visual is enough to make me sick.

Chris Softley: No, I think I would say - we say, "Life lesson number three. Life's not about me" I think that's what I needed to hear. I think I still need to hear that every day. "Hey, Chris, life is not about you. You are dearly loved. You are made in the image of the King. You have value, but don't overemphasize your value. That can be really destructive." And then if I could come back about 24 hours later, and after I was on my knees for 24 hours going, "Whoa is me." Then I'd also come back and I'd say, "You know what? You also need to treat people with more grace." My tendency is to be pretty black and white. And I'm a goer, I'm a mover, and I can push. And I think the Lord has revealed to me that the greatest -you know, CS Lewis a generation ago, there was a conference in England. And the question was, "what makes Christianity so different from all the other world religions?" And they said they were going back and forth, and CS Lewis came in late and they said. they asked him the question, and he said, "Grace."

And that hit me. Like, man, if that is the biggest distinction of Christianity, I want to make sure that's a distinction in my life. Just the ability to give people more grace. And I think that's helped our coaching. "You know what, son?You didn't do right. And we're going to fix it. There's going to be some consequences and discipline, but I love you. And you're welcome back here tomorrow and we're going to get to it." And I think just for kids to go home and, you know, a parent in the car, "Hey, what'd he say?" "Well, he was not happy, but yet I still feel loved. And I'm excited to get back to work tomorrow." I think that grace is what is really special.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. Not only in coaching, but really all of life. You know, whether it's in an organization or a school or a coaching setting. Yeah, it's a powerful thing, particularly in a culture that is pretty graceless, you know? We're all kind of looking for that. Yeah, that hill to die on, you know? So, man, thanks for joining the podcast. I can see exactly what all those people are telling me about you were saying. So I admire you, I think the work you're doing is really great, and I appreciate you joining the podcast.

Chris Softley: Thanks for having me.

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