Sep 20, 2017
Pass the Rope

David Gentry, Head Coach at Murphy (N.C.) High School, has amassed more than 350 wins — the most in Western North Carolina history. He’s collected six state titles. And he was named the NFHS National Coach of the Year in 2013.

If you assume the secrets to his success are all about Xs and Os, you’d be mistaken. What has been most important to racking up wins, he says, is developing relationships. This starts by Gentry connecting with his players on a daily basis.

“If I don’t show my players I care about them, how can I expect them to buy into what I want them to do on the field?” Gentry says. “I reach out to my athletes every day, asking them how things are going in class or at home, for example. They appreciate that I show an interest in their lives.”

Just as important is players developing strong camaraderie among themselves. Gentry doesn’t do a lot of team building exercises. Instead, he continues a Murphy tradition known as Passing the Rope.

Every year, after the first practice of the season, Gentry gives a short length of rope to one player he feels best embodied the characteristics of teamwork and sacrifice that day. At the next practice, that player gives the rope to one of his teammates, and this continues at subsequent practices. Every day throughout the season, the rope is handed from one player to another.

“I tell the players to imagine they’ve fallen into a well,” Gentry explains. “For them to get out, someone else is going to need to take a rope and pull. Who are you going to want in a situation like that? Someone who puts others before themselves. So when you give that rope to a teammate, you’re telling them, ‘I’d trust you to pull the rope for me.’ It’s a huge honor in our program.”

Another tradition that has helped players bond is a team breakfast that takes place in local restaurants on Friday mornings in August. “We don’t do a ton of team get-togethers, but this one has really taken hold,” says Gentry. “The staff and players meet for breakfast before practice and we talk about how fortunate we are to be alive and healthy. Sometimes, high school kids take things like that for granted. We want to remind them of all they have — so they learn to appreciate it.”

When the spotlight is on the football field, the focus continues to be on the team over the individual. “Like most programs, we give our athletes helmet stickers when they make a good play,” says Gentry. “But we only do that if we win a game. I always want my players to remember that their success isn’t as important as our success, and this is a way to remind them.”

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