If You're Not Early, You're Late: An Open Letter To The Chronically Late Athlete


I have spent my entire life involved in athletics.

Between my own playing days and now in my coaching life, I have spent over 30 years being directly involved in some capacity with a team.

What I am about to tell you is not the opinion of some rigid coach; it’s a cold hard fact of life that you must grasp.

Being late is unacceptable. Period.

Look all over the internet and you can find a handful of really sharp articles written by bright people who share this sentiment.

Ironically (or not), all of the articles I found while researching for this article were penned by ultra-successful business people, and one of the most successful business people on the face of the earth, Richard Branson, shares my sentiments.

If you don’t know who Richard Branson is, he’s one of the wealthiest people on earth and is considered a business innovator because of his forward thinking.

His article is simply titled: Richard Branson’s Key to Productivity? Be on Time. It’s a short, poignant article that gives his reasons and also talks about how he’s been known to actually run to make a meeting time.

There’s a saying that I love: Your actions are so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.

So before you come to me with some fantastic reason why you couldn’t be on time, let me shed some light on what your tardiness has already told me about you (before you even open your mouth).


You Lack Respect For Others

You have a lack of respect for your team, your school and your coach… so much so that you couldn’t manage your time in a way to prevent this. Respect is a function of selflessness that can only be shown by someone who puts something greater than themselves at the top of their list. Your lack of respect for others shows me that when the team is in a battle and things aren’t going our way, I won’t be able to count on you to do the right thing for the team.

Being the member of a team means that you provide a very specific function within the interworkings of that team. You are a piece to a puzzle. You are a cog in the machine. They say, “The chain is only as strong as the weakest link” and if you are the weakest link in the chain, we have a problem.

Bottom line: if I can’t count on you to simply be on time for a critical function of the team, how on earth could you expect me to count on you on game day?

Your Priorities Are Out Of Whack

This job I have feeds my family. This job I have keeps my kids clothed and maintains a roof over their heads.

Your performance on the field and the outcome of your season is the measuring stick on whether or not I get to keep this job. It’s scary, having my employment and my family’s security in the hands of a bunch of 18-22 year olds. So don’t think for a second that I, or any other college or high school coach you are involved with for that matter, is overreacting when we question your priorities.

You hold our security in your hands.

Bottom line: Your tardiness lets me know that what we are trying to do here is in fact not a priority for you. We have a championship to win, we have a rival to beat and we all are in this together, but your tardiness lets me know that you are dead weight that one of your teammates is now going to now have to pull. 


Your Vision Is Short-Sighted and Selfish

If you had even a fraction of the understanding of what goes into preparation for a team’s season that is conducted by all the individuals involved, your head would spin. In fact, once the material, coaching, strength planning, sports medicine support and academic team’s involvement reaches you, months and months of planning has taken place.

And even before that, years and years of education, late nights and early mornings went into each individuals craft.

Throw in the job that sports media does along with all the administrators and now you have between fifty to eighty people who have devoted countless hours to ensure your success on and off the field.

Yes, it’s their job, but I can promise you that none of them are becoming millionaires in their respective positions.

See, we do this because we love working with young people, particularly athletes… we love working with YOU.

Let's look at my career, a strength coach, for example.

I have a double concentration bachelors, a masters degree, and two doctorates. I have upwards of 20 certifications and I’m pursuing more.

I work a minimum of 12 hours a day, Monday-Friday, with a nearly guaranteed 6-8 hours on Saturday’s and some Sunday’s during your season to make sure that you have everything you could conceivably need.

The only vacation I take is during Christmas time and that is even abbreviated because our basketball teams are all ramping up their respective seasons at that time.

In the last 10 years, I’ve taken perhaps two dozen trips here or there outside of the holidays, and all of them are for continuing education purposes. I’ve burnt through one marriage because I was never home, and I’m fighting tooth and nail to not make the same mistakes a second time.

My devotion to you and your successes cannot be measured.

And I’m just ONE person in the support staff above mentioned people. You’ll have to ask thee others about their respective education, hours spent and personal sacrifices.


Football players - those couches in your unit coach’s office - guess what most of them are for? No, not so you can be comfy during your meetings and film.

From September to late November (and later if you are playing deep into the playoffs or have a bowl bid), that coach is likely sleeping in his office.

Yes, of the 100s of assistant coaches I’ve worked with over the years, many of them kiss their wives and kids goodbye in August when camp begins, and practically live in the football offices until the off-season.

If their head coach is a nice guy, they might get Sunday evenings off to eat with their families and get some quality time. And before the sun rises on Monday, they are back in the offices prepping for their time with you.

What if I told you that I needed you to come in two hours before anyone else on campus and do everyone’s laundry? Not only wash and dry everyone’s stuff but then sort it out and hang it in every person’s locker?

How about that infected scrape on your arm? How would you like to be responsible for cleaning and changing the bandages multiple times a day for anyone who needs that medical treatment?

Not to mention making countless ice bags, prepping stim machines and taping hundreds of ankles, all to make sure that you get healthy and stay healthy.

Sounds like a total drag right? Tell that to your equipment guys, your strength coaches, your unit coaches, your teachers and your sports medicine folks.

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If You're Not Early, You're Late

Let's look at the other side of the story.

Showing up consistently early tells me you have control of your schedule, and you have the ability to think about planning ahead. Being early tells me you built in a buffer, for traffic, or a hustle from class that shows me you are thinking- something we will need a ton of on the field.

It shows me you can be reliable. I shows me that you are 100% in to what we are trying to do here.

In your adult life, when you are working a job, your employer is not going to tolerate you waltzing in late. In fact, the second they have the inclination that this is the way you are going to conduct yourself, you will likely be fired.

So in reality, I’m doing you a major favor.

It would have to be a late all the time type of thing to get you kicked off this team, but the punishment runs we are going to do in your honor are meant to be a massive deterrent for you developing this as a bad habit.

I’m helping you cultivate great habits not only for the success of this team, but helping you get into mindset that this is what is expected in the real world.


A Hypothetical

Imagine this. We have a lift at 6am tomorrow. The expectation is that you drag yourself out of bed, eat, get yourself ready and then get to the weight room. Now, this means that you are likely getting up no later than 5:15am and you are probably going to be hustling to get to the weight room on time. You show up five minutes early, walk to the front door, grab the handle and… it’s locked.

You knock and no answer. Several of your teammates show up and by the 6am start time, you all have gathered outside of the weight room waiting.

Five minutes pass.

Ten minutes pass.

At the fifteen minute mark, you hear my voice coming down the hallway. I’m on my phone talking to a buddy with no regards to how late I am for YOUR lifting time. How would you feel?

What would you think about me? Would it be reasonable to think that I’m being totally disrespectful to you and your time? More importantly, would you think that I don’t care about you, your goals and the team as a whole?

If you don’t, then you ARE the type of person we can’t tolerate having around here.

The above scenario should make you feel differently about me. You should assume that your teammates and you are in fact, not a priority of mine.

It should piss you off. I provide a critical function to the success of this team.

And so do you…

Get your tail to class.

Do your work.

Try your hardest on the field at all times.

Give me that absolute best effort in the weight room and perhaps most importantly…

Be on time. 

About The Author

Chris Holder comes to the TrainHeroic Blog with over thirty years as an athlete and coach. Chris is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California. A football player first and then spending his entire professional coaching career at the college level, Holder has been in love with everything weight lifting since he was a little boy.