Tony Dungy: Faith, Football, & Children's Books
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - Based on the tremendous success of his first book, New York Times bestseller “Quiet Strength”, one might think Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy would follow that up with a book that falls in line with his profession – football, leadership, or physical fitness.
Instead, Dungy has opted take a very unorthodox approach. With illustrator Amy Bates, Tony has penned a children’s book called “You Can Do It!” (Little Simon Inspirations). Filled with inspiring life lessons that every child should learn, Dungy tells us the story of his little brother, Linden, a third grader who is having a rough day at school. Over the course of the book’s 32 pages, Linden learns that if he dreams big and has faith, he can do anything.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with the Super Bowl winning coach to discuss why children should follow their dreams, the importance of having a parental role model, and how his future may or may not include football.
It’s funny … I think He has told me that I have a great platform in professional football. I have a lot of eyes on me right now but there may be some other things that He wants me to do as a dad and as someone reaching out. I would like to get involved in more one on one mentoring with kids, especially young boys.
You are an NFL head football coach and a leader of men. Why a children’s book?
A couple of reasons – number one, after writing my first book, “Quiet Strength”, we just got so many cards and emails from people who said, ‘I read this chapter to my 17 year old’, or ‘I read this story to my 14 year old and it allowed us to talk about a life issue.’ I thought, wow, that is really fantastic. Then, my wife Lauren, who reads a lot to our kids but also reads in the community, said she was having trouble finding stuff to read that was not only fun but had a message that talked about faith and family. We thought that if we could put something out there that would encourage dialogue between parents and children, and also talk about the values that are important to us would be great.
Your book “You Can Do It!” is the story of two brothers, Linden and Tony. The story is obviously autobiographical. How was your relationship with your brother when you were growing up?
It was good. We were three years apart in age. Linden was behind me in age and kind of in the shadow of a bigger brother who was a good athlete. Everybody expected him to do the same thing. He liked sports but not to the extent that I did. He was trying to figure out if he should follow his dreams or do what everybody else assumed he was going to do. Fortunately, we had great parents who encouraged him to follow his dream and not someone elses.
Is this book based on a specific incident from your childhood or did you create it based on a wealth of childhood memories?
It is really my brother’s story. He was a good student but didn’t really know what he wanted to do in life. He went to a dental office one day, saw all the machinery, and decided at that point that this was what he wanted to do. I have a cousin who is a dentist who said that if this was the case Linden had to be a good student because it takes good grades to get into dental school. He became a straight A student and just focused and dialed in on that career. Today, he is a great dentist.
One thing I loved about your book is that you have included a family prayer scene at the dinner table. Was this intentional or it just sort of came about within the context of the story?
It was very much intentional. We had a few things in mind. Number one, there aren’t a lot of books out there that show African-American families, showing the father and the mother being involved. We wanted to include that. We wanted to include the role of the Lord without making it a religious book. But we wanted to let people know that, hey, you want to dream, you want to work hard, but you have got to have the Lord involved. We wanted to show how important it was for parents to be there and nurture their kids when they have questions about what they should do.
In the book, you concentrate a great deal of time on family and the two parent household. You have obviously achieved great success in your profession, having played and coached at the highest level of professional football. How did your upbringing influence who you became as an adult?
My parents had a strong impact on who I am today. My mother and dad both encouraged us to think about the long term – where you wanted to be – to think about education, to think about what is right and what is wrong, and to do things that will help you in the long run. I think I can always look back and say my mom and dad would have done this or suggested that in a particular situation. I just really feel blessed to have had them as parents.
Obviously, your parents were very important role models to you in life. What sets them apart from all the other role models you have likely had over the years?
They were the first role models I ever had. I grew up in an industrial town and most of the people in Jackson (Michigan) worked around the auto industry, glass factories, Goodyear Tire, auto plants – my parents were teachers. They did their jobs really well. They wanted to make sure their kids learned. I saw the interest they took in their jobs and it was really something special to me. The other side of the coin was that they were always there to guide us, help us, and spend time with us. I grew up always wanting to be like my dad.
Why is it so important for a child to have a role model?
As humans, we don’t know what we should do. We don’t have those instincts like God has given animals. We have to see to know where we are going. It is just a natural human emotion to look for people to emulate. We are going to emulate someone and we need those good positive role models, whether it is parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, someone.
I have a three year old son and my wife and I read to him every single night. Obviously, you must have had some favorite childhood books growing up. What were some of your favorites?
Most of the books I remember from my childhood were Dr. Seuss type books. They were fun to read but there wasn’t a real story behind them. That was part of my hope that this would be a book that kids would read and have fun but would remember the message.
Speaking of that message, what is the one lesson you want children to learn after they hear this story when Mom and Dad read it to them?
We would like for kids to think that it is great to dream and it is ok if their dream is different than your dream. But more importantly, dreaming and working hard is great but do not leave the Lord Jesus Christ out of it.
Final question, what has God been showing you lately?
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