Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Episode 10 is now live! Colby and I interview Adam Silva, a former D1 lacrosse player at West Point. He's an Army Veteran who coaches high school lacrosse at Bolles and works in player development for the JU lacrosse team. His mission in life revolves around 3 simple principles which guide him as a coach, a father of 3 children (2 of which are college lacrosse players), and as a business consultant. Tons of great nuggets in this episode!
Be sure to check out his podcast preview here before watching or listening to the full episode down below.
Colby Harris: Alright, welcome back to the Grit. org podcast. My name is Colby Harris alongside me as always is mister Brian Harbin and we are here with today's guest, Adam Silva. Adam, thank you so much for joining us today.
Adam Silva: My pleasure.
Colby Harris: Adam was raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He played four years of division one lacrosse for Army West Point before spending ten years as an army officer. Since then, Adam has worn many hats in his professional life but it all comes down to one thing, leadership. Adam is a certified executive coach, team builder, leadership can an organizational health and culture expert. He is currently the director of franchise operations for Superior Fence and Rail Franchising, the director of player development for lacrosse at Jacksonville University and is an assistant coach for Bulls Boys Varsity Lacrosse. We're thrilled to have him here today to share his stories while enrich all of you at home as how you can be a better leader, employee, parent, or player. So, Adam, he'd take us back to the beginning and really just share more about your parents, your upbringing, maybe some of the advantages or disadvantages you had around your home as you were growing up?
Adam Silva: Yeah, so thanks again for having me. Can't tell you how excited I am to be here and how much I believe in what you guys are doing with Grit. So, my father and mother come from very different backgrounds. My grandparents on my dad's side were both middle school dropouts and they're my heroes. My Vavu, that's Portuguese for grandfather was worked making ice cream for 30 some years and was also a janitor part time for two doctors that we're still friends with to this day. My Vava, Portuguese grandmother was a seamstress who actually medically retired early because of arthritis. So, she basically was a homemaker but also worked as a maid for both of those doctors as well. So, I often say that my heroes are the janitor and the maid which is most people are like, I don't understand exactly what that means. But they're the two people who outside of my parents loved me the most and taught me as much about family and love as anyone else.
Then on my mother's side very different. My grandfather was a PhD candidate in the high school principal a lifelong educator, but they divorced when my mother was 20. So, we had back then when that was quite uncommon, we had two sets of grandparents on my mom's side. The reason I mentioned that is because we were very much raised by our family. A lot of time spent in Massachusetts we moved to Virginia when I was 6, I think 5 or 6. My dad rejoined the active army, but we always went back to Massachusetts and specifically New Bedford from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That was our thing and so I spend a lot of time with my grandparents. I'm the oldest of 4. My brother Nate is a cop here in Jacksonville. He's married to my sister-in-law Tina. She's a nurse. My sister Becky is a teacher and she's married to Dan and he's a retired JSO officer. And my baby sister Shelly is a labor and delivery nurse and she's married to Keith and he's a teacher.
So, it's a pretty tight-knit family that we have here in Jacksonville. We're all about 10 miles away from each other. 10 grandchildren running around somewhere ranging in age from my son Miles who's 25 all the way down to Addie and I can't remember how old she is now. So, yeah.
Brian Harbin: It sounds like a very close-knit family and I love what you said too about your grandparents too with janitor and the maid. Just definitely shows a lot of your humility and where that stems from. So, take us back specifically to sports. I mean where did your passion for sports start. Was it always lacrosse? So, tell us a little bit about sports growing up for you and what you learn from it?
Adam Silva: Yeah, so the 4 of us when it comes to sports, again I was born in 1971 and times were a lot different I'm 51 years old now. My mother was the driving impetus behind us being athletes and I'm a the oldest of 4, all 4 of us were multiple sport athletes as kids and up through high school. My brother Nate and my sister Becky are both college athletes. Nate was a two-sport athlete at JU. We played basketball and soccer and my sister Becky played college basketball. My mother was 5.10’ and she was born in 1949. So, when you were a woman in 5.10’ back then you were a tall woman. She also happened to be a multi-sport athlete at a time when women were not encouraged but, in many cases, discouraged from playing sports. She was a basketball, field hockey, and tennis. She's a fantastic swimmer. And so, when we were kids and we moved to Fort Meade, Maryland, I was entering the first grade and I didn't even know that we were going to play sports until my mother basically said, get in the car and took me to soccer practice.
So, at 6 years old, I was introduced to wreck soccer on post at Fort Meade and then played soccer, basketball, and baseball pretty much my whole childhood. Got really heavy in the soccer and then found lacrosse when I was a freshman in high school. But again, my brother and sisters and I all very much, and my dad was very passionate about sports. But it was not for my mother. I don't know that any of us would've achieved what we did as athletes so.
Colby Harris: Yeah, and it's really interesting to hear that you didn't start playing lacrosse till freshman year of high school and it's really cool too because I always advocate for kids at camp. Play as many sports as you can. Work all your fast twitch muscles. Work on hand-eye coordination. So, for you to start playing lacrosse freshman year of high school and just four short years later, be playing division one at Army West Point. Can you dive further into that and tell us more about lacrosse specifically how you got into it and when you really realized you want to play at a collegiate level one day?
Adam Silva: I saw kids in my neighborhood playing. So, where I was raised, we knew about lacrosse but we didn't have a youth lacrosse program. So, and that often times is the differentiator between great high school programs and not. As if you've got a youth feeder program that feeds into the high school. A great example is Pontevedra down here that they have a fantastic feeder program that feeds the high school. Well, I didn't have the benefit of that but I saw kids in the neighborhood with lacrosse sticks. So, I saved up some money and for one of my birthdays I think in the seventh grade I bought myself a lacrosse stick. And my mother would never let me play football, because my dad had a really bad knee injury when I was a baby. So, she swore her sons would never play football, but she didn't know what lacrosse was. So, I kind of snuck that one in behind her and I kept it. Just played with this the stick played catch, go out, find a wall, do random things. And then my freshman year in high school decided to try out for the team.
I ran into a coach by the name of Tom Singleton who's still a dear friend of mine to this day and he gave me my first defensive pole on the second day of try outs. And it was a gift that literally changed the trajectory of my life. Back then you could start the sport if you were athletic or had a passion for it in the 9th grade. It's a little bit harder now because kids are starting so young. Those that specialize I think do themselves a disservice, but those also tend to be the kids with the greatest skill and experience in IQ in the game. So, it's an interesting conundrum. But I always say to kids and we we've had some kids when I coached at Pontevedra who had really never played before if they did it was one or two years in middle school. But if you're an athlete and you're a competitor and you're willing to be a great teammate and you've got a smart high school coach, they will find a place for you no matter what the role is.
Brian Harbin: So, obviously played all four years obviously did really well. So, I'm guessing if you got an offer to play at West Point you had other offers as well. So, tell us about kind of the decision to play at West Point and then why specifically the army?
Adam Silva: So, you would think that right. Back then, this was even kind of the front edge of VHS and beta tapes, and we couldn't afford those things so I didn't have tapes to send coaches. And my high school was so bad at lacrosse that I couldn't pay a coach to come recruit me. So, it's a long story which I won't bore you with, but the other place that I got recruited to play lacrosse was the Naval Academy. I was actually a soccer recruit at West Point. I know I look like a retired offensive tackle right now, but it was not army to play lacrosse. It was army to play soccer. But I fell in love with the sport and really had a great senior year even on a losing team. So, when I got to West Point, I made the decision to walk on to the lacrosse team. Which did not please the soccer coach, but I honestly had no idea the decision I was making as it related to the soccer coach.
So, I kind of stumbled into lacrosse program. And once I got into the program for me, it was surviving advance everyday trying to make the team then trying to earn playing time then trying to hopefully contribute. It was again the greatest decision I ever made as an athlete was to pursue lacrosse. To this day good friends with a lot of the soccer guys, but the lacrosse guys I found a home. And so, for me, I had very unique. All the other guys in my class we brought in 21 guys in that class and 7 of us played 4 years and graduated. So, we lost two thirds of our class. Not all of them left the academy, but a lot of guys that were much more sought out and recruited than I was ended up not completing the 4 years. Which is something I talk to kids about all the time now. Which make sure you make the right choice to at the right school, if you can't play the game, if you get cut, if you get hurt. You got to make sure you found the right home and I think I did.
Colby Harris: Yeah, and that really leads right into my next question. I'm twice as fascinating now to hear not knowing originally when came in that you're actually a walk on the lacrosse team that was something I wasn't aware of. I thought you had an offer and that's where you end the play, cut and dry that's how it worked out. But I'm really interested to hear what was it like for a day in the life at West Point. As not only an athlete, but now you're earning your spot you're earning your time on the team I feel like every day that's just a constant grind when you're a walk on. And you also have to uphold all the requirements on campus for the things you do at West Point. So, can you tell us a little bit more about the day in the life as athlete there and also just a student?
Adam Silva: So, the beginning of the experience there is our day, a reception day and that's basically the day they shave your head and you participate in your first parade and get hazed unmercifully for 24, well not 24 hours but all day. It feels like 24 hours and then that is the first day of Beast Barracks. So, from day one, you wake up the next morning, you're out on the PT field or on the plane doing PT. Very structured from very early in the morning until late at night. They feed you well and they give you enough. Well, they starved me for about three weeks, but then they take care of you physically and literally what they do there is they break you down. That's part of the reason why they shave your head. Everybody looks the same. Doesn't matter who you were when you were in high school. You're now a plebe or a new cadet and you are no better or worse than the man or woman next to you.
That starts the process of a very long 4 years and a lot of times talking about West Point being now removed almost 30 years. I can romanticize the experience, but having two sons who have just one completed West Point and now one's at the Naval Academy. It's an arduous process and it really, you think plebe is the worst, it really never ends. Because the further you get down the road, the more narrow the road becomes. As a plebe you have a lot of ability to make mistakes and you make mistakes the whole four years there, but that's part of their learning curve. But as you get than closer to graduation, the mistakes you make can be even more costly. So, for me, being a cadet was a great honor and a great privilege, but it was also a grind. And then when you add in division one athletics, we were a year-round sport even though fall wasn't as demanding as the spring. But we were lifting practicing or doing agilities pretty much all both semesters.
So, you're getting up as a plebe at 5:30 in the morning, you're reading the New York Times, you study your knowledge, the menu for the day, you're getting your uniform ready. You go through a light load for us was 16 & 1/2 credits as plebes. So, you're talking about 5 classes plus a lab and then there were gym classes throughout the year there were several semesters where we had 19, 19 & a ½ credits. Then you're practicing for 3 & 1/2 hours every day and so going there the one good thing is you never had to worry about your teammates being in shape. Because we were constantly moving and climbing stairs and doing field stuff in the summer. But the biggest challenge there was keeping guys dialed in emotionally. Because it like I said we started with 21, we finished with 7 and it really was, it's a challenge so.
Brian Harbin: Wow. And really the ideas to break you down as individuals to build you back up as a unit, right.
Adam Silva: That's right.
Brian Harbin: And then you go on to serve 10 years in the military as an officer. Tell us about that experience, some of the takeaways you had from 10 years serving the country.
Adam Silva: Yeah. So, I was commissioned in 1993 and technically my military service was 11 years, but there was only 2 years of active-duty service. So, I commissioned in 93, took weeks of leave, went to airborne school, fell out of planes 5 times, went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, became a field artillery officer. Went up to Fort Riley, Kansas with the first infantry division. Spent a couple years there. And then I took the balance of my commitment and served it in the National Guard in the reserve. So, I ended up leaving Fort Riley with my wife Jen in May of 95 and joined in the fortieth infantry division of the California National Guard. We spent a couple years in California. And then when I to Florida, they literally didn't have any spots for lieutenants back then because back then nobody was getting out of the Guard of the Reserve. So, they put me on what's called the inactive ready reserve and that's where I spent the balance of my time.
I have, to be brutally honest I have mixed feelings about my army experience. When you're at West Point, it's like a love hate relationship and you think, wow, West Point is broken and it's screwed up and when you're 20 years old you discount the 200 years of history at West Point at your own peril. Then you get into the army and you're like, wow, West Point was pretty squared away, right. Then you get into the National Guard and you're like, wow, the army was pretty squared away. So, I learned a lot of what not to do at every level. From first detail B Squad leader as a plead to leaving the active duty to spending time in the guard. I talk to my kids about that a lot is that as leaders you can learn as much of what the leader you want to be by paying attention to those you don't want to be like.
Again, I have great respect for our armed services. Great obviously, if I didn’t, I wouldn't have sent my sons there. I wouldn't have married a woman from West Point in the army. But I will also tell you that for me my experience was I wanted to listen and keep my eyes open and I learned more about what I didn't want to do than what I did. That may sound very counterintuitive and most people don't say it that way. But for me, that was the experience.
Colby Harris: No, I love that I think that's a very real approach I mean, just as much as you pay attention to people you want to be like. It's a lot easier to kind of point fingers and pick out the things that you don't want to be like. So, I just want to take a quick step back real quick. You mentioned your wife was also at Army West Point. So, can you tell us a little bit more about meeting her, what that relationship meant to you for the last 30 or so years now and really how you guys met.
Adam Silva: Yeah. So, my wife was not hard to pick out back when we wore dark green camouflage and buckets. She had platinum blonde hair naturally sun-bleached hair from, she's a California girl. My wife's from the San Fernando Valley. She went to Chatsworth High School. Tall, blonde in this uniform and I was like, wow, I'd be nice if I got to meet her some. at some point and who knows when, and then one of the guys on the lacrosse team knew her and because they were in the same company. He introduced us and we started dating Labor Day of our plebe. So, we've been together since together since September of 1989. She was the captain of the volleyball team at West Point and I think 2 years. All Patriot League just fantastic athlete. My wife was an all-city softball player in Los Angeles which I mean, there aren't been many better softball areas in the country and they begged her to play at West Point. She just didn't have the time and we got married a month after we graduated and we've been together ever since. So.
Colby Harris: That's awesome. I love to I think there's a lot to be respected. You as an athlete. Seeing the discipline out of her as a former athlete as well. It's something that you learn in sports that is just priceless for the long term. So, the next question I really want to ask is you have an extensive background in sales and team leadership but a lot of it really started in about 03, 04, 05 when you were working with the Wounded Warrior Project. Which is one of the most notable charities in the US for all their work they do with veterans and people who've served. So, can you tell us a little bit more about your time there especially as it was in the early stages of their foundation. So, what did you do there and what was really your role in growing and helping further their mission?
Adam Silva: Sure, yes so first off, my wife Jen is still the chief program officer at Wounded Warrior Project. So, she leads about two thirds of the team there. I can't remember now exactly how many programs and services they offer, but she's got probably 20 offices spread out throughout the United States. Spending a lot of money on warriors and their families, doing a lot of support and services for them. I'm really proud of the work that she the team there have continued. I joined so WWP was founded in 03. I think it moved to Jacksonville in 06, maybe late 05. And a friend of mine and I did a lacrosse benefit back in the spring of 2008 and we brought Delaware and UMBC down to play a lacrosse game at Fletcher High School. We put about 5,000 people in the stands and we said, look, we're not doing this for the money. Whatever money we were able to raise, we want to give to a charity.
A good friend of mine now, who I knew a little bit then by the name of John Fernandez had given both of his legs in a friendly fire incident during the invasion into Iraq back in 2003. He was the captain of the Army Lacrosse team in 01. So, I knew John as a fellow captain and when I heard about his injuries, I immediately started to follow his story and I heard about this organization called Wounded Warrior Project that was helping John. So, they did the grand opening here which is right off AC Skinner Parkway. It's a couple miles from here. Back in 07, we were planning the event I went to the grand opening, met the staff and then we made a pitch to have them as our charitable beneficiary for the lacrosse game in February. And at that time, they said, look, what are you doing and I was in between jobs. I said, I'm kind of looking for the next thing and a couple weeks later they asked me to join the team. That was in the fall of 2007.
I joined the team as the director of people which is a funny name for the HR guy and I don't have an HR background. But what they wanted was a team builder and a coach, somebody to help them with mission, vision, values, and culture. Which is obviously become my passion now. I was in that role for about 6 or 7 months and the COO, a guy by the name of Steve Nardisi, fantastic guy, great leader, eventually became our CEO. Asked me, if I'd be interested in taking over the fundraising team. At the time, we were raising about $25 million dollars. We only had including me. I think there were four of us on the fundraising side and then a partner of ours that did our direct response. And by the time 6 years later when I moved into the chief program officer role, we were raising just over $400 million dollars with about 55 teammates on the fund-raising side.
So, I'm proud of that not because of the numbers but because behind every one of those dollars was a warrior, a family member, a spouse of a military child who was being taken care of and served in some capacity. So, we used to say all the time, we don't raise money for the sake of raising money, we raise money fuel our programs and our programs save and change lives. So, I take very little credit for our growth and very little credit for our impact because the impact was delivered by our program team. I was at the right place at the right time. And if I did one thing that I will take a little bit of credit for is that I hired great people. We brought great people on. We were passionate about not allowing egos to get in the way. We were passionate about making sure that the mission was kept at the forefront. We were about making sure that we embodied our core values and our word and our deeds to serve wounded warriors and their families.
It was never about the next article, never about the next magazine cover or television interview. That was not ever, anything we cared about as leaders there. It was about that man or woman lying in a hospital bed somewhere whose life had been changed forever and that is something that I know they continue to focus on to this day.
Brian Harbin: And I know from what you're saying it sounds like your experience with that definitely helped you live, the having a purpose greater than yourself which I know you'll touch on here in a little bit. And professionally over the years, you have worked in consultant roles. Currently working as the director of franchise for one of the Inc 5,000 fastest growing fence companies in America. What would you say I'm curious, this point you've been a college athlete, West Point, army officer, wounded warrior? what would you say is your greatest business skill and how you've kind of leverage that to help you be successful professionally?
Adam Silva: So, boy that's a good one. And I struggle with that because I'm not comfortable talking about me, about what's your strength or skill. I'm horrible in interviews and maybe that's it. It's not about me and if I'm going to acknowledge or affirm that that's one of my better skills now, I will tell you that's only because it was a glaring weakness early on. One of the things I didn't about West Point. I was talking to a friend a few years ago and he's like, what's the greatest lesson you learned from West Point? And he was shocked when I told him, I learned how to fail. It was the greatest lesson and again, I don't think you can talk about Grit without talking about failure and I don't want to get off on a tangent. But we don't do our kids a service anymore, because we're helicopter parents, snowplow parents, not letting our kids fail. And then when they do blaming somebody else for that failure rather than looking at it as a learning opportunity.
But for me, that was one of my greatest failures. I didn't care about developing subordinates. Even as an army officer, I wasn't great at, I mean, I would take care of my soldiers but it wasn't like I was thinking about what's in it from me. It was always like what's in it for me. What can I, if I do X, I want to get Y in return and that very transactional and that applied to the people that I led and worked with in many ways? Ironically, there was that point at the last year, year and a half at West Point as the captain of the lacrosse team where that wasn't the case. And I was very much into the team and how can we maximize each individual for the betterment of the team. But then I got into the army and the civilian world and kind of abandon that principle. So, that to me now would probably be my biggest strength is just looking at trying to develop the people around me.
I take great pride behind the scenes and especially empowerment of a lot of the women that with at WWP. Giving them opportunities that they otherwise wouldn't get, giving them a voice. I had women come in into my office and jeez, I feel like I'm too rough or I'm too edgy and I'm like why because you're a woman. If you're a guy, we'd call you passionate. So, just be you. And then put them in positions where you support them and watch them succeed and we rarely did we make a mistake there. So, that would be I guess the answer is I danced around it, but empowering and developing other people which again I was not good at that. It was not something I cared about early on.
Colby Harris: Yeah, that really is just mind blowing to hear, because I think it carousels really right into my next question. If you really had the we over me mentality and I think when you say empowering others, it means so much because you're able to carry that in your professional life with your kids and then also into coaching which is something you've really gotten deep into over the last 30 or so years now. So can you dive into that a little bit more with us about coaching sports specifically. How you really got involved in that and where coaching became kind of a cornerstone in your life these days>
Adam Silva: So, when I in the army at Fort Riley, it's the first foray into coaching and then we ended up moving to California. So, that ended quickly and then when I got to California, I started coaching again lacrosse Chapman University, University of California Irvine and then we moved. And then when I got to Jacksonville in 97, there was no lacrosse. So, I didn't coach for 10 years. I was at dinner once with a couple of buddies of mine complaining about the fact that all I wanted to do was coach and finally, one of the guys looked over at me. He goes, well, why don't you get off your rear end and go coach and he didn't use that, his language was a little bit more colorful. I was like, and I found all these excuses why I shouldn't coach. Lacrosse wasn't advanced enough here. I didn't want to waste my time. I didn't know how to interact with teenage boys and their parents, and all of that and finally, they really put pressure on me to just go and find somewhere to coach.
I did and I ended up calling a guy by the name of Jack Francis down at Nice High School and he said, ‘Where'd you play?’ I told him where I played. He said, ‘can you be here tomorrow?’ because they didn't have anybody focusing on the defensive side of the ball and I said, sure. So, that began a long journey back in the coaching. I think it was a year or two later, I was leaving practice one day and early on as a coach I was very much the way that I was coached. Drill sergeant, Raw-Raw, all these military analogies, yelling and screaming, run through a wall, blah, blah, blah. And I'm still very passionate and I'm sure many would say loud. But I had no thought process behind being a transformational coach, developing relationships with the kids, modeling behavior that you would want them to emulate talking about things like character and core values. It's I don't believe in coincidences and I can't remember the parent who did this. but after practice one night, a parent came up to me and handed me a copy of the book, Season of Life.
That was the single greatest material gift I've ever received in my entire life because it literally changed the course. I say, the single greatest and remember back to freshman year lacrosse tryouts, Tommy Singleton gave me my first defensive stick. And that was up until that minute the most important material gift, because it changed my trajectory. Then season of life changed my trajectory. I've done everything I can since that day and I think again it was spring 2008 to try to live up to the lessons and the standards in that book. I've fallen short more often than I have succeeded, but that gave me a blueprint for what success looks like. And again, it wasn't up until that point that things were even starting to come together and make sense to me. And when I say it changed my life, I don't just mean as a coach. It changed my life as a father, as a husband, as an employee, as a leader at work.
To the point where when I left WWP, they did a little send off for me and one of the guys there a marine by the name of Jason Martinez. He said, he paid me the greatest compliment that I think anybody has paid me professionally and he said, you made it okay for me to tell other men that I love them. And he's like, explaining how that wasn't something that was thrown around in his house with his father and the other men in his life. Certainly not in the workplace certainly not in the Marine Corps and on the day that I left there, he shared that with me and we were able to look at each other in front of dozens of people and tell each other as men that we love each other. That's not something I ever thought was going to be part of my life and that is a direct you know result of that gift of getting the book Season of Life.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, it's a fantastic book. I'd mentioned to you, I'd read it about 10 years ago and phenomenal. Just started rereading it recently and in the beginning book that talk about the guy in the glass. I knew it when I was 18. I read that same poem but we called it the man in the mirror but same principle of being able not cheating the man in the mirror and being able to look yourself in the eye. Just a book chock full of principles and kind of along that note. One of the things I'm personally curious about I've got 3 kids 6 to 14. You have 3 kids two of which we haven't talked about yet but they played college lacrosse as well. Obviously, your wife college athlete went to West Point. I'm just curious as far as like what have been some of the guiding principles as parents. You touched on this little bit earlier about letting our kids fail. But what have been some other philosophies that you guys have used and maybe even something that you guys have incorporated that your parents did but then maybe something different that you guys have made unique in your own family.
Adam Silva: For us, my wife and I have had lots of conversations about this. There have been times where we feel like we're too hard on our kids and not for what you know when you think of being too hard on your kids. I'm not talking about yelling and screaming and spanking and any of that kind of stuff. I'm talking about the standards that we set for them. One example that my kids used to like I drive them nuts when I would tell them this. But we don't allow our kids to point fingers at others and use that as an excuse for either not working hard or not being a great teammate or not succeeding. So, when you're 8, 9, 10 years old and you come home and you want to complain about the coaches or the teach or the administrator. We're like, ah, and that comes from my mother. As my grandfather being a high school principal and an educator, when I would come home as a kid and I would start complaining about the teacher or the coach, my mom's response was basically that they own that classroom, you're just renting space. So, you better figure it out because I don't want to hear, and my mother was, she was tough and we more often than not have that same response to our kids. That's hard when you're a kid.
Especially I think in society today, everybody's pointing the finger nobody's taking responsibility especially parents. And look my oldest son Miles, who turned out to be a professional lacrosse player and was the leading goal scorer at West Point his last two years, was a horrible 9th grade lacrosse player. And was benched and was not out of shape and physically soft and not very coachable. And when he would come home and he's complaining that. We're like, no, it's not the coach’s fault. You need to look in the mirror and you're not going to quit. That was the other thing. It's especially we never allowed quitting in the middle of a season. If you wanted to stop playing a sport, that's a discussion we would have but nobody was quitting in the middle of a season. But when our kids would come to us and complain and expect a soft ear, that wasn't the response.
For us, it was look in the mirror, be the man in the glass or the woman in the glass. That's hard because as a parent, you want to kiss it make it all better. And my wife did a little bit more of that than I did. But I'm like nope, we're not having that discussion. So, that's not something that I think is really prevalent in society right now. Especially as a coach dealing with a lot of parents. When I run across a parent who is basically like, look, I don't want to hear it. Go out and figure it out. I'm like, man, that's a great parent right there in my opinion. So.
Colby Harris: Yeah, I definitely agree I think responsibility for your own actions is one of the biggest things it comes down to. Because even at camp that's something I harp on kids will come running up of a situation going on who hit, who first or who was talking trash first. And the first thing I tell them is okay situation's over. I don't care what happened but how did you react? And that's what we discussed is the reaction that you had to it and how they could reacted differently or sometimes pat them on the back for they're coming over to me and tell me, how angry they are, that so and so is talking to them or push them or whatever it is and like look you made the right decision. That even comes back to your discussion as what defines a tough guy or a tough girl at camp which resonate with me so heavily as someone who was a little bit quicker for like physical aggression growing up if I'm saying.
Adam Silva: Sure.
Colby Harris: And that's something I've thoroughly shared with the kids ever since and whether we're at Flag Football Practice or whatever it be. So, I really love that is just taking responsibility for your actions. It's something that is priceless for these kids. So, I do want to take a quick step back and discuss further into the Seasons of Lifebook. Brian actually just gave me that one a couple months ago and I'm going to get into it. Kevin Butler though who is our great university intern for the summer that spent a lot of time under your coaching in Pontevedra. He lives by that book and that was from your teaching. I'm sure if he was here today, he'd say that was another gift from you that was priceless just as you said it has been for you. So, can you get deeper into the meaning of that book, the philosophies behind it and what it means to be a man built for others?
Adam Silva: Well, first of all it's when I first met Kevin, he was, I don't know what is he 66 67 300 pounds offensive lineman at Pontevedra. I'm the character coach coming from the lacrosse team working with coach Matt Toblin who is just an abs gift of a football coach. Kevin would have been the last guy would have picked out and said, hey, he's going to really embrace these principles because he scared me. I'm a big guy, so that's a big strong kid. It meant a lot to me to years later to hear that book and that experience had the impact on Kevin that it did. But long and short of the book was without trying to spoil it for anybody who maybe listening. We're taught especially as young men life is about possession power stuff. I think Joe refers to; I don't know if he calls him the killer bees. But prowess in the bedroom on the ball field the boardroom and the bill fold.
Meaning if you're popular with the ladies, if you make a lot of money, if you're a great athlete, if you have a lot of stuff that somehow means that you're a great man. We don't need to name names or even I know there are countless stories of men who have all of those things who I wouldn't trust to sweep my garage floor. Like there's a lot of morally bankrupt men who have all of those bees, right. But the reason the book struck such a chord with me is because I bought into that. And every time I was able to quote unquote achieve something, I thought that was going to fix how I felt inside or was going to kind of fill the hole. I talk about this openly.
The last day I played lacrosse at West Point, I didn't realize it at the time, but there was a hole in my soul. Being a part of that team with those guys and that institution was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I didn't realize that leaving it was going to create such an emptiness in many ways. I got married, had kids, had some financial success, had some professional success. And every time I checked all those boxes, I thought, okay, now I'm going to feel good about it. It's not like I was miserable but there was never enough. So, you go back to teaching us as men as people that it's about possession and power and all that stuff. I bought into all of that, and it was enough.
When I read the book the solution that Joe basically puts forth through Jeffrey Marks' writings is life is about 3 things. Success in life is about three things. It's relationships, the ability to love and be loved, which I still struggle with the ability to be loved. I'm good at loving, giving not so good at receiving. Number two, commitment to a cause greater than yourself or a transcendent cause. Which again my entire life I've been surrounded by transcendent causes, but it was never what's in it from me. It was always what's in it for me. And then finally, and this is something I think I've kind of added on is living by a code of conduct fueled by your core values. So, one of the things that I do with the teams that I work with is that we'll go through with the kids and they will, I want every kid to leave a program or a season with their own set of core values.
I think if you wake up every morning thinking about what your core values are trying to pursue them, then, you can live a life of character. It's kind of hard to not live a life of character if you're guided by your core values. And so, for me those are the three things that I took from the book and really all of the work that I've done with whatever team I've been involved with has come back to those 3 core principles. I'm not a guy who uses a lot of military analogies. I'm not the guy if you wanted me to work with your team. I'm not coming in and doing physical challenge stuff. I mean there's value to that don't get me wrong it's just not my thing. But to me, it always comes back to those 3 things. Relationships are caused greater than self in your character.
Brian Harbin: It's fantastic and one of the things and the fact that you're pouring these principles into. I mean the majority of a lot of the kids you're coaching nowadays; these are men between 16 and 22 and really that pivotal age that need to hear that. I would venture to say at this point you've coach or influence probably in the thousands of kids in that age group and at least the high hundreds. So, as a player development coach what would you say would be the biggest things kids in that age group, men specifically boys that you're coaching, could learn the most? Or what are they missing the most and the ones that are excel? What are they excelling you know in terms of character development? What do they have that others don't and the ones that don't have it? What do they need?
Adam Silva: So, we talk a lot especially at JU. We talk about division one college athletes who have had immense success. Most of the kids that come to division one or college programs were the best at what they do at a minimum at their high school or at least they were in the top two or three guys on the team. Then they come to college and they like literally sometimes forget how to tie their shoes. Like it's how do you go from there to here and forget all of it. And it's what they don't understand is and this is a phrase we use all the time. It's a marathon not a sprint. So, I talked with my youngest son at navy right now as a sophomore. We're talking about this my oldest son, didn't play basically his first two years. And then was the leading goal scorer for two. I'm like, don't quit before the miracle happens is a big one, because it's a marathon not a sprint. So, trying to convince these guys that this is a 4-year process. There's the rare kid who comes in as a freshman and he's a starter, right. There's the freshman all American in every sport. But the majority of guys are what I call program guys. So, you come in and you're going to have to figure out it's a marathon not a sprint.
Then what's your role and how do you accept the fact that you may not be a starter or statistical superstar with that doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to work hard and give everything you can to the team. Again, being a great teammate, relationships, putting the team before yourself a cause greater than self. Be doing well in the classroom, treating women in on campus the right way, being respectful to your professors, showing up on time, doing your homework, staying out of jail, don't get on the dean's list, I mean that the bad dean's list. Those are things that you look at and say that's your character. That's what yours those 3 things. But trying to explain to an 18, 19-year-old kid who's had almost instant gratification in the sport for the last 12 years. It's a process. That is a huge challenge and some guys quit. Again, we brought in 20 freshmen and three transfers this year at JU.
I hope, well I think all the transfers will be fine, because I think they're all one-year guys. But I hope all 20 of those freshmen are here in four years. I hope they graduate on time and go on to do great. I hope they play lacrosse the whole time. But history has proven that we're probably we'd be lucky if 11 of those guys are still lacrosse players in 4 years. And that's again I think kids quit before the miracle happens. One of the greatest stories from my time at JU is a guy by the name of Derek Andrake who came from Upstate New York from a very good high school program. But Derek's not the biggest strongest fastest guy. He's not the most skilled guy. He genetically not the most gifted guy. He came to JU thinking he was going to come in and immediately make a contribution.
I think it was his freshman year after practice. ‘Hey, coach can I talk to you.’ We went and sat on the sidelines sat on the bleachers after practice, just the two of us. I looked over at him and his chin was trembling. I'm like, ‘What's wrong?’ ‘Coach, I suck. I'm the worst player on the team. Guys don't want to do drills with me. I shouldn't be here.’ I was like,’ Derrick hold on. First of all, where's all this coming from?’ And then it was kind of peeling back the of the onion and realizing that, hey man, I'm not going to lie to you. You may spend four years here and never factor statistically but that doesn't mean you're not an important part of this program. ‘Yeah, what's that mean coach?’ I’m like, ‘What are you doing in the weight room.’ Again, not the strongest but that dude worked his rear end off in the weight room. Didn't factor statistically for four years, but when we scored a goal, he's running up and down the sideline fist bumping every person including the coaches on the sidelines celebrating for his teammates his cause greater than self.
Wouldn't you know it, Derek Andrake ended up as a two-time team captain and a grad assistant at JU and he is, and I've shared, he knows I tell this story. This is a kid who's sitting on a bench on the side of the field after practice one day, thinking that he's the worst thing that's ever happened to JU Lacrosse. He has left an indelible mark on our program and never factored statistically. Now you take kids that are fantastic athletes at high school, fantastic students, homecoming kings or queens, and all of a sudden, those things don't, that stuff, right. The killer bees, they don't start to happen but then you got to figure out, okay, A, that's okay. B, there's beauty in the struggle, the process and C, figure out a different way to contribute.
So, that it's a long answer by the way but that's really, that's my role. Is trying to make sure that the guy, we break the roster down into thirds. There's no science behind this. If got 45 kids on your roster I can tell you that the top 15 kids, they're going to play. The middle 15 kids’ kind of depends on the injury report and the scouting report. The bottom 15 kids probably not going to play basketball. 5, 5 and 5. It's the same thing, right. So, I tell our kids that you may be in the bottom 15 for 4 years that doesn't mean you don't have value here, but you got to buy into that fact. I can't do it for you. You've got to accept the fact that you can give everything you possibly can cause greater than self to the team for your teammate relationships. And do it the right way and we're going to look at you as a success. So.
Colby Harris: Yeah, I love that so much because that's something we even try to incorporate Brian. I assist Brian coaching his kid's sports and that's something we try to figure out is, if you're not the number one player, if this is your first, mind you, these are 6, 7, 8-year-olds. So, it's if you're just starting and you're not the best player out there, how can you contribute when you're not on the field. I think that's something that a lot of people lack is they want to hit the game-winning shot or the game-winning field goal or drop 20 points a game. But when they don't get that or they don't get the stats they want it's like complete heartbreak. It's a sign that they want to give up. So, I think that's super important for everyone to grasp at home.
The next question I really want to ask is a lot of, you probably really understand these is a lot of people lack direction. A lot of people that are coming out of high school or even college just as you talk about that hole that you were left with after you left West Point. That's something that a lot of people are currently going through. I know I went through it graduating during COVID. Just trying to that direction and your story about being a walk on the lacrosse team made me think about the difference between pursuing passion and pursuing opportunity. So, what have you learned from that experience of taking a leap of faith, going for the lacrosse, walk on the lacrosse team, give up your opportunity as a scholarship soccer player? What have you learned from that and what advice would you have for other people that are kind of trying to guide those next steps in their life?
Adam Silva: Yeah, that's a tough one because you can miss, I think misconstrue what I'm about to say. I'm going to like take it from a different angle. Professionally, I've never said to myself this is, well I've only said it once it's when I chose to leave WWP. I wanted to pursue executive coaching and cultural development team building. And then I ended up doing that, but each time I would try to go like full force into it, I had a job offer. So, and I which I basically couldn't say no to a couple of these opportunities. But I've always stayed involved in that side it's just never been my full time.
Colby Harris: Full focus.
Adam Silva: Yeah, commitment. And so, you can I think take this the wrong way and so pursue your passion. Well, I also am married with three children. I have to pay the bills, so and some would say, oh, burn the boats, jump off the cliff, figure out how to fly. I've heard all of that stuff. Well, that may work for some, it's not my path. So, I've made decisions with my career that make really no logical sense, but they've allowed to do the things that I'm passionate about. There's a guy named Pat McManaman who runs Sandler Sales here in Jacksonville. And years ago, he was coaching me as a salesman. And I was like, yeah, it's not about the money. It's not about the money. It's like, okay, but if you're successful with sales and the money follows, that's going to free you up to be able to do the things that you are passionate about and I never forgot that.
So, I've always kind of had my full-time job which I've always given 100% to. I think done fairly well in, but I've stayed involved in other things that have been able to satiate that passion or fuel the passion and a lot of that's come down to coaching. Up until recently with Bowels, I hadn't blown a whistle in like four years. I was a lacrosse coach, but I wasn't a lacrosse coach I was the character development or leadership coach. So, for me it's important yeah follow your passion but also recognize that you've got responsibilities, or if you don't by all means go. Like I look at my oldest son who I don't know whether he'll stay in the army or out. But there's a part of me that doesn't want him to get married and have kids before that decision comes. Because like hey no baggage, do whatever you want to do. And if you're going to fail you get to fail alone or if you're going to get to succeed, great. Then when you do find a wife and have kids you know it'll all be there for you. So again, that maybe kind of a weird answer to that question. But for me, it's always been balancing, following your passion with the responsibility that you have.
Colby Harris: I got similar advice when I was younger. He told me, follow up and it'll lead you to your passion. Almost as if you kind of got to pay the piper, pay your dues at the lower level and you never know where it might lead. So, I think that's definitely optical for a lot of people out there that are trying to navigate that next step.
Adam Silva: Well, the other one too is like especially at Wounded Warrior Project, director of people, director or chief development officer, chief program officer, there was a job to do there. But while I was there, you want to talk about indulging my passion. That's where I fell in love with character development, team building, cultural development, mission, vision, values and that was really the experience that. I was so lucky to be a part of an executive team that said by all means you can be the guy. I mean, we all bought into it no doubt and had full on support from the executive team. But that was my thing. Like we all had our things and that was while I was doing raising money or leading the program team, it was always hand in hand with team building, cultural development, coaching. Making sure that people were being challenged, given opportunities and that's at the end of the day that's why I love athletic coaching. Because it's the same thing.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, and it's so like too you've referenced this a couple times alluding to your 3rd or 4th year of playing lacrosse. You were kind of a me guy, but then something kind of changed that 3rd or 4th year of playing lacrosse. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Was there a specific instance or something that over the course that season you felt like you learned about yourself?
Adam Silva: Kevin O'Rourke, red headed Irish kid from middle class Long Island. Kevin and I were, I'm class of 93 he's class of 94. Kevin and I were constantly butting heads and from my perspective, part of it was that I saw this big, strong kid who was a great midfielder who never fully bought into some of the things that we were trying to do as a team. Not that I knew relationships that caused greater than self and character back then, but he was just always fighting the system to include the team or at least that was since the world revolved around me back then. That was my perspective, right. And Kevin equally would push back on me. I can't remember what it was for, but sometime during my junior year and his sophomore year, he and I ended up, as I remember it, we ended up in a car on the way to Long Island because we were taking leave for the weekend and if you drive from West Point to anywhere in Central Long Island, it should be about an hour and 15-minute drive.
Well, if you didn't know anything about New York and Long Island traffic, an hour and 15-minute drive can take 3 and ½ hours which this one did and during that car ride, I get to know Kevin O'Rourke. This is why season of life resonated so with me. The first two years of our relationship as I was yelling at him and he was yelling at me. It was very transactional because I didn't know Kevin O'Rourke. I didn't know anything about him. I didn't care about him. To be honest and he didn't know anything about me, probably didn't care about me. That was the beginning of our relationship in my opinion was that time we spent together. And then collectively as a class when we became seniors. It was we were adamant about making sure that we included the whole team in all of the things we did, good and bad.
So, I got to know Kevin O'Rourke and I look back on there were times where Kevin and I were literally almost come to blows in practice and saying inappropriate things to one another and challenging each other. And then all of a sudden, I got to know him and we were no less competitive. We didn't challenge each other less as lacrosse players, but that was because we were able to do that because we had a relationship with one another. That's another lesson that I share with our guys. If you don't know someone, there's almost nothing you can say. But once you get to know someone and have a relationship with them, there's almost nothing you can't say. So, for me that was the turning point that was and I've shared that story with Kevin. We're still in touch to this day. We're on a text thread right now and I've told him.
I mean that was one of those moments that was, that led to our success from my perspective a lot of our success. Because our relationship was emblematic of the relationships on the team going into 93 and that team was 8th in the country made it to the NCA tournament quarterfinals and set the record for wins in a season at army. So, it was guys like Kevin O'Rourke that made that that possible.
Brian Harbin: Wow. Okay, let me ask one more Colby, and you can take it home. But that part reminds me of remember the Titans where the offensive guy and the defensive guy. Become a unit and the team totally transform. So, that's what and I appreciate you sharing that because it really ties together a thing that you said earlier. One last question I wanted to ask because even though a lot of our listeners may never coach a high school kid in lacrosse, but almost everyone does have someone in that kind of age 16 to 22 male that is, I was that age. I've got three boys. I understand it's a tough age to kind of get through. How do you start that conversation? Obviously as a player development coach, you're coming with kids that don't know who you are. How do you start that conversation or any advice on building that relationship where to start from?
Adam Silva: So, one of the things that that I do with JU and Bowels is I try to take guys out for breakfast or coffee or lunch. We don't do a lot in the evening because of what are the family time practice studying but especially in the off season, being able to meet at university diner or metro diner. I take two or three guys out because it's sometime can be awkward for younger guys when you get an older guy and it's just a one-on-one thing. I used to do this at Wounded Warrior Project believe it or not. We would go to lunch and I would take 3 or 4 of my teammates from WWP out to lunch and the only rule was we weren't allowed to talk about work. So, we do the same thing with lacrosse. We'll go out, we'll go to again sit down, eat, and I don't want to talk about lacrosse.
Now if one of our players especially at the high school level really needs to talk about their recruiting process or what club team they should be playing for in the summer, obviously I'm not going to ignore the questions. But the primary goal is go out and don't talk about work, don't talk about sports. And so, what can you talk about? You talk about what's going on at home. You talk about what's going on in the classroom. You talk about what's going on with the girlfriends. And it's really amazing. Some guys are never going to open up to you and that's okay. They just need to know that you're there for them or there are other resources. We've got a mental health clinic at JU. We bring in nonprofits that focus on things like relationship, the One Love Foundation, prevent relationship violence. There's a laundry list of others, but making sure the guys have resources so they never feel like they're alone. But it's really just trying to get to know him.
Now I'm 51 years old. I don't need 17-year-old friends, and that's when you if when I was 17 if you said that I'm like well that's kind of screwed up. But no, I'm an old older man with a wife and 3 kids, but I can be here for you. I'm not trying to replace your dad or your grandfather, I'm just here as another resource for you because we're all dealing with something. And most of our guys, there's a movie. I don't know if you've heard of this one, but it's called The Mask We Live in or The Mask You Live In. Joes in it actually. It's great but it's also scary. It's basically say that as men we wake up every morning we put a mask on. And that's how we go through our day. Well, most of the kids I'm dealing with are walking through life with a mask on. They don't want you to see behind the mask. They don't want you to see what's really going on. And the only way to do that is to start asking them questions and getting to know them and then understanding that there's a line that we don't know where that line is, but there's a line you don't want to cross. So again, for some it's easier, for others you're never going to break through so.
Colby Harris: Yeah, I think the most important part that I took away from that right there is just I feel like where that I wouldn't necessarily where that line is. But I think a person who isn't your friend is going to tell you exactly what you don't want to hear. Now some people might say the opposite like a friend a true friend someone's going to tell you something you don't want to hear. But that's one of the biggest things I learned through leadership and working with young people is that it's hard, in your mind you aren't their friend after you tell them something you don't want to hear. Especially when they're 10, 11, 12 years old, when you kind of put them in that uncomfortable position and maybe call them out on some of the stuff they're doing that isn't good for them, that isn't going to be long-term helping them reach their goals. That's kind of when you become not as much of a friend in their eyes.
So, it's definitely a tough balance beam to be on and I think that's really incredibly been able to break down those barriers and build those relationships with these guys but also guide them down the right path at the same time. So, one of our last few questions here, you've been deep in the coaching very accomplished in the professional world and sales and leadership and things like that and obviously, as a father, I'm sure you're very proud of your 3 kids that you've brought up and they're all doing amazing things. Can you tell us, do you have a plan for your future now? 5, 10, 15 years. Do you have any ultimate goal that you're trying to reach over the next quarter, century or yeah, quarter century or so that you've got? What's really in the plans for you next?
Adam Silva: Not really. And I mentioned before we sat down today, my goal is to just simply try to figure out how to do the next right thing. And I don't know what that's going to be. My wife and I have talked about what an ideal retirement age would be. I've thought about maybe when my, one of the reasons I haven't pursued college lacrosse coaching full time is that a struck me about 6 or 7 years ago that if I did that, I wouldn't be able to watch my sons play. Because I would be coaching while they were player, both division one lacrosse players. So, I think about potentially being a 54-year-old as first-time assistant coach when my youngest son graduates from Navy. But now I mean I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing right now and obviously got bills to pay and a retirement to and continue to invest in. But what really fuels me is being able to stay involved with the JU team the Bowels team.
I refuse to miss opportunities to be a dad and so I don't know that there's a goal in the next 10 or 15 years whether that I have the same thought process about being a grandfather. But I just refuse to miss those moments that I pretty much missed for a lot of time when I was out there grinding and selling and making money and traveling all over the place. I get the opportunity to drive with my daughter from Corpus Christi to Jacksonville when she and her fiancé move back. I get a chance to drive with my son Miles from Fort-to-Fort Riley last summer. We've just came back from Annapolis this weekend to see Max at Navy. So, those are the kinds of things. I want to do what I need to do to put myself in a position to not say no to being present for my kids and then I just want to continue to coach and do the character development stuff and be a great employee. I mean, it's if I can do those things for the next 10 or 15 years, I'll be I'll be pretty happy.
Colby Harris: Yeah, it's amazing just to persistent pursuit of whatever it might be. I love the idea of just remaining present. I think that's one more day as your biggest concern right now to be there for your kids, the people in your companies, keep coaching all the teams. I know Bowels had an incredible season this past year's state runner up for the second year. Correct?
Adam Silva: Final 4. Yeah, final 4, we lost in the final 4 both years.
Colby Harris: Yeah, so definitely making an impact there and we're super excited to keep up. I'm really happy we were able to have you here today was a thrill to have you a great camp earlier this summer as well. So, much just enriching values and principles that were shared that day with the kids. I love it too because nothing beats, I'm sure you understand as a coach, when you're harping on something day after day. You bring an exterior person in and they say the exact same thing you've been trying to get across. So, just my last question for today, as you know, we really built everything “Grit.org” on our Grit Creed. So, as you're familiar with it, what part of the Grit Creed resonates most with you and why?
Adam Silva: Yeah, and I'll butcher this but I don't find an excuse I find a way that I say that personally.
Colby Harris: Right.
Adam Silva: And I think that's the number two, listed number two on the Grit Creed and it jumped out at me. Again, that was one of the things that I kind of alluded to earlier with being hard on our kids it's we're not about excuses. And for me, failure is acceptable. Failure is not fatal. So, if something goes wrong, I'm not going to make an excuse for it I'm going to own it. Jocko Willing's book Extreme Ownership's, fantastic examples of when things go really poorly. If you're leader, you're going to own your role in it you're not going to point fingers. I don't know the man but I watched something that the new LSU coach said this weekend about his player and it made me want to jump into the TV screen. I was so angry.
It basically trying to say something nice about a kid, but literally putting the onus of a loss on a kid who screwed up on special teams. I just thought it was a horrible example of leadership. And to me, I'm also not in the business of apologizing for things I have not done but when things go wrong and I it was my fault or it was my responsibility, I'm not going to make an excuse.
Colby Harris: I love that. I'm glad you like that one. Well, we really appreciate you coming on today. Adam, it's really been a pleasure. So, that's a wrap for today here at The Grit. org podcast. Please check out our other episodes. Leave us a comment. Tell us something you enjoyed about Adam's story. Share this with someone you think it would resonate with or impact. As always, we appreciate you tuning in for another episode of the “Grit.org” Podcast.