Lawyer learns lessons on a new court

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 4th. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we’re glad you are! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming up next: off the corporate ladder and onto the basketball court.

Griff Aldrich is a successful businessman and lawyer who left the private sector to pursue his passion: coaching basketball.

WORLD’s John Vence traveled to Longwood University to hear how he learned that life isn’t just about wins and losses.

JOHN VENCE, REPORTER: Griff Aldrich spent most of Longwood University’s first game of the 2019 season on his feet. His periwinkle tie thrashed around as he pinwheeled his arms and shouted to his team. Even with 10 seconds left on the clock, when the Marymount Saints had no chance of catching up.

AUDIO: [Sound of basketball game]

You wouldn’t suspect that this man, flailing on the sidelines, spent more than 15 years working as an international lawyer and businessman. In 2016, he left that all behind to coach college basketball. 

GRIFF: I think, I think a lot of people, um, didn’t understand it. I think a lot of people questioned that. I think a lot of people, um, you know, couldn’t relate to why you would kind of take this gamble or this level of what they perceive to be a gamble…

Coach Griff’s story seems like a feel-good family movie: a successful, white-collar character returns to his roots in a sleepy town—not exactly the life he envisioned. After all, coaching basketball was the very thing he ran away from. He left a coaching position at Hampden-Sydney College to pursue a different career instead. 

GRIFF: But I think one of the main reasons I left at that time was a fear that I wouldn’t achieve enough as, as a college coach and that I wouldn’t climb the ladder. It wasn’t about being excellent and working as if working unto the Lord, but it was more my identity demanded that I be successful.

Just a few years ago, he was a partner in a multi-billion dollar international law firm. He had started an oil and gas company. He was a CFO for a private investment firm. Life seemed to have settled for him and his wife, Julie, and their three kids. But Julie said Griff wasn’t exactly content. 

JULIE: I mean I think that for a period of time it was, you know, this isn’t satisfying to me in a deep way. Um, you know, for him. Maybe I’m actually supposed to do something different with my life. 

Griff had never lost his love for basketball. In fact, he coached on the side for years. He even started a basketball ministry called His Hoops for the inner-city kids of Houston. 

GRIFF: And I think it really more got to a place where I think the Lord had brought me to, Hey, your identity really is supposed to be in me. And, and for the first time, probably my heart was saying, well, if my identity is really in Christ, then it really doesn’t, it doesn’t matter as much. My title, my salary, professional achievements, you know, what matters is, am I walking with the Lord? Am I, you know, doing what he’s asking me to do?

So, he took a step of faith, and returned to the basketball court full-time. After a few seasons coaching in Baltimore, he eventually moved his family to Farmville. 

GRIFF: Okay. You have some on your plate. All right, hold on. Stop. Sit down, Scott. Let’s pray. Okay. All right, dear Lord, we thank you for this day…

The Aldrich family lives just a few minutes away from campus and, ironically, six miles from Hampden-Sydney College. That’s where he first quit coaching. 

You can often find Julie and the kids in the stands at home and away games. Last week, the Longwood Lancers played two games in California, so the family spent Thanksgiving on the West Coast.  

JULIE: The positive side of it has been that now our whole family gets to be involved in his work, which I love. So I get to know the players and be involved with the team. We have them over to our home, the coaching staff and their families. Like I love that this is basically a family ministry.

Coach Griff doesn’t just want to improve dribbling or 3-point shots. He’s using this position as a platform to impact his team for life. 

ALDRICH: You’re just not locked in. Amazing. First half. Awful second half. Awful. Awful!

GRIFF: Billy Graham said, you know, that a coach will impact more, more people in a year than a pastor may…My ultimate desire is to, to help provide these guys with a great experience … where they’re shaped in a positive light. 

PHILLIPS: He always cared about me. He always cared about character…

Shabooty Phillips has been on the team for only a year, but he first met Griff Aldrich on the basketball court 10 years ago. He was shooting hoops at a community center when Griff beat him in a one-on-one game, all while wearing what Shabooty calls “church shoes.”

PHILLIPS: I mean, he loved basketball, but he always care about how you, how we grow as young men. So he preached it to us every day. He said, show on the court, just like it’ll show in real life. Well, most of the time … we’ll come out and be a winners, but he don’t focus on that. He says: “show on the court, just like you show in real life.” 

Shabooty says Coach Griff can be a perfectionist sometimes, and that he occasionally gets too caught up in winning. Aldrich admits it’s a recurring struggle, but that he’s learning to shake off that need for success.

GRIFF: In many respects you’re measured by wins and losses and, and a particular outcome, it’s, it’s hard to, you know, adjust and say: “Hey, let’s just focus on the process…” Again, there are days where I do that and there are days where, you know, I probably really don’t…but I’m striving and um, you know, I hope that there’s more, more of the good days than the bad days. 

GRIFF: Together on three. One, two, three.
TEAM: Together!

For WORLD Radio, I’m John Vence, reporting from Farmville, Virginia.

(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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