When I was 19 years old I was a competitive swim coach. I spent my summers coaching about 50 kids between the ages of 6 and 18. It was a lot of fun, but in the midst of heated competition I was to face a test of my integrity that would make an impact on my life.
This particular summer I was given my first big coaching task. The head coach was called out of town so he sent me as the head coach for our team at one of the summer's biggest invitational swim meets. That's a big deal for a 19 year old! The pressure was on.
This meet was a grudge match between the three biggest teams and several other smaller teams. The coach from the one of our rivals was the type of person we always suspected "stacked the deck". We would send in our race entries and she would inspect them to find out how best to put her kids against ours. She did this in order to win, of course.
Well, the swim meet was a 3 day event, running 15 hours each. By the middle of the second day my team was neck-in-neck for second place with our rival. We battled it out with them all day for second place. Every point counted and I really worked to get our kids fired up to do their very best.
Then one of our best swimmers made a small mistake that cost us lots of points. At the end of a 100-yard breaststroke he accidentally touched the wall with only one hand. That's an instant disqualification. We lost 5 big points.
But a little while later, when the results were posted Luke came and found me. He said, "Hey coach guess what? Remember that race when I was disqualified? They must have messed up because the results show me finishing in second place!"
There were so many dozens of events with scores of swimmer that the mistake probably would have gone un-noticed. After all, it was buried in mounds of race results. But the points surely made a difference to our team against our rival. As head coach I had a decision to make. Should I tell anyone?
Before I really thought it through I said to Luke, "Go tell the meet director that you were disqualified in your race and tell him to take away our points." Luke was stunned that I would even suggest such a thing, but he did just as he was told. If he hadn't left so quickly I might have thought twice about the idea too. I wanted to win!
A couple hours later I had forgotten completely about Luke's race but then the coach from our rival approached me. Apparently, she had been standing right at the meet director's table when Luke delivered his news. She came up to me with a huge smile on her face. She said, "I heard what you did told your kid to do. I just wanted to thank you for giving back your points!" She beamed that I had sacrificed our team points for the sake of being honest. I beamed too because just then I realized I had really done the right thing.
It was at that moment that I first realized what it really meant to act with integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing even when it may hurt you. But sometimes you end up getting rewarded more than you lose. The friendship that coach and I built after that incident lasted two more summers.
Those are my thoughts. Thanks for listening.