I’ve found that every success story has one thing in common: a goal. One of my favorite stories belongs to University of Georgia baseball coach David Perno, probably because it has to do with two of my favorite things: baseball and coaching. On July 21, 2001, two weeks after his thirty-fourth birthday, David became the youngest head baseball coach in the Southeast Conference. But that’s not the most impressive part of the story.
Oddly enough, when you talk to David about his early goals, he doesn’t mention baseball. Instead, he recalls days playing football at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia. It was David’s football coach, Billy Henderson, who introduced him to goal setting. Henderson not only talked to the boys on his team about winning—David’s team won the state championship—he also talked to them about the importance of having a vision, dreaming big, and setting goals.
One of the first goals David set for himself was to play Division I football or baseball in college. It turned out that he would reach his goal by receiving an athletic scholarship to the University of Georgia, where as a freshman he would play left field for the school’s baseball team. And in 1990, David would be a member of the team when they won the national championship.
Due to an injury and his first season, David could no longer play at his highest level. Surgery had slowed him down. So after the championship, David turned his sights to coaching.
During his senior year of college, David started writing down short-term goals. Two years later, as an assistant coach at Marshall University and West Virginia, David began focusing on what he wanted long-term.
“I knew what I wanted to do because I’d had the taste of it. I knew that I wanted to coach baseball, but I also knew I didn’t want to stay in West Virginia too long. I wanted to return to the South. . .I had to figure this thing out and plot my plan. And I laid it out on paper and put it in my wallet.”
Getting married, having a child, and becoming the head baseball coach at the University of Georgia by age thirty-five—these were the three goals on David’s list. “I knew the first thing I had to do was move back to Georgia, whether it was coaching high school, college, junior college, wherever.”
David became an assistant coach to Robert Sapp at Middle Georgia Junior College. One year later he moved to the University of Georgia when Sapp was offered the job of head coach there.David stayed at the University of Georgia even after Saff was replaced by Ron Polk, the winningest coach in Southeastern Conference history. Under the direction of Polk and David, the Georgia team won the Southeastern Conference in 2001 and played in the College World Series.
At the end of the 2001 season, Polk returned to Mississippi State, where he had coached from 1976 to 1997. This was the opportunity David had worked for. He had married Melaney Chastain in 1997, and their daughter was born in 1999, so with only one goal left on his original list, David threw away the piece of paper he had carried in his wallet for seven years. It was time to write down some new goals.
“I set this goal, and I had looked at the school for many years. I evaluated it, and thirty-five was the cutoff. I was ready to walk away. I said, ‘You know, it’s going to work either way. If I don’t get it now, then hey, I came up short. If it does happen, you know it was meant to be.’”
David got the job as head coach at the University of Georgia. But he does have some new goals. “Now I’m trying to get a little bit of balance, and I have spiritual, family, and health goals in addition to my career goals. And I think writing them down is the driving force. That’s what gets me up every morning because there’s so much to be done, so much to accomplish. And there’s nothing better than checking off everything you’ve done at the end of the day.”
By writing down his goals, David set the course for his success. And he continues to write out new goals because he understands that success is not a one time shot. After five seasons as head baseball coach of the University of Georgia, David has led the Bulldogs to the College World Series twice, attained a record of 183 wins and 126 losses, and has been honored as Baseball America’s Coach of the Year.
What will your course look like? Will you be like David and get ready for extreme success or just hope to avoid failure?
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Adapted from Tommy Newberry’s book Success Is Not an Accident.