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An Unexpected Playbook

Former Cornell lacrosse player Jon Gordon’s books have made an impact in locker rooms nationwide

The popularity of Gordon’s book isn’t limited to college. Professional coaches such as the NFL’s Mike Smith and Jack Del Rio have used it as a teaching tool. SUBMITTED BY JON GORDON

Jon Gordon tried not to be a vampire.

More precisely, when Jon Gordon was stuck in the athletic training room battling torn cartilage or a pulled groin or a painful knee contusion, he worked at not becoming an “energy vampire.” That’s the term he coined in his leadership book, “The Energy Bus,” for people who suck the dynamism and positivity out of a room. Instead, he stayed quiet, worked hard and relished his time playing lacrosse for Cornell University in the early 1990s, despite his aches and pains.

Two decades later, the writing career that was, in part, spawned by those experiences at Cornell has taken a surprising turn: His work resonates in training rooms and locker rooms, not simply boardrooms, which had been his original intended audience. College coaches across the country have used his books on leadership – nine in all – in recent years to teach lessons about maintaining a positive mindset as grueling seasons wear on. “The Energy Bus,” published in 2007, has been the most popular.  

Gordon is shocked at the reception his work has received in the college athletics community. Not only do coaches such as Clemson University’s Dabo Swinney rely on his books, but they also routinely ask him to address their teams in person. A recent speech at the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association convention, for instance, yielded nearly 50 requests for Skype sessions and, eventually, a hoarse voice.

“Playing a sport in college changed my life,” Gordon said. “It’s amazing that it’s come full circle.”



About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.