Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of weekly stories that examine the influence of participating in youth and high school sports had on the lives of successful people.
SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't anything Brian Deaver could glue in a scrapbook, put in a frame, or show to his family.
It was just a moment in time.
Twenty years ago, the father of four stood in a locker room at Sanderson High School in North Carolina, an undersized, teenage lineman being praised for a Herculean effort.
"I remember Coach really calling me out in a good way," said Deaver, executive creative director at McCann Erickson, "saying it was because of my blocking that we were able to run the ball. I was going against a guy who was about 6 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier, and just kept running the ball on my outside hip. For some reason, on that night, I was winning each battle. I think kids all build on moments like that — when they're praised in public, criticized in private. When kids receive praise in front of others, it bolsters them up, and it gives them that confidence that 'I can do this. And I can take this and do better.' "
Football is where Deaver, 38, found the most success as a high school athlete, but growing up in North Carolina, it was basketball that was in his blood.
"Basketball has always been my passion," the BYU graduate said, admitting he still keeps a basketball in his car — just in case. "You can't grow up there and not have basketball as a passion. It's always been my refuge. If I'm ever having a down day or just frustrated, I can pick up a basketball and go to a park, find a pickup game and when I'm done, I think more clearly."
His home state's cultural affection for the game of basketball made it accessible to anyone and everyone.
"I could go to a half-dozen parks within just a few miles of my house and find pickup games pretty much going at any time during the day," he said, grinning. "It's one of those sports where you can just show up and get a game going. You don't need a lot of equipment. It's also an individual sport where you can just go in the backyard and spend hours shooting hoops by yourself or practice dribbling, things like that."
He played basketball, football and baseball from a very young age and it gave him opportunities to learn how to deal with disappointment, difficulties and, most importantly, success. He recounted how a college player took an interest in him at a camp and how that built his self-esteem — on and off the court.
"I was probably 12 or 13, at that age when having somebody who was not family, not a friend of the family, somebody who really just took an interest in you and saw potential in you and that really did build a lot of confidence in me," Deaver said.
Basketball also provided him with some of his best childhood memories.
"One house we lived in was about a block and a half away from the junior high," he said. "Some of my friends lived farther away from the school and the bus that took them to their neighborhood didn't come until about 5:30. So for a couple of hours, about eight of us just played hoops every day after school. Those were some of my fondest memories definitely growing up — just the spontaneous basketball games that we'd constantly have. Basketball and music have kind of been my constants; they've always been a vital part of who I am."
Deaver has led a department of about 50 people at McCann Erickson for 13 years. Their job is to come up with advertising that helps their clients communicate a message or sell goods or services.
When he approaches a project with members of his team, he can't help but recall a sign that hung on the desk of his football coach.
"He had this sign on the front of his desk that said, 'It's amazing what can be accomplished, when no one cares who gets the credit,' " said Deaver. "He really drilled into us that sentiment that is the essence of team. Especially when you look at role players, lineman, long snappers. … If they mess up, miss a block, the run isn't going anywhere.
"I can look at the people I manage, and there are some very, very talented skill players — the wide receivers, running backs, and they're going to hit it out of the park time and time again. And then there are the role players. When you're working for a business, and you're trying to sustain that business and grow it, everybody is important to that team success. Knowing when you have to be a leader, knowing when you have to be a follower, that definitely translates into my work life today."
Deaver doubts he would be as successful in business if he hadn't played youth and high school sports.
"I feel like in different stages of my life, I've been able to build on past successes no matter how miniscule they've been," he said. "And over time you look back and say, 'I've had some successes in life. I'm not complacent; I'm not done; I can build on those as I move forward.' "
Deaver said he would have enjoyed the high school experience had sports not been a part of it, but it would have changed who he became.
"I'm an outgoing, social guy," he said. "And I don't know if I would have had a terrible high school experience. But there is something different between being outgoing and social and being part of a team or an organization that is working to accomplish something."
He points to the fact that his football team was mediocre at best.Comment on this story
"We had some rough, rough seasons," he said smiling. "Those rough seasons were good in that, years later, I'm able to look back and say, 'You know what? That could have been a miserable experience, but good coaches and good friends around you, you fight and you keep working and you're a little more diligent the next year and in the offseason and you make improvements.' We doubled our wins each of the three years I played varsity. … It was good because we were fighting toward a common goal."
His experience was so key to his success that he encourages all of his children to play sports.
"As a parent, I want my children to have confidence in themselves," he said. "I want them to be able to excel at something. It doesn't matter what it is — sports, math, the arts — it really doesn't matter to me. But the fact that they can feel that confidence, that they did something and they did it well, that's what matters."