Bernstein: Take risks to be better

FAIRMONT – Ross Bernstein’s animated and motivational address to the staff at Fairmont Area Schools drew a standing ovation – and that was before he returned his speaking fee with instructions to “buy some school stuff for the classrooms.”

Bernstein, a 1987 graduate of Fairmont High School, has written nearly 50 sports books and delivered keynote addresses on four continents.

He speaks fondly of growing up in Fairmont, especially a defining moment in his life in 1980 watching the “Miracle on Ice,” when the U.S. hockey team stunned the world by winning the Olympic gold medal.

Hockey became a new passion for Bernstein and his friends.

“We were pretty bad, but we loved hockey,” he said.

He attended a hockey camp under the guidance of Herb Brooks, who had coached the Olympic team, where he won a medal.

“The guy that sucks the most wins this award,” Bernstein said, as he flashed his “most improved player” badge.

He attended the University of Minnesota, where friends encouraged him to try out for the Gopher hockey team.

“I didn’t make the cut, but it turned out there was another job opening on the team,” Bernstein said.

And he became Goldy Gopher, the zany but beloved school mascot.

After college, Bernstein bucked his family tradition. While his brothers obtain master’s degrees in business from Dartmouth, he wanted to write a book about the hockey program and his life as a mascot. About a week into his new career as an author, he got a call from the legendary Brooks, who wanted to be involved with the book.

“Gopher Hockey by the Hockey Gopher” was published, with an introduction from Brooks, and Bernstein’s career was as an author was born.

Although his books are all sports-related, the message they carry transcends all occupations and lifestyles.

“It’s not what happens to you; it’s how you react that matters,” Bernstein said.

“I’ve interviewed over 500 professional athletes and coaches where they all had one thing in common: they were all champions, winning the right way.”

He cites Kirby Puckett as an example. When Puckett reported to work every day, he chose to be positive and nourishing, not negative and toxic, because he loved the game of baseball.

“If you’re not really passionate about what you do, then you need to think about what you do. Otherwise, you’re just pushing the rock up the hill,” Bernstein said.

He challenged the school staff to learn about their students, gain their trust and motivate them.

“Champions are leaders who understand the power of motivation,” he said. “That’s how you create an amazing team. Everybody is rowing in the same direction. Amazing things can happen when you inspire confidence.

“Are you a teacher, or do you help change people’s lives? There’s a difference. You’re in the relationship business a lot more than you’re in the teaching business.

“Will beats skill. You can never judge a person but by the size of their heart.”

He encouraged people to set goals and visualize success.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish,” he said. “Never stop learning. Take risks. If you don’t take risks, you’ll never get any better.”