Blogpost, self-reliance

Sharpen Your Own Axe

In Stephen Covey’s wonderful book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the seventh habit is “Sharpen the Saw.” The concept is personal renewal throughout the process of improvement. The other six habits are specifically aimed at a part of the internal or external battles that each of us must fight. Although the chapter is called “Sharpen the Saw,” I’m going to depart from it slightly with the use of an axe. Even though a saw is an effective tool that largely does the same job as an axe, my life almost never feels like a saw cut piece of wood. There is not a perfect line cut through the wood with bits of sawdust lying on the ground. It is a hacking type of motion that gets the job done but isn’t always pretty. Maybe you can relate.

Now that we’ve agreed on the axe metaphor, it’s important to realize exactly how important its renewal is. One of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous quotes is “If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.” His equation looks to spend two thirds of the time on the preparation for the task. Humans are not robots (yet haha). We require more than menial tasks to keep us engaged. The repetitious nature of the present situation calls for even more sharpening. We are hacking away at a life that does not look anything like what we’ve encountered before. It is mundane and separate. Also it carries with it a longevity that we cannot predict. Getting back to normal is what we all desire but we can’t know when that will happen, no one does. So it is more important than ever to sharpen.

Since each of us is our own person (axe), we each have distinct ways that we renew. A good book, a game on the TV, a walk, a run, meditation, or a myriad of other activities can help to elevate a person’s ability to perform at their highest levels. The thing that you need to know is what actually feeds you. There is a difference between leisure activities and renewal. Some people can sit in front of a TV for an hour and all it makes them want to do is watch more TV. Others it is respite that energizes. Often that comes down to the focus of the programming.

That is the point exactly. Where do you personally need to put your eyes, ears and maybe soul/heart for a while in order to come back refreshed? This is a personal thing that only you can know for sure. Other people may find banging their head to heavy metal music to be draining but if it gives you a boost, then bang away! Have these in your back pocket and available at any time. You’ll need some for a quick sharpen to get through the day and other longer ones that put a razor’s edge to you. Know what they are and use them when needed.

There is a reason why dull is a word that is used to describe people at times. Those are people who have not learned what it is that they need to do to keep themselves sharp. It’s your life, it’s your axe. Keep yourself sharp because life is going to hack at you for the next few months (maybe a year). Be ready to hack back!

Timber!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

WTFN!?!?

Although I’m able to understand text speech, I still tend not to use it very often. Since it is my fourth language, I just don’t feel comfortable with it. I was also raised in the 80s. So periods, commas, etc. were sold as important and old habits are difficult to break when you don’t really want to. Despite some similarities, I’m not Phil Dunphy. I know what the usuals mean. However, I do enjoy making up my own from time to time. WTFN?

The power of text speech is expedience but it can come off softer than the words themselves. In this particular case, I believe that brevity is everything. The message needs to get ingrained in your brain before it has time to formulate excuses, alibis, or arguments. Time is not your friend when it comes to action. The longer that you delay on goals, desires and dreams. The less likely it is that you’ll start. So now that I’ve built this up with too much explanation. Think of something that you want to do. Then ask yourself “WHY THE F%$# NOT!?!?”

Why not you? Why not now? Why not here? Usually the answers are just BS excuses that you’ve built up over the years. Their major purpose is to protect you. Protect you from the possibility of failure while also hiding the possibility of success. Those two go hand in hand. You cannot separate them. Am I suggesting that you completely throw caution to the wind? HELL NO! Forty-five years old is a bad time to start your NBA career. You’ll know the difference inside when your heart leaps and your head only half reacts.

So put it into regular use when a friend asks you to do something. WTFN? That way it’s on the tip of your tongue or thumbs when an opportunity comes your way. WTFN!?!? Give that thing a go because you’re more likely to regret not acting than you are the failure.

Give it a go! WTFN?

Pete

Blogpost, posh

POSH Take Home Form on the Road

London Road has largely been a “fortress” since the return of Darren Ferguson. This is not particularly surprising considering his successful teams tend to lean heavily on their home form. This season is different than any other that these players or this manager have ever encountered. So, it may be the perfect time to buck the trend of away fixture results being in question. It’s time to take the home form “on the road.”

The home team advantage in normal seasons is far more pronounced. Crowd noise and atmosphere tend to be the major contributors to “unnerving” players on away days. Long bus (coach) trips and unfamiliar surroundings are a few of the other factors that add to the worries of the visiting team. The comfort of home is usually a combination of variables despite the fact that the crowd tends to get the focus. Parking, changing room, food, etc. can all influence the comfort level of players at home and cause worry in those away. Most of these subtle changes in the lead up to the game should be relatively inconsequential. However, they tend to stack up and cause anxiety that doesn’t exist when in familiar surroundings.

So far this season, Ferguson has done well with switching the mentality of the players in necessary ways. The first half lull has been replaced with energy and intent. The balance of certainty vs. uncertainty about places in the team also seems to have been sorted. The next hurdle is the away fixture mentality. London Road is a “fortress” and that is spectacular. The advantage is obviously not the crowd or the pitch. It is the mentality that the players bring to that empty stadium with a dodgy pitch (for the moment). Their comfort levels are higher at home that difference doesn’t need to be so pronounced. I’d love to follow the team around for a few matches in order to do a study on the differences in approach to away days. However without that ability, here’s a few simple ideas. Remember there are two things you should never worry about: things that you can control and things you can’t. Things that you can control shouldn’t get your worry/anxiety because you can control them, do something about it. While the things that you can’t control shouldn’t be worried about because you can’t control them. It’s wasted energy.

The players need to “compress the penalty area” which is my personal way of saying reduce anxiety. There are plenty of ways to do this but regarding an away fixture here are a few suggestions.

  • Cold shower! – Now I am a huge proponent of cold showers in general. It’s a part of my daily routine and many people think that’s crazy. However it has a grounding effect that I can’t fully explain. I’ve been taking 45 second – 2 minute cold shower (after hot for cleaning) for about 2 years now. It works almost like a physical mental reset button. For someone who doesn’t do this regularly, it could be a priming mechanism to add to a pregame ritual. It will engage the “fight, flight or freeze (haha)” instinct. Being able to stay calm through that experience trains the body to go to that state less readily. Anxiety is a state of being. Some people train themselves to get to that state easily. Others train their way out. (physiology)
  • The Island – The game is played between the lines, not in the stands. Think of the field as an island. At the moment, there are no fans to contend with. So the building that surrounds the pitch should not matter much at all. The pitch itself is a factor but even our own is in shambles at the moment. Our players have the ability to move past that issue. Now is the time to develop an absolute focus on only the things that happen on “The Island.” By developing that island based focus, it removes the crowd and the opposing manager as obstacles. They do not need to matter if you don’t let them. It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words. The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.” While I am not a Buddhist, there is wisdom to be taken here. The opposing crowd is going to dislike you based on your jersey. Don’t allow their expected vitriol to become a burden that you carry. If it feeds you, great! Use it! If not, leave it. You’ve tuned out your teacher, father, mother, girlfriend, etc. before. It just takes practice and an indifference toward the message. (focus)
I had this hanging on my wall as a teen with the caption “The definition of hell” under it. However it’s a good representation of a game on an island.
  • Phone a Friend! – The voice of the manager may not always be a supportive one and sometimes the worst voice to hear is your own inside of your head. It’s probably not possible nor practical to phone someone during the pregame or the game itself. However it is possible to have that message prerecorded on your phone or available inside your head. Choose the voice of someone who supports and believes in you almost unconditionally. Have their words of encouragement playing in your ear before the game or during. There is a reason why knights would “dedicate” their battles to ladies. Fighting for something more than ourselves adds another level of importance to the moment. (Internal Dialogue)

These are far from the only options for changing away form. The match does not start at the first whistle, nor is it only played in the stadium. A variety of forces contribute to the result of each match. The key is to take control of as many of those forces as possible. Flip obstacles upside down and use them as stepping stones in order to climb to higher heights. The same humans are playing regardless of the geographical location. Don’t let something that should be incidental stand between you and that which you want most. No one can take away your ability to play at your best without your consent. Don’t stand in your own way and don’t let anyone else either!

Up the POSH!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Just Say It!

One of the more embarrassing moments that I had in high school was during my sophomore year. I did not possess anywhere near the self-confidence that I have today. There was a girl in my grade that I was interested in. I was walking down the hall during class time and serendipitously she was getting things out of her locker. It was just she and I in the hallway. NO ONE ELSE. The moment was perfect for me to strike up a minor conversation. Ask her about homework. Compliment her backpack. Say hello. Any one of those options would have been completely reasonable and probably effective. What did I choose to do? I ran into her with my shoulder as I walked by. We were the only two people in the hall! This was well before everyone had a cellphone, so I was not distracted by technology. I was just an unconfident boy who didn’t know how to get my message across. So I did something that made no sense other than it protected me from telling the truth out-loud.

High School Soccer from Senior Year
It may look foolish now but at the time, we LOVED these jerseys!

These types of situations happen everyday. The question is not whether you’ll have opportunities to act on the things that you want in this world. You absolutely will! More than anything, the question is whether you will succumb to the fear that surrounds that opportunity or will you act? I’ve not done a statistical analysis but anecdotally I can confidently say that I rarely regret acting fully rather than hiding regardless of the result.

Regret is the leftover debris from a losing battle with fear. Sometimes that debris is easy to sweep away because another moment comes to replace it. Other times that regret lasts a lifetime. Being true to yourself and putting efforts out into the world honestly is rarely a mistake in my experience. When we hedge to protect the little coward inside, we actually only make him feel smaller. Not because anything has really happened to us in the real world. It is because in that internal world we live a half life that is strewn with failures and successes but none of them truly happened. So we don’t get to know the truth about what was possible, if we had just given it a shot! Life is meant to be lived. Not dreamt about.

So let me be clear here! This is a call to action for you to push your best self in the direction of the things that you want. Not to be an a$$hole just because you’re being “authentic.” Consider the people around you. Whatever that thing is that is calling you, you may need help or you’ll want to share it or at least have people around to enjoy the time with. The real world does not revolve around you like the internal world does but you need to jump on the train before it passes you by. The opportunities are there. You just need to take them!

Go get ’em!

Pete

P.S. – Just in case you’re wondering, the situation from above is an embarrassing moment, not a major regret on the relationship side. We both ended up where we needed to be.

Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

Compress The Penalty Area: Anxiety at Both Ends

Whether you’re Christian Pulisic breaking through the lines at Stamford Bridge to score or a U9 goalkeeper defending a corner, the penalty area or 18 yard box can be a place of high anxiety. That’s why the best strikers are worth their weight in gold at the highest levels and goalkeepers who are consistently good play until they’re almost 40 years old. Proximity to the thing that you want or that which you want to defend raises the stakes of the moment. The people who cope with that pressure well are considered special or talented. The truth is that like almost anything else it is a skill that can be trained. Also, the players who cope well have just compressed the penalty area.

A few weeks back I blogged about the relationship between the lines on the field and daily life. There’s also a video but more people read than watched. I guess I need to hire an actor or an editor. Regardless of my video issues, the 18 yard box at each end represents anxiety. At the defensive end, the anxiety linked to something that is going to hurt your self-esteem. It could be anything from fretting about a poor grade on a test, denial of college admission, the negative opinion of a boss or a multitude of other situations that might cause a dip in your self-esteem. Recognize, this isn’t the thing actually happening. It is just the anticipation of it. At the other end it is a similar situation. The 18 yard box represents anxiety around something that you want, a goal of some importance. Again the examples are numerous but a few might be college acceptance, a date with a special someone, a promotion and the list goes on. Notice at both ends, the goal represents the actual event happening. The box just represents the anxiety around it. So I suggest that you compress the box.

The idea that I’m suggesting is that you develop that same skill that world class strikers and keepers have mastered: being calm under pressure. This is not easy!!!! However it is also not impossible. Each of us have a different sized penalty area of anxiety. For some it is the tradition 18 yards. For others, it reaches all the way to the center circle (read about it) or beyond. The people who are best at dealing with their anxiety compress it down to 6 yards or less. How? Like any other time when dealing with emotions, I go back to the triad.

  1. Physiology – The way that you use your body is going to influence how you feel immensely. Breathing is a great place to start. Building a breath practice into your day can be a game changer. Habitual movement patterns are another place where huge changes can be made. Your body sends signals to your brain and vice versa. It is possible to move yourself in and out of emotions. If you’re feeling anxious, how are you using your body? You can train “calm states” into your brain by doing particular movements. It just takes practice. Don’t expect it to just happen.
  2. Focus – The things that you focus on become your reality. In this particular case, I suggest trading anxiety for excitement. It’s not a huge step. Each emotion has the same basic component pieces of anticipation, desire, uncertainty, etc. but excitement drops the negative connotation around the possibilities. I can hear you now, “That’s great when going to goal (a positive) but what about when I’m anxious about something bad about to happen.” Excitement can still work because just like the field, being under life pressure allows for acres of space to move forward after the crisis. Once this attack has subsided, the event will have happened or not. At that point, you can move forward with renewed possibility. There is also value in reframing the situation. It is more than likely that you are not going to die from this situation. So actually deal with the worst case scenario mentally. If this bad thing happened, how could you get past it with letting it damage your self-esteem?
  3. Inner Dialogue – The words that we say to ourselves inside of our own head are extremely important. I just finished Trevor Moawad’s book “It Takes What It Takes” and his points about neutral thinking could be game changing for many people. However one of the key things that he talks about is not saying negative things out loud. Although I suggest working on your focus, everyone has messed up thoughts from time to time. It is crucial that you don’t say those things out loud because saying it amplifies the message to your brain by 7 to 10 times. Keep those negative thoughts out of your mouth!

None of these things are easy but they can be practiced and therefore improved. Compress your penalty area as small as you can. That way no matter what comes at you, the ability to stay calm will be at your fingertips. The astronauts who are thrust into space go through all kinds of training on keeping their wits about them in pressure situations. Their lives truly do depend on keeping an even keel. Most likely you’re dealing with something that you’ve seen in the past and you can handle it!

Make it great people!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

A Fat Coach Is A Bad Coach?

It was proposed as a thought experiment at a coaching course that I attended. The coaches in attendance were asked to imagine that another coach at their club show up to every practice smoking a cigarette. What should be done? The answers ranged from removing the coach completely to a discussion about appropriate behavior. Then the coaches were asked to consider what actions should be taken if a coach is overweight. The prompt was used to spark debate among the participants. I was reminded of this last night when one of my favorite pundits mentioned on Twitter that it bothers him when professional managers are unfit. He got a large number of negative comments and I think deleted the tweet. My intent is not to start a huge debate nor to get lambasted on Twitter. More than anything, I’m looking to unpack this idea with a bit more than 140 characters (or however many it is now).

A coach’s job is to influence her/his players regardless of the level. Whenever thinking about the subject, I always consider Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence.” It breaks people’s ability to persuade into six principles: Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, Authority, Liking, and Scarcity. Although it is not the end all be all to influence, it creates a simple model for dissecting people’s ability to persuade.

Taking the discussion back to coaches, making a blanket statement about any one characteristic being bad or good is probably inaccurate. The question becomes whether or not the coach is able to achieve desired outcomes with her/his players. In the professional ranks, the desired result is more victories than defeats. At the youth level it could be a variety of things: skill development, character building, physical fitness, or a variety of other possible outcomes.

The professional coach is the easier discussion. Does it matter if a professional coach is overweight? Probably not. As long as she/he is performing at a level commensurate with the desires of the club management, then it isn’t all that relevant. Players who are at or near their athletic peak will not particularly be looking to their coach to be a physical role model. It may help or hinder their ability to influence their players in specific area around diet and fitness. However other authorities can be brought in to handle that aspect. It’s the wielding of the other principles of influence in other areas that determine the worth of a professional coach.

The discussion of a youth coach brings in a multitude of variables that muddy the waters. Youth coaches can be role models to their players on a variety levels. Their appearance is a form of social proof. A message that is subliminally received is “at a certain point in adulthood, exercise/fitness is not as much of a priority.” The amount to which that aspect will influence is unknowable considering all of the other influences in children’s lives. Our fast food culture is much more complicit in that area than any one individual. Hopefully an overweight coach is delivering in a variety of other ways that influence the players in a positive manner. Reducing a coach down to one characteristic is not a fair estimation of their overall value. So a fat coach does not make a bad coach. Nor does a slender coach make a good one.

The final bit of consideration that I would offer here is a revisit to the 6 principles of influence. Although I believe that people can be over weight and be a good coach, I’m overweight at the moment and I’ll leave the other part up to my players. The idea I’d like to visit is, can any of us be the best coach that we can be while carrying around that extra bit of ourselves? We ask our players regularly to give their best to the team but do we respond in kind?

Reciprocity – Is it possible to give back to our young players the energy, enthusiasm and effort that they put in?

Consistency/Commitment – Are we staying consistent with the values that we profess to our teams about the importance of fitness and commitment to the team? Perhaps a team looks a lot more like a family.

Social proof – Are we adding to an already broken cultural model of what adulthood looks like?

Authority – Are we harkening back to a “do as I say, not as I do” ethos of leadership? Because if we know what’s best, then why aren’t we doing better?

Liking – Do we like ourselves enough to have people emulate us? It’s an interesting question.

Scarcity – There is a shelf life on this existence that we have. Should the message be that we are trying to conserve the precious resource of time through better decisions or toss it with all of the other disposable things in this world?

All of these questions have personal answers. Blanket statements rarely work. The only thing that I’m sure a coach should never be is abusive. Beyond that, the shades of grey are infinite. Each of us must look ourselves in the mirror and also imagine the view of us from the people that we coach. If you like what you see, carry on. If not, then change. No one is going to force it on you because they have their own baggage. As a coach, you are intended to be a leader. The most important person for all of us to lead is ourselves!

Team on 7! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, TEAM!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Attendance Will Be Taken

I showed up on Senior Skip Day! That is probably the most pathetic thing that I’ve ever admitted in my blogposts. It’s pathetic for two reasons that I can think of. 1. Because of the fact that I went. 2. Because no one cares. There’s no moral judgment placed on the kids who don’t go. The valedictorian didn’t even show up if I remember correctly. It was the kids who had too many unexcused absences, the kids who got 100% attendance every year and me. Another sad fact is that I wasn’t one of 100% attendance kids. I would take days off from time to time, just not that day.

The 100% attendance kids were a bit of a mystery to me. I was never quite sure if their parents made them come everyday, they got some kind of prize, or they valued their education that much. Although I’m not going to ask you to follow directly in their footsteps, I am going to suggest that you have a stellar attendance record.

Your goals require a stellar attendance record. Every goal is going to have its own schedule. Some goals might be oncer per week. Others may be every day. Regardless of the schedule, there are going to be days when you don’t want to show up. Most likely those are the days that you need to show up the more than any other. We all desire comfort, a rest or a day off. The problem is that once those desires are exercised, they grow stronger.

If you wait for motivation, you’ll get very little done in this world. Motivation is neither a consistent state of being nor is it a power that is bestowed by God upon a select group. Those people who seem as if they are extremely motivated, just have better established habits. “First you make a habit, then the habit makes you.” Stolen from Trevor Moawad. So what do I have to do to make a habit? ACT!!! Don’t wait for motivation, until you feel like or someone tells you that you have to. Once you act, your mind will catch up to your body and send a message about why you are doing that thing. If you act consistently enough, eventually your mind will get ahead of your body and start calling on you to do that thing.

Just like me, it’s possible that you’re the only one who will remember that you showed up. There won’t be a gold star put next to your name. You’ll just be a step, an inch or a millimeter closer to that thing that you want. That stellar attendance record will eventually start paying dividends. The sooner you start, the farther that you’ll be along the path in a week, a month, or a year. So ACT NOW!!! No one else is checking to see if you show up. Therefore, you have to!

Bueller! Bueller!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Are You Hot Water This Week?

NO! The word “in” is not missing from the title. It is exactly as it should be and you need decide right now, if you’re only going to be HOT water this week. Hot water is useful but it is a few necessary degrees short of boiling. I’m not the first person to use this analogy. Boiling water happens at either 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees celsius. Anything less than that is just hot water. Boiling water gives off steam which has powered locomotive engines in the past. It is a separation point between ordinary and extraordinary. That little bit extra, one degree even can make the difference.

Water has no choice! If it is put into the right environment, it will comply to the demands of heat that is put beneath it. Humans are quite different. We have to give ourselves permission to boil most of the time. Each of us have a set of criteria that will create that extraordinary behavior. It is most likely different for the varied areas of your life. Regardless, let’s revert back to the original question. Are you just hot water this week?

The time to decide is now. If you wait until the moment, there is a good chance that you’ll come up short. You’ll be missing some key ingredient that will give you those all important final degrees. Set yourself up to boil now! You know who you are and what you need to succeed in almost any area of your life. Draw up a plan and then put it into motion. Have the mental, physical and emotional components of extraordinary action put into place. That way when the moment comes, you’ll be ready to boil!

Fire it up!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Short But Not So Sweet

There are many things in our lives that we wish were true. Many that we hope are true. The others that we know are true. The other side also exists of things that we want to not be true. Let’s cut out the wishing, hoping and wanting for just a moment and get to what’s true true.

You are a contributor to 100% of your successes and 100% of your failures. No one else can claim that much influence on your life. You are an accomplice in everything that has happened to you. That trend is going to continue until the day that you die. At a certain point then the realization needs to be made that any complaints that you have about where you are, should be laid directly at your own doorstep. So if you like where you are, GREAT! Pat yourself on the back. If you don’t, then you need to change you because no one else has the amount of influence that you do. Get to it. Today! You can’t turn this ship around on a dime but you can do it!

You’re up!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

You Have NO Choices, IF…

It was one of my favorite films from the 90s. Then Russell Crowe released a movie with the same name in 2000 and almost no one remembers “Gladiator” the boxing movie. The movie is set on the rough streets of Chicago where an underground boxing kingpin rules the lives and futures of several teenagers. Most of the kids in this movie have to deal with some real life problems. (Spoiler alert) Toward the end, the main character, Tommy, is put into a no win situation where he either fights his best friend who has a possible brain injury or his girlfriend is going to be hurt by the thugs of the boss. High drama! A young Cuba Gooding Jr. delivers a strong performance where he tells his friend Tommy that he’s got “no choice” but to fight despite his injury.

The movie is obviously taken to an extreme in order to make for a good story. Everyone’s personal conflicts come together on a collision course because that’s how it was written. Our own lives tend not to be as extreme nor lacking in choices. It seems as though we are making choices all of the time because we are bombarded by variety. The truth of the matter is that if you are making a lot of choices, it means that you have very few commitments. In order to get high level results, you need to take a lot of choices off the menu.

Fitness, academia, career, marriage, athletics, and so many other commitments demand that the number of choices that you have go down. The higher level of these outcomes that you want, the more that the situation requires specific actions rather than any action. So choices reduce down to “what needs to be done.”

I hope that this does not come off as preachy because I am actually writing this post to myself more than anyone. The desire to “do what I choose” in a few particular areas has led me to dislike the results. The truth is that my desire for choice has undermined my results and put into question my commitment. Although I am not getting the results that I want, those old choice patterns has lulled me into a sense of comfort. The fear of giving up the things that I want right now is winning the battle against the desire for the things that I want in the future. At some point, it comes down to a commitment to the end product and therefore the path become extremely clear. The choices just disappear because the laser like focus allows for very little wiggle room.

Decide what’s important. Then don’t choose because it should be obvious what you need to do next!

I’m talking to me but hope it helps you too!

Pete