Blogpost, self-reliance

The Caboose of Your Choices

At one point in history, the caboose was a standard part of a train. It served many functions. It was used as lookout point for identifying issues with the cars being towed by the engine. The caboose was also where the crew of the train tended to live. As train technology improved, the caboose was deemed unnecessary and discarded. Although technology made the actual caboose irrelevant, it is possible that it makes our life caboose much more relevant. Allow me to explain.

If you picture your life as a train heading down a track, there are splits in the track everywhere. From moment to moment, you are presented with choices of which direction to go. Some choices you labor over as you see them approach. Others you’ve made so often, you don’t even view them as choices anymore. You just staying on that track. All of those decision are made at the front end based on what you, the engineer, see coming up. In a modern context, things come up fast because the world is moving at an alarming pace. So it is no wonder that as we are moving forward we forget that we live in the caboose.

We forget the fact that when things slow down and the place where we live catches up, those momentary choices may have us in a really bad spot. The choices, that only took an instant, deteriorate as soon as the engine passes by and leave the caboose living in a desert of poor consequences. It’s easy to beat yourself up when the caboose comes along but you need to get the message up to the engine “Remember we’re back here!” I say ‘we’ because there are so many parts of your life living in the caboose: health, relationships, finances, self esteem, etc. So what do you do?

  • Make a plan – decide where it is that you want your caboose to end up and spend most of its days, WRITE IT DOWN!
  • Follow the routes – someone else has done this thing before, follow their procedure
  • Keep that plan in mind – keep the plan somewhere that you will see it often, build habits into your life that perpetuate the plan
  • Stay on track – (pun intended) you know you better than anyone, build processes into your life or take things out that make it more likely that you’ll reach your destination

It’s easy to look at the world and say “there are no tracks”. So you feel like you’re at the mercy of the world. You’re absolutely right! There are no tracks if you don’t lay any but as I said at the beginning, there are some decisions in your life that ceased to be decisions a long time ago. In the future, you want those new habits to be the things that you don’t consider anymore.

This entire post sprung out of a thought that I had while listening to an Impact Theory interview with Trevor Moawad. The interview is amazing and I loved so many parts of it that I’ve listened to it at least ten times already. However I disagreed with his statement about choice being an illusion. I believe that we have the ability to choose but those choices get followed up by a full train that endure the consequences.

STAY ON TRACK PEOPLE!

Pete

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5 Ways to Win at the United Soccer Coaches Convention

It’s that time of year again where I make my trip to whatever city is hosting the United Soccer Coaches (former NSCAA) Convention.  It is great to spend 4-5 days talking, thinking and learning about soccer.  If this is your first time or you’ve never gone, here are some ideas on how to get the most out of the Convention.

  1. Decide – There’s more than enough going on at the Convention for just about any soccer coach/fan.  Deciding what it is that you want to get out of the Convention will get you much closer to achieving that goal.  It’s fine to spend some time wandering around the exhibit hall but it shouldn’t be your only activity.  Decide on some presenter that you want to see, Bill Beswick is one of my favorites.  Decide on the concepts that would really help your team, club or players.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be a paratrooper – This is my term for showing up to a session and deciding quickly that that topic, presenter or material is not what you were looking for.  Don’t be afraid to move on to another session.  There’s more than enough going on that you can have two or even three worthy sessions in each time slot.  So plan ahead.
  3. Engage – There are thousands of people here with the same passion as you.  The possibility for common ground is immense.  Although it may be more comfortable to only talk to the people that you came with, you’ll probably find that engaging with new people creates new possibilities.  This does not mean stalk Thierry Henry to pick his brain about how to fix your U9 girls team’s finishing problem.  There are more than enough people here who would be eager to talk to you about it though.  So step out of your shell.
  4. Get out of your lane – There are so many facets to this sport on display over the next few days.  Sticking to your own area is a great way to leave with the exact knowledge that you had upon your arrival.  Make a concerted effort to learn about something outside of your personal “wheel house”.  I once attended a panel discussion on club finances.  It gave me an insight into the work that my club’s treasurer was doing and helped us to prepare for some future financial concerns.
  5. Show up – Over the years, I’ve convinced several friends and colleagues to go to their first Convention.  Almost all of them are now yearly attendees.  There are many people in the soccer community that were disappointed by the qualification failure of the USMNT.  That problem will not be solved at this Convention.  However the solutions to American soccer problems will come from many of the people and ideas that are here.  As I hope that we’re beginning to see in many areas of life, a better tomorrow is not dependent upon the chosen few at the top.  It is incumbent on all of us who care to show up early and often to help get things right.

Baltimore is one of my favorite cities! The Convention Center is in the Inner Harbor area which has a lot of great restaurants. If you feel like getting out of the area where all of the soccer people are, you can head over to Fell’s Point or Canton. Those areas have slightly more local feel. Looney’s is my personal favorite. I go there for the crab melt! Enjoy the Convention!

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Success Is The Distance…

For years I’ve been saying it to my teams, “Winning is not always success and losing is not always failure!” Now this sticks right in the craw of many people who want to put trophies on mantles and points on the board. The problem is that this one metric doesn’t tell the entire story. It’s just the most obvious thing that people measure. It’s also the reason that I REALLY REALLY dislike Manchester City in the English Premier League. We need to dig a little deeper to uncover the metrics by which true success can be measured.

My statement about success and failure is usually followed up by a thought exercise. I’ll ask my high school players, “If we played Arsenal and lost 1-0, were we successful?” The answer is always a resounding “YES!” Then I ask, “If we were to play against a U8 team and won 1-0, were we successful?” The answer is always a resounding “NO!” “Could we even characterize that as a ‘failure’?” Again the answer is always unanimous, “YES!” So if a loss can be success and a victory can be failure, how do we truly measure these contradictory outcomes that are so integral to how we feel about ourselves? It is simple but not easy.

Success is the distance between someone’s resources and their results. Many of the components may be subjective but we have the exemplars written in the fabric of our culture. It is no wonder that Rocky continues to be a classic after all of these years. That movie personifies this idea about success. Rocky has almost none of the resources but uses what he has to get unexpected results. Conversely Apollo has all of the resources and barely gets the minimum expected. These may be fictitious characters but these stories play out in the real world everyday. Possibly even in your own life.

Now that you have a definition for success. Take it, use it, run with it. Measure yourself against it. Are you really succeeding or are you beating up on the U8 team because it’s easy? With the resources that you have at your disposal, are you living above or below that line? Recognition is the first step to moving in a new direction. Then put on the gloves and start swinging.

Fight the good fight people!

Pete

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It’s All Bull$#%t Until It’s Not

A good friend of mine had a great night tonight. He is a high school basketball coach in Iowa and they won their first game of the season. The victory is more impressive because they did not win a single game last season. As I’ve known this man for many years, I know that he has been selling an idea to his team for months. The idea that they are better than their record from last year. I am sure that he has been trying to convince his players that they could win. While I like to believe that everyone is as optimistic as I am, there were probably a few of his players that believed he was full of it. The truth is that he was, up until tonight.

Magellan, Galileo, Tesla, the Wright Brothers and yes! John Windham were all kidding themselves at one point. At least that is what the people around them tend to believe. The reason is that it is easier to be pessimistic. It takes almost no effort at all to see the obstacles. The struggle of believing is just too hard for many people to bear. We’ve become enamored with the ideas of predictability and consistency. As we go through our lives, the monkey wrenches that get thrown into the gears of our perfectly planned days cause major upsets and anxiety. Everything is supposed to work like Starbucks where things are predictable but make you feel special at the same time. Believing something into existence is just too much work! What if I fail!?!?!? What if I’m full of it?!?!?! You will and you are. The people above were all branded fools up until and often beyond their successes.

If it’s all bull$#%t until it’s not, then what are you willing to be mocked for? The pessimists are always going to be there, no matter what. So the key is believing in something more than you care about what people will say. Time and tenacity are all it takes to change the impossible to the possible. Now is your time!

Pete

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No One Is Waiting For You To Be Great

This thought hit me the other night as I was watching “A Few Good Men”. Tom Cruise’s character is a lawyer who everyone expects to take the easy route. He has a reputation for plea bargains and that’s what they expect him to do this time around. No one is waiting for him to do anything great.

Our lives are made up of moments and they stack upon one another. We get used to our particular level of performance. Whether your best is better or worse than someone else’s is largely irrelevant. People expect that you are going to show up like you. When you fall short of your normal level, the people who care about you might worry. Your enemies may chuckle but most people are too self-interested to even notice.

The thing that no one is waiting for is for you to be great. It will make your friends uncomfortable because if you do something great, then they feel inadequate. Your enemies want you to fail, not succeed and the general bystander needs more mediocrity or ineptitude from others to make them feel better about themselves. So under no circumstances is anyone waiting for you to do something great.

HighJump.jpg

So it all boils down to you and what you want for yourself. The moments of your life belong to you. There will be peaks and valleys for each of us. The question becomes what level do you want to be your average? Who do you expect to show up every day when you look in the mirror? If no one else is waiting for you to be great, will you demand that of yourself? Or will you live up to the expectations that people have for you at the moment? These are questions that only you can answer. Regardless of whether you do so consciously or not, your actions will tell the story. So what are you waiting for? Make today happen and if at all possible, make it great!

Pete

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Building Confidence: Exchange FEAR for MIRE

Recently I was asked by a young player to give some thoughts on building confidence on the field. Although the request was made with a very specific goal in mind, building confidence is possible for anyone. The component pieces are the same regardless of the specific pursuit.

The first step is to focus on skill acquisition. Competence leads to confidence. This should be an obvious step but it is overlooked by many. People generally do not want to take the time to become good at something. They want to believe in themselves before they have any reasons to support that belief. Take the time to develop the necessary skills. Do the work when no one is watching.

As the physical skills are building, it is also important to build a mental framework. The opposite of confidence is fear. Fear as an acronym is False Evidence that Appears Real. The reason why most people are not confident is that they have the pictures of all of the ways that it could go wrong in their heads. Combating these images takes deliberate practice. In order to get to the point where you can admire your own abilities, you must have Mental Images Rehearsed Everyday. It is important to see what you want in your mind’s eye before it happens. Before things happen in the external world, they have to happen in your internal world.

Finally there is a component of faith to any endeavor. A belief that things are going to work out. With this faith there is a certain amount of emotional equilibrium that one must possess. The ability to see setbacks and obstacles as part of the process is crucial. Ultimately humans lead with belief and the willingness to leap out into the void at some point is necessary.

The most confident people did not develop that ability in a day. Nor is it a super power that is kept from us mere mortals. It is simply a process like so many others. Follow the steps to get similar results. Unfortunately it is easier to succumb to fear than to take action. However even the most difficult things can become a habit if they are practiced enough.

So go out there today and face your fears. Build your skills and become confident based on your new abilities. Nothing is so big that it can’t be broken down into bite sized pieces. Be careful because if you picture it, you just might do it!

Go forth with confidence!

Pete

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The Viral Life Expectancy Has Gone Viral

It was the latest thing! The internet was on fire with different videos. Everyone from celebrities to little kids were taking part in this craze. For about two weeks, I saw it go through the entire life cycle. The birth, life and death all happened in such a short period of time that it was impossible to miss it. It didn’t last long enough for anyone to care that it was gone. Of course I’m talking about the “Harlem Shake”. If you had something else in mind, that’s not a problem because I could have gone with other examples. Flappy bird, dabbing, fidget spinners, bottle flipping, etc. Each had their own amount of time in the spotlight but none lasted too long. Fads are not new and by no means am I suggesting that they should go away. My fear is that everything has become a fad.

As a child in the 80’s, I saw the rise and fall of so many fads I could “gag myself with a spoon!” I had Bugle Boy Jeans a year after they were cool. My mullet was never quite right and convincing my mother to buy jeans that already had rips in them was unthinkable. Even though I didn’t fully partake in any of these fads, I was influenced by the culture around me enough to notice what was “in”. As I said previously, it’s not that fads are new. Each of the fads that came and went through my childhood stuck around long enough to be remembered. None were life altering but they usually hung around long enough to get associated with a year or part of life. The life expectancy of a fad was long enough to make it memorable and possibly meaningful.

In the age of the internet, the viral nature of media has caused fads to appear out of nowhere. They disappear almost as quickly. Very few cultural phenomena have the “staying power” to hang on for a year. Often the life of a fad is measured in weeks. While this isn’t a problem on its own, let’s face it, the Harlem Shake didn’t deserve much more of our time. The issue is the cultural impact on our perception of life expectancy. People have become accustomed to the idea of things disappearing quickly. So things that matter or require time to develop and flourish get swept aside because they don’t peak early enough or burn slower than people’s comfort level.

In a world filled with fads that seem like mental candy, have we lost our ability to recognize the things of substance? Are we so accustomed to anticipating the new that we are unable to determine if the thing in front of us deserves the time to develop? Our minds are like muscles in so many ways. I fear that these short spurts of attention are training us for the wrong game. Most of the things that really matter in life are the result of long term thinking. If that long term muscle never gets exercised, it will atrophy. Eventually we will only be equipped to deal with the short term, prepackaged, watered down version of life. While it might be easier, I don’t think it will be more fulfilling. So be aware! Some things, people and situations in your life deserve more than just a passing glance. You need to develop the awareness to recognize them and have the patience muscle to see them through. There will always be another shiny thing laying in the road. Most of it is just trash that you’ll discard. Most of the things of value require some mining!

Play the long game!

Pete

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Room Temperature Butter

There was always a butter dish at my house when I was growing up. It was on the kitchen counter most of the time. A stick of butter on a glass plate intended to hold it with a metal cover. It wasn’t something that you paid much attention to until it was empty. The discovery of the empty butter dish usually happened at the exact moment when there was a piece of toast or a bagel that needed buttering. Refrigerated butter is almost useless at that point. It does more damage than it does to enhance the taste of the chosen item. It spreads unevenly, if at all. Microwaving the stick to soften it was an exercise that always ended in disappointment. That’s why the butter dish being empty was such a crime because room temperature butter is ready for action.

If yo’ve read my blog before, then you know that I’m not talking about butter. I’m talking about you! Not your ability to melt evenly on a waffle but rather you ability to be ready for action. The room temperature butter is exactly that. It exists in that sweet spot where it can be anything for anyone at a moment’s notice. While we’d like to believe that we are room temperature butter, most of us are in the refrigerator or even worse we’ve already melted. In most instances we’ve grown cold to the possibility of anything other than what we had planned for our day. We need to be coerced, convinced and prepared for the things that are coming our way. Otherwise it spikes our anxiety, takes us out of our comfort zone or just plain freaks us out. What would the butter say? Nothing!!! It’s butter! But what do you have to say for yourself?

Each of us has to take responsibility for at least one person in this world. Recognize that the ability to respond to the world around you is important: not the way that you wish it was, not the way that it used to be but the way that it is! Plan, yes! Schedule, yes! Dream, yes! But do not expect that life is going to lob you underhand pitches for you to knock out of the park. It is going to go high and inside on you to put your but in the dirt. So be ready! Be nimble! Be flexible! Be room temperature butter! The events of today are going to happen with or without your consent. Be ready to take whatever it gives you!

Have a great day!

Pete

Just for fun! “I Melt with You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuN6gs0AJls

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You’re the Axle and It’s Your Turn!

The axle is where all of the action happens but it is often overlooked. Depending on the situation, the axle could be relatively small compared to the wheel or even completely hidden from view. Regardless of this fact, the axle is the thing that holds it all together. We are all the axle to our own lives. That central piece from which all other aspects fan outward. Unlike a wheel, the axle of our existence is not bolted to anything in a completely permanent or stable fashion. Our axle existence is moving through something more like cookie dough. Some of the things we encounter get stuck to us and stay for a while but others are deflected in an instant. There are also billions of other axles spinning about in the dough we even bump into some of them.

It’s easy to believe that because the dough is all around that it is actually spinning you. Since our influence is less concrete than we’d like, it’s easy to believe that we have no influence at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just easier to believe than what actually true. Every moment of every single day, you are influencing your world both directly and indirectly. There is a veritable web of spokes that you have put out into the dough. Unfortunately since they are difficult to see, most of us assume that they are not there.

The only way to see them is to act. Recognize in every moment that it is your turn and you need to be present enough to see where your web of influence reaches. Not just “on the Web” but in the world. In the beginning, this can be difficult because beyond the ever present and obvious, it’s all very subtle and not straightforward like we’d prefer. We want everything to be as easy as Amazon with one click overnight delivery available. Most of the world doesn’t work like that and building momentum takes time and effort. These two ingredients are often in short supply because we’ve filled our lives with things that we think really matter. The “busyness” of our lives is often a smoke screen that covers up the things that we truly want.

So as you move through your life, it is crucial that you accept the role as the key structural component. It’s your turn and you have more power and influence than you realize. In the end it will be up to you how you choose to move through this doughy world. Will you be the beater or the beaten? Decide now.

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We’re All Fighting Windmills

This morning I was honored to be able to speak at the memorial service for my former college professor. Most professors are people that you know for a semester or two, then they are out of your life. My relationship with Dr. Knowles spanned twenty-five years. He spoke at my wedding. His mentoring and teaching lasted long after our classes together were done.

If I look back on my life since I met him, I am awestruck by the direct impact that he has had on major decisions, beliefs and mindsets that I have. While I was his student, long conversations about academics, life and everything in between were a constant. One of the great loves of his life was the story of Don Quijote. Regardless the subject, he could find a way to work the Quijote into the conversation. His generosity allowed me to study in Ecuador for a winter semester when I could not afford it. After he retired, my yearly visits to his home in North Carolina became a mental litmus test for me to figure out whether or not I was progressing. He never really gave much input into my personal life. It was the feeling of telling him what I was doing. The sensation that I had as I described my life to someone that I respected was the input that I needed. As distance, children and life made our visits less frequent, we talked on the phone, through email or letters. About a year ago, I got the sense that I did not have much time left with my mentor. So I pushed for us to get together but life got in the way. So I was too late.

After a day of spending time with his family and friends, it was obvious that he had a similar effect on everyone that he touched. This man, who loved the story of a knight who saw the world differently, had helped so many people experience the world differently through his association. On the drive home, it hit me. We are all fighting windmills!

In probably his most famous adventure, Don Quijote sees windmills in the distance. Through his adventure focused mind, he thinks that they are giants flailing their arms. He attacks and gets himself caught in the mill’s sail. In the end he is turned upside down in a heap with his squire explaining the error of his ways to him. The undeterred Quijote tells his squire that a wizard had changed the giants to windmills.

The modern human condition in many parts of the world is all about making giants out of windmills. Once a person has enough food to eat, water to drink and shelter from danger; humans create the scenarios to make their lives meaningful. All that Don Quijote did was take an existence that was extremely normal and turned it into something spectacular because he chose to see the world differently. At a certain point we all make decisions about the world that we live in. It can be a world full of wonderful adventures to be shared with other distinguished people on their own personal quest. Or it can be filled with the mundane elements that seem more and more drab as they continuously repeat through the years.

The question is not whether or not we are fighting windmills. The windmills are all around us waiting to be fought. Almost every task in this world could be characterized as foolish when put in the proper context. So it is not whether we do it, it is how that we do it. We have a choice every day, which windmills will we focus on and how fervently we will fight. I was so extremely fortunate that Dr. Knowles chose to fight the battle of educating young minds with a joy and passion that it was infectious. At all times, the possibility existed that he was going to be ridiculed and branded a fool for his constant belief in the abilities of young people but I’m glad to say that his campaign was a success. A life well lived, finding and fighting windmills that most other people never saw. Don Juan Canoles, you will missed!

With the greatest respect and love,

Pete