Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Leaders Go First; Leaders Eat Last

As we get closer to the beginning of a new school year and (possibly) new soccer season, leadership is a topic that has been on my mind. Leadership is a crucial component to a successful team. The unfortunate thing is that many people see leadership from the outside and make assumptions about it. Or have only ever experienced poor leadership and assume that is what it looks like. I’ve put two contrasting ideas here in order to encapsulate what true leadership is about.

A picture taken directly before going zip-lining. I’m majorly afraid of heights but I went because my kids needed me show them how to face fear head on.

Leaders go first is a statement that I repeat to my players often. It should be obvious because the word leader has the word “lead” in it. Despite this fact, many people miss it. The plain and simple fact is that in order to earn a position of leadership, you need to be willing to go first. A leader doesn’t need to go first all of the time but those in her or his charge need know without a doubt that the leader can/will do everything that they are asked to do. Many people try to lead from their position. This means that they have a position of power, therefore people should follow them. Although it can work out just fine, it has the potential to cause a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality/perception. This can be problematic because people follow people, not positions, at least not for long. Recognizing this fact is important. Eventually the shine of the title will wear off and the people in your charge be left with you. The title makes you accountable. The people under you need you to be responsible meaning “able to respond”. It is the thumbs before fingers ethos. Leaders need to respond without pointing the finger.

Leaders Eat Last is the title of a great book by Simon Sinek. It’s based on a practice in the Marine Corps where higher ranking officer eat after their subordinates. This seems backward and coupled with the first paragraph makes leadership seem like a raw deal. However it makes perfect sense. Leaders eat last because if they have done their job effectively then their subordinates will want to be sure there is food left for them. We’ve gotten far too accustomed to people in leadership positions taking all of the spoils that come with their position regardless of their subordinates. These relationships do not exist in a vacuum. Our hierarchical system allows for leaders to take some of the riches that come in. However when they don’t meet their leadership mandate of looking out for those under them, the system is out of balance and can topple. Simon Sinek’s book does a wonderful job of describing the biochemical system that creates effective leadership. This video gives an overview. Regardless of whether you understand the biochemistry, you need to understand the bookends of the leader.

Leaders live in a dichotomy where they must be both above and below the people that follow them. This is not 100% literal nor is it 100% of the time. The leader needs to model the behavior for those who are following and help protect them when things go sideways. Again this seems like a raw deal. If it is done well though, a leader will reap the benefits of all of that selflessness by having it returned tenfold. Serve your people so well that they want to serve you! Support your people so well that they want to support you! Protect your people so well that they want to protect you!

After all of this talk about leadership, it might be easy to say “I don’t want to be a leader.” Unfortunately, no matter what you are the leader of at least one person: yourself. Now is the time to step forward. Leaders go first, leaders eat last! Be a leader because there are far too many followers.

Go get it!

Pete

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Blogpost

“Winners Never Quit” and Other Lies You’ve Been Told

Quotes like this captivate our imagination because they simplify things to a singular thought. LIFE (and especially your life) is much more nuanced and complicated. Sayings like this are easy to put on posters and Instagram posts but much more difficult to live up to, especially when they are not true. In this case, the truth is that winners quit things all the time. Winners quit making excuses! Winners quit holding low standards for themselves! Winner quit doing unimportant things! Yes! This more nuanced approach is less evident and harder to put on a poster. However it is definitely more powerful. No longer is an average person like you or me under the pressure of “NEVER.”

Abraham Lincoln probably didn’t say this!

“Knowledge is power!” is the next lie that I’d like to unpack. Knowledge is not power. It is is only potential power. Knowledge without action is like gasoline without a flame. It has the potential to make a big explosion but is inert on its own. The person with the knowledge must do something with it in order to extract its power. The equation for power is work over time. No doubt that in the real world, knowledge can reduce the time and the work in order to make that equation more powerful. Knowledge is something but it’s far from the only thing. Many people scour books and the internet for all the knowledge that they can find but their inaction keeps them stagnant.

So as you encounter these sayings, dig a little deeper because under the surface is all of the value. Think it through and make it apply to you. Grandiose is often not practical. We all need tools that we can use, not just sayings that look good next to the picture of a famous person. Life is supposed to be meaningful, not just quotable!

Have a great day!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Tip the Balance

Parents are preprogrammed to be proud of their children. It’s only natural that there should be that bias. At one point or another, we have all listened to a parent gush over their child’s big or small accomplishment. It may be annoying to people on the outside but it makes perfect sense. The scale between pride and disappointment is naturally weighted toward a parent’s pride.

Conversely our own pride and disappointment scale seems to be weighted in the other direction. It is often easier be disappointed in ourselves rather than proud. Since we spend every moment with ourselves and know our every thought and shortcoming, it makes sense that our “pride scale” might be weighted toward disappointment. This doesn’t mean that it’s helpful or the way that it should be. So it is your job to TIP THE BALANCE. This does not mean that you should feel proud of yourself for everything you do. Sometimes disappointment is exactly what the doctor ordered. My suggestion is that you celebrate your successes just a bit more. Allow yourself to get on a roll because the other option is a little scary.

We tend to avoid actions that are associated with negative emotions such as pain, embarrassment or disappointment. Generally speaking to reach even the most modest forms of success, some pain, embarrassment or disappointment is necessary. So avoiding the actions that create negative emotions and having a scale tipped toward them is a recipe for disaster.

Feel free to use this clip as a response to anyone who belittles your accomplishments. Maybe even you!

So celebrate yourself when you do something good. We’ve each got our own level. Getting out of bed and showing up to work on time may be your success for now. Or maybe you’re trying to break the world record for pull-ups and have failed twice. Give yourself a break because most people aren’t even trying that. The internet and social media have plenty of people for you to compare yourself to in order to undermine what we’ve just talked about. F$%& THEM! You’re you! Measure yourself based on your own standards. If you were still 5 years old, your mom would be bragging to everyone about how you stopped wetting the bed. So look at yourself through the most caring eyes that you can imagine. Get out there and start doing things. Some of it will work out and some won’t. Regardless, you have the potential to be one hell of a person. Just give yourself a break if you’re not yet!

I’m proud of you! Go make it happen!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

X Marks the Spot

Pirates! Those scurvy scoundrels that took to the high seas in order to rob other boats in search of treasure. According to movies and stories at least, they took that loot and buried somewhere. While this practice may be largely fictionalized, it makes for an interesting adventure: the treasure hunt. People trying to find another pirate’s treasure or retrace steps to their own. The use of maps, codes and booby traps may have been common place but the likelihood of an X marking the spot is doubtful. Why would you advertise where the treasure is? Their hope would truly be that no one else would be able to find it.

I’d like to give you a clue where all of the treasure that you’re looking for is buried. Even though the traditional pirates are gone, there are still people around who want to steal your treasure. They are looking to take everything that you’ve got and bury it in their own special spot. If you feel like you’ve lost your treasure and do not have a map to find it, then here is the X that you may need.

Everything that you’re looking for is inside of your own head. It is where everything that happens to you is processed. So regardless of whether you have a chest full of gold or not, you are in control of how you feel about that. Many people who have had “riches” felt poor because they did not know how to control that treasure chest between their ears. By comparison some people who seemingly have nothing, have lived a rich life based on their possession of the keys to their own mind.

While this is a simple idea, it may not be easy to access the riches that I’m talking about. Some people have buried their treasure under years of self-doubt, fear, anxiety, recklessness and other impediments which keep that treasure out of reach. So if you want to have all that life has to offer, dig into that place where everything is kept and demand the gold rather than the lead that weighs you down. The externals of your life are usually a reflection of what is going on inside of your own head. Don’t bury that treasure, use it!

Heave ho!

Pete

P.S. – If you liked this blogpost, sign up for my email list and get my book “Fill Your Boots” for free.

Blogpost, self-reliance

When ‘They’ Run Out

We’ve all done it at one time or another. Pointed the finger of blame at someone else. “They” are a convenient target for our disappointment. Not because they particularly do anything wrong but because they’re not us. Whether we were right or wrong to do the pointing is not as important as how often and easily that pointer finger comes out. For many of us, it is out in a flash and ready to go again like Doc Holiday in pistol fight. That quick draw reflex allows for little to no consideration of the common ingredient in every one of our interactions: ourselves.

You are not the center of THE universe but you are the center of YOUR universe. Keeping this in mind is important. At a certain point, the people to blame are either on repeat or they eventually run out. Having them on repeat is dangerous because believe it or not, blaming someone gives them all of the power. Blame puts the responsibility onto the other person and responsibility is everything! As the person at the center of your universe, it’s in your best interest to be able to respond. Sometimes that will be with action but often it will be just a change in perspective.

I’ve give a speech to my players in the past that I call “Victims, Spectators and Players.” Victims have the game happen to them. The ref makes the wrong calls. The coach puts him/her in the wrong position. The weather is too hot to play effectively. They squander away their power to everyone or everything outside of them. Spectators watch what is happening but either cannot or choose not to get fully involved. They wish that they were a player but it might be too hard… they might fail… people might laugh… the pressure might be too much. Players influence the game. They move things forward or defend in times of peril. They either want to be on the ball or supporting their team in some way.

At some point THEY run out: your enemies, your parents, your coaches, your rivals, and so on. When THEY are all gone and you are the only one left to blame, pointing the finger at yourself will be uncomfortable and possibly damaging. At that point, you’ll wish that you’d used your thumb more often. The thumb that points back at you and requires that you take responsibility. Even if it is their fault this time, get in the habit of using your thumb to make yourself a Player in your own life. Otherwise you’ll be majorly disappointed when “THEY” run out.

Have a great day because it’s on you!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Beautiful Betrayal

Son – “You promise that you won’t move?”

Father – “I promise.”

The son jumps into the pool and starts swimming toward his father who has backed up at least one step, maybe two. It is a simple story that has played out millions of times through the years. Here is a different version of the same story.

On December 28th, 2001, my friend, Gary, and I went out like we would on any other Friday night.  We ran into his younger brother, another friend and the friend’s sister.  The sister and I talked for a long time that night.  Although I was very interested in her, I didn’t ask for her number or anything.  The next day, Gary called me and I was told that she was very interested in me and she wanted to do something with the group again for New Year’s Eve.  Later that evening, I called her up in order to make plans for all of us to go out again. When she answered the phone, I said, “Hi, this is Pete.”

She said, “Pete who?” 

That’s when I found out that it was a lie.  My friend had conjured up most of the story just to get me to call her.  She was going to Philadelphia for New Year’s and had no plans to go out with us again.  However she was happy to hear from me and the rest is history.  She is now my wife and we’ve been married for 16 years.

Both the son on the edge of the pool and I were duped by someone we trusted. Honesty may be the best policy in most cases but from time to time, dishonesty is exactly what is needed. Although it was a lie, what Gary told me was more valuable than the truth.  It took away the fear that normally would have paralyzed me into inaction.  The lie made me act.  It made me believe with certainty that I was going to be successful.  It was a placebo of the best kind.  I had taken the drug of self-confidence and it work magic on me.

There are so few things in life that are absolute.  We tend to think of our thoughts as truth. Perhaps the “truths” that you’ve been telling yourself haven’t helped you very much.  The divide between the truth and a lie is often based on perspective.  So consider your perspective often. Rather than looking for the 100% truth, decide to believe the things that serve you. We usually need just a little push in order to get us started. Push yourself by believing the things that get you to act!

Go dive in!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Paper Wall

My daughter is one of the coolest people that I know for a variety of reasons. A particular instance that exemplifies this was when we moved into our last house. She was very particular about the decoration of her room. Above her bed, she wanted the wall to be brick and the skull of an animal (fake of course) painted gold hanging as decoration. Since the house did not have exposed brick in her room and we were not about to have it put in, she was happy to compromise with brick wall paper. It served her purpose quite well because it looked real enough for her and it could be easily changed.

In addition to her ever-changing sense of style, my daughter’s ability to move past obstacles is one of my favorite characteristics of hers. She generally doesn’t see them as obstacles at all. When she wants to learn how to draw better, she simply finds a way through a video, class or some other method. Upon deciding to play hockey, she was not bothered by the extreme learning curve between her and more experienced players. When she needs to buy something, she’ll make an impromptu business selling hot chocolate. It’s one of the ways that I would like to emulate her.

Most people in this world tend to see a series of brick walls between themselves and what they want. Their boss, finances, circumstances, parents, teachers, opponents, challenges, etc. are all standing in their way. While some of these walls may be solid, most of them are paper. They are as substantial as the stuff that we put up on my daughter’s wall. The problem is that we tend to imagine that they’re not. They look like brick! Or better yet, we’re afraid that they are brick, so we don’t even test them. We don’t even inspect them to see if they are anything more than paper. These walls give us the perfect excuse to do nothing. It’s just too risky to try to run through them. If we fail, we’ll feel foolish. Or worse! We might succeed and figure out that we’re more capable than we thought. Then we would have to push ourselves beyond our present expectations and that might be too hard!

This is not a finger wagging session that I’m having with strangers on the internet. As I usually do, I’m talking to myself more than anyone. There are walls in my path and I’m quite sure that they are paper or at best cardboard. They’re just in a different direction than I’m used to running. So I’m scared. Not that I’ll fail but that I’ll succeed. On the other side of these challenges, I may find another version of myself that was always available to me. Then I’ll need to reconcile why I didn’t do this sooner. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, I’ve got a wall to run through and you probably do too! So let’s get to it!

Love you Emily!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Worth Fighting For

It was 2003, I believe. As I was driving north toward Hyannis, Massachusetts, even I was having trouble making sense of what I was doing. Everyone else had bailed out and I had the same exact option. I was supposed to be part of a 4 or 5 person group who were all going to compete in the Hyannis Sprint Triathlon. My girlfriend (now wife) and her friends had made all of the arrangements. I was tagging along for my first triathlon experience. On the day of our departure at the last minute, everyone decided not to go but for some reason I went. Due to all of the uncertainty about the others, I got a late start. After 11pm when I arrived to town, the bed and breakfast where we had reservations was shutdown for the night. So I started scouring the town for a hotel room. The first place that I went had nothing. Luckily the Days Inn had one room left, the “honeymoon suite,” complete with mirrors on the ceiling and a heart-shaped bed. It was not ideal considering I would only be sleeping for about 5 hours but I took it.

Although the race didn’t start until later in the morning, I got to the headquarters around 5:30am because I needed to pick up my race packet and drop off my bike. My first triathlon was off to a bumpy start to say the least. Luckily my registration was done ahead of time and that was the first thing to go off without a hitch. Ill prepared, on my own and completely unsure of the task in front of me; I sat and waited. The swim was by far my weakest event and it is first. Despite being a triathlon newbie, I had received one piece of good advice from a veteran weeks prior, wear a wetsuit. It helps to keep you afloat slightly. Even though I had that slight help, I still swam very slow. Out of nearly 1000 competitors, I was around 800th after the swim (from results after the race, no idea at the time).

My ability on the bike was definitely better than my swimming but my equipment was not. I had borrowed my older brother’s mountain bike for the weekend and although it was functional, it wasn’t set up for speed. Of course I really can’t use that as an excuse because a few miles in, I was passed by an older gentleman on a bike from the 1950’s (I’m guessing). He had no gears or special clipped in shoes and he passed me like I was standing still. Luckily I was also moving up in the pack. I focused on one by one passing the person in front of me. By the end of the bike, I had climbed into the 500s out of 1000.

The run was by far my best event. Having been a track athlete and soccer player, I knew how to pace myself over long distances. However my legs were heaviest during this portion of the race. After about a mile, the weight of my legs was starting to get into my head. What was I doing? No one was here to cheer me on. I was alone. Whether I ran harder or not, that fact was not going to change. Then I started thinking about my girlfriend. Even though I knew she wasn’t there, I became fixated on the thought of her and my legs felt lighter. So I picked up the pace and began catching as many people as I could. Although I knew it really wouldn’t matter one way or another to her, I was able to mask the pain of the moment by associating my performance with her. Much like the knights of the past used to go into battle to win the favor of a lady, I put that emotion into my legs. By the end of the run, I had progressed to the low 300’s.

When I crossed the finish line, I still did it alone but I had a full heart. Although I had entered the race ill prepared and unsure, I walked away from the event feeling more certain. Since I had already paid for a hotel room that I used for about 5 hours, I wolfed down as much post race food as I could. Then I had just enough time to go back to the “honeymoon suite” to take a shower before checking out and going home.

This story is about me but it applies to many more people. There are battles to be waged throughout our lives. Some are simple and fleeting like a triathlon. Others are complex and life altering like cancer. Regardless of which you are engaged in, it’s important to realize that you don’t need to be alone in that fight even when you are alone. People believe in you. They care about you and want you to win. Sometimes that can be hard for them to say. Perhaps they don’t even know that you need to hear it because they just think it’s implied. In a world where we can send and receive messages from around the globe through a device in our pocket, we can forget to send the simplest of messages to the person next to us. Perhaps we need to turn off that “connection” device and get reacquainted with the device inside of our chest. It can also send and receive.

Now more than ever we have the opportunity to connect with those that we love in order to raise each other up. There are things in this world worth fighting for and most of us have more ability than we realize. Sometimes it just takes the right person believing in us to bring it out. Don’t wait around for them to say it though. Just trust that it is out there. No matter how many people are cheering you on, you need to show up first. You’re worth fighting for!

Thanks Beck!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Dollar Store Self-Esteem

It’s everywhere right now and it’s a real problem! I’m speaking from personal experience because I’ve been using this product for years. Dollar Store Self-Esteem! One of the biggest issues with Dollar Store Self-Esteem is that it’s not just sold in Dollar Stores. It’s sold everywhere! You can get it at Gucci, Walmart or even Tiffany’s. You don’t even have to get it at a store. It’s basically everywhere you look. Sometimes you have to pay more but the product is basically the same. It’s a cheap (or expensive) knock-off that tries to act like the real thing but it’s nothing of the sort. If we just look at the label then we can see that we’ve been sold crap but usually we just stick with it because it’s easier. The people who sell it are everywhere too. The ad campaigns are hitting us in the face all the time. It’s gotten to the point where I’m not 100% positive if most people can tell the difference anymore. Now is the time to figure it out!

If you break it down, self-esteem should be a pretty simple concept. It’s confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. Unfortunately many of us (including me) have mangled this definition. Notice that the definition of self-esteem has nothing to do with other people, things or ideas. It is all about the confidence that the individual has in themselves. At the moment, it is so much easier to extract the “self” from the equation. Rather than accomplish something or move toward a personal goal, the order of the day seems to be finding the fault in everyone and everything else in the world. That’s Dollar Store Self-Esteem! It’s nothing more than a sugar coated air bubble. It may feel good for a moment but it’s empty and unsatisfying. No matter how many you eat, it will not sustain you.

So if you notice yourself about to buy another dose of Dollar Store Self-Esteem, STOP! Take a moment and do something that might actually make you feel better about yourself. Rather than attacking that stranger whose opinion is different to yours on Facebook, send a message to someone you love. When you see the latest picture of Karen, Tom, Dick or Harry; acting in a way that you think is abhorrent. Don’t comment, go do something that you’ve been putting off for a long time. It’s not as easy I know and that comment, Tweet or like was probably going to change something (tongue in cheek).

The world is in a pretty messed up place at the moment. If you want to, there are plenty of people and situations that you can blame. More blame isn’t the way out of this situation. More action is. Each and every one of us has the ability to impact the world that we touch everyday. As we are seeing with the present Pandemic, we are all connected. So doing good things in your own little world is not futile. It will do two things! 1) It will make you feel good about you. 2) It will ripple outward. Spiral out, keep going!

Have a great day people!

Pete

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

5 Things Professional Soccer Coaches Can Learn from a Foreign Language Teacher

A foreign language can be exactly that to many people “foreign”.  Despite that fact, there are lessons to be learned and applied from the study of language that reach into the sports world extremely easily.  At the highest level, the margin for error is so slim that all possible advantages must be explored.

Darren Ferguson, manager Peterborough United.
  1.  Language is an agreement – This is crucial.  Right now you (the reader) and I are working under the English agreement.  We must agree in order for messages to travel freely and easily.  This is simple when we’re talking about identifying a table or a ball.  However this idea goes much deeper.  It involves vocabulary, tone, context and audience.  As a coach, when you address the team, it leaves your lips as one message but gets received eleven or more different ways.  This recognition by itself can be powerful but knowing your receivers can allow you to improve your messages.  Your business is results.  Anyone can bark orders.  Not everyone can craft a message. So learn to give the message in a way that will be received.
  1. You’re doing it to yourself – It doesn’t exist in every language but in several, there is a construction called a reflexive verb.  This is when the person doing the action is also receiving the action.  Think of washing your hair, brushing your teeth or shaving.  In Spanish there is a verb “ponerse”.  It means “to put on”.  Although it can be used for clothing, it also gets used for emotions.  You put anger onto yourself or sadness or excitement.  Even though your language may not represent it that way, it is exactly what happens.  You and your players are making yourselves feel a certain way.  Feelings don’t infect us.  We create them.  Do your players put excitement on by themselves at training or matches?  Or do they need your help? As the person who will eventually be held accountable for the results of the team, it is important to consider what emotions are continually being put onto everyone involved. Can you direct that more effectively?
  1. Permanent/Consistent or Temporary – Much like the last concept, language frames the way that we look at the world.  In Spanish, there are two words for the word “to be”: Ser and Estar.  Ser is used for things that are permanent or consistent.  Estar is used for things that are temporary.  In English it is possible for someone to say “I am depressed.”  Since there is only one word for “to be”, this could be a temporary thing or a long term.  The signal to other people and the mind can be difficult to decipher.  This overlaps with the concept above about agreement.  “John is horrible” and “John is having a horrible day” have very different meanings to both the sender and receiver.  In your team’s culture, what ideas or concepts do you want to be permanent/consistent?  What is meant to be temporary?  Listen to your players’ language patterns when they talk about themselves and others.  Are there patterns that are undermining success? Are you the one who put them there or did you allow them to stay?
  1. Slow Process vs. Fast Process – Languages are broken into four different modalities:  reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Reading and writing are slow processes that allow the person to take their time as they are doing it.  Listening and speaking are done in real time.  Therefore each can be more valuable at different times or may be used in tandem.  Consider the importance of the message that you want to send.  Is saying it enough?  Remember, you already know the message that you want them to receive.  So be sure to give them the opportunity to get it with the amount of depth that you intend for it.  Should you write it down for them to see it?  Should they write it down in their own words?  In their own language? Your players are going to be performing in a high stress environment. Make sure that the messages that matter stick.
  2. Question Words Require Extra – Who? What? ¿Dónde? Quand? Jak? And WHY?  Although there may be times when all you want is the simple yes or no, your players are complex creatures who have lives beyond the game.  Probing beyond the surface level may be the key to unlocking a level of focus and commitment that you never knew existed from an individual.  Yes men are easy to find and easy to replace.  Although all question words elicit extra information, they are not all created equal.  WHY is the eventual question that you want to find an answer for.  If you know a player’s WHY and are able to link it to the team’s goals, you’ll have a brother in arms rather than a mercenary.  One of my favorite illustrations of the concept of WHY comes from the movie Cinderella Man (2:00 minutes in).  He says what he’s fighting for but it puts his WHY on full display.           

In the world of professional soccer, everyone’s job is to prepare to the best of their ability in order to achieve a result on game day. Coaches are using words as their main tool to get the most from their players. Despite that fact, language patterns and word choice rarely get considered. The best version of you as a coach requires that you and your players understand one another. Be sure that your message is not being lost in translation.