I remember it all too plainly. Sitting in a cramped seat on an airplane flying back from Europe after almost a month of traveling with my best friend. We had attended five games of the World Cup and visited a slew of sites and cities. It was truly one of the greatest times of my life! However on the plane ride back I repeatedly listened to the song “The God of Wine” by Third Eye Blind. Despite the amazing experiences that I’d just had, I was heading back into a world that I could feel was going to hurt me. For some reason this premonition got stuck within this song and I can return to any time that I hear the song.
The trip ended up being a deathblow to the multiple year relationship that I had forecast in my head to be “the one”. Returning home should have been a step back into a world of known entities but instead it was foreign. My girlfriend informed me that things were over on the night that I got back. Our plans to move in together and any other future we had were now gone. In many ways I was homeless. The person and the future that I had put at the center of my universe were both gone and picking up those pieces was going to be difficult. I’d love to say that the resilient part of me kicked in and I made instantaneous progress. Quite the opposite, there was a long period of self-doubt, reflection and possibly some depression. In the end I found myself sobered by the experience. The song is like a time capsule where I get to travel back to who I was. Looking back on that time I realize how appropriate the song was to the moment. In many senses I was intoxicated by the future that I wanted from the situation. I was running my life under the influence of what I wanted to happen but not acting in a way that was going to get me there. The crash was inevitable.
So as we all move forward it is most important for us to keep our hands on the wheel, foot poised near the brake or accelerator and eyes on the road. Issues arise when the idea of the destination overrides the moments of driving. The process is where we spend most of our time. Yet we allow where we want to be supersede where we are. Remember not to fall in love with your future so much that you forget to live in your present. There signs you must follow and detours you’ll need to take along your route. Becoming intoxicated with your picture of the future may just end you up in a ditch!
About a year ago, I took my daughter to a Devils game. To be honest, she didn’t seem overly interested in the game. It appeared that she was more excited by the cotton candy and Devil horns. I was extremely surprised when she said at the end of the game “I want to play hockey.” At that point we had only taken her ice skating a handful of times. I told her that I fully supported the idea of her playing hockey but that there were some steps she needed to go through first. She needed to spend this winter improving her skating and starting to learn how to play the game. This past weekend she had her first hockey tournament.
This is not a story about some miraculous discovery of talent that blossomed over the past year. My daughter spends a large amount of time on the ice. Literally, she falls down more than anyone on her team, usually during the handshakes at the end of the game. Her team lost all of their games this past weekend by an average margin of over 10 goals. They did not score once. I loved every minute watching her play! Not because she played great, she didn’t. Not because she gave it everything she had, she didn’t. I loved it because she went out there to pay the price of entry: FAILURE.
This is the thing that stops most people. They don’t want to feel bad or look foolish, so they move on quickly from things that invite failure into their lives. The truth is that failure is the “ante” that we all must put in to play the poker games of life. We must risk failure in order to play. It’s unfortunate that we’ve become so completely risk averse that people don’t want to play unless they’re guaranteed to win. The joy in a “for sure” victory is relatively hollow. It is only in those times where we truly risk failure that we are living fully. Taking the chance to learn from missteps, blunders and shortcomings is a major ingredient of later success. The leap is a prerequisite.
So as you go out into the world today and do whatever it is that makes you feel alive, do it with the joy of a 9 year old girl. One who had such a big smile on her face most of the weekend that no one would have ever known her team lost by large margins. I do not believe that you should want to fail. I just believe that you should be willing to RISK IT!
I would not have been surprised if I annoyed the hell out of my former teammates. It’s not that I’m a bad player, I’m actually OK (or was). The annoying factor would come from two things in particular. First, I never shut up. I talk incessantly. Almost as if I were the unofficial play by play announcer for our team. The other would be my tendency to blame everything that went wrong on myself. Regardless of how small of an influence I had on a situation, I tended to focus on my little component rather than anyone else’s. If a goal was scored, it was almost always followed by an admission of guilt. As an intelligent human being and player, I realize that not everything that went wrong was my fault. It’s just not true. However I always wanted to exhaust the thumb before I went to the finger.
In a world where almost everything is on video, accountability is an easy thing to track, especially in sports. Who lost their mark or misplayed a pass is available in HD clarity. I’m not particularly keen on accountability though. It has its place. However responsibility is a much more interesting quality. People need to take responsibility. Accountability can be handed out and often leads to separation. Fingers tend to make enemies and excuses. Thumbs tend to make leaders and solutions. By continuously pointing the thumb at one’s self before resorting to the finger, a few very important things happen.
First, the thumbed individual sees him or herself a part of a larger whole which is influenced by the actions of all. Like the butterfly that flaps its wings and contributes to an eventual hurricane. A person willing to exhaust the thumb recognizes that they’re not working independently of the rest of the group, team, company or world. Every action of the individual has the potential to influence a much larger whole. Could a tiny gesture of kindness toward a neighbor influence the relations of an entire town or city? Absolutely! Especially if those actions are done consistently.
Second, the thumbed individual infrequently or never blames others. This posture creates fewer separations between people. Finding fault in others rarely creates better behavior. It usually only creates resentment for the person doing the blaming. Most people in this world are their own harshest critic. Giving them the ability to rectify the situation without judgment can go a long way toward future success. Fear of letting someone down is a much stronger motivator than fear of punishment. It also has the added benefit of creating better relations between people who are giving their best to each other and know that criticism (if it comes) will come with understanding.
Like anything else that is really important in life, not everyone will do this because it’s hard. It’s so much easier to lose your temper or “let off some steam”. After all things are often other people’s fault. Taking on this world view doesn’t change that. However it does get you focus on the only person that you can fully control, yourself. If you are in control of yourself, then it’s possible that you’ll end up where you want to go.
Although the 1980’s were memorable for many reasons, the crazy hair is probably one of the most prevalent. Big hair was all the rage at the time. Many of the 80’s rock bands invested a lot of time and money on their hair. Image was almost more important than the music. I’ve even heard interviews with bands who tried to gain information on the hair products of more successful bands in order to copy their formula. It’s a silly image isn’t it? Grown men hanging their hopes of musical success on the type of hairspray that they use. There is a disconnect that should have been obvious to all involved but sometimes people are too close to the situation to see their own ridiculousness.
A similar phenomena is rampant in the soccer world and a good hard look in the mirror is more than overdue. Each and every week, millions of kids and adults practice their skills of passing, dribbling, heading and shooting. Coaches spend hours trying to help these players improve their skills and coalesce the group’s talents into tactics. Meticulous care is given to all facets of the game including set plays on both the offensive and defensive side. After hours of preparation, game day finally arrives. The first whistle blows and that training seems to take a backseat. It’s overshadowed by telling the one person not displaying any soccer skill about how badly he or she is doing. The referee takes center stage in a contest that should be focused on the soccer skills of the players. Much like the hairspray obsessed rock bands, the coaches, players and fans have taken something that should be incidental and made it THE big deal.
Having been a high school and youth coach for years, I’ve seen the lower level of refereeing on display. While frustrating at times, the arbiter of the game should not overshadow all of the preparation that has been done. Here are some suggestions that I have to put refereeing in its proper context.
Audit yourself – If more than 25% of the things that you say are directed at the referee, then you’re focused on the wrong thing. Your players need guidance, your teammates need information, your children need encouragement. The referee does not need more reminding that you have disagreed with all of his calls.
Walk a mile – Not literally but figuratively. Get certified and start refereeing some low level games. Or referee a scrimmage between two teams that you’re not associated with. Either way the experience will change how you view the job.
Try a new strategy – Rather than berating the next referee that you encounter, try something new. If you’re a player, in a calm voice during a stoppage, ask him or her to watch for something that has been happening regularly. “Sir, could you keep an eye out for #15 fouling after the play. Thanks!” If you’re a coach, ask the referee to remember a particular foul or incident for discussion later. If you’re a fan, concentrate on the play of your team. This is what your team has worked for, see their play. Otherwise it’s like going to an opera but spending all of your time focused on the conductor’s outfit. He’s supposed to be invisible.
Recognize the long term – Donuts in small quantities are not by themselves dangerous. If they are a small part of an otherwise balanced diet, the occasional treat is not harmful. However constant abuse can be destructive. The same is true for our refereeing situation. The constant abuse of referees has led to a shortage that eventually could cripple the game. That position has to be held by a human. Who would sign up for the pervasive abuse that referees receive?
So as you prepare for this weekend’s contest, make a decision to focus on the game rather than the official. After over 35 years of playing and coaching there are exactly two things that I’m sure of: 1. All referees make mistakes. 2. They don’t get better or change their calls because you tell them that they suck. For the love of the game, let’s all try to do better out there. The hair bands can look back and be amused. Let’s not all look back and be ashamed.
It’s a bit older now but still a good message from the English FA.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the old school gods and their importance in the lives of our ancestors. Although we have so many technological and societal advantages, there are some aspects to their belief structure that could be helpful if implemented. I’ve joked several times that I may start worshiping Zeus and the other Greek gods because of their idiosyncrasies. You’re less likely to beat yourself up over work snafu when your god is regularly cheating on his wife. Despite the possible comedy arising from this, I don’t know that there’s much to it. The main area that most of the ancient religions have in common is the concept of “sacrifice”. I will be focusing on the non-human variety.
With a scientifically inferior way of understanding the world, our ancestors intuitively seem to have comprehended something that has become lost recently. Despite the fact that their reasons for sacrificing crops, animals, etc. was founded in mythology, it is a practical lesson. The recognition of giving something up in the hope of influencing the greater system. I’m sure that the phrase “give up” came from the ceremonial act of giving a thing up to a deity. As our world has more, we are less willing to go without. We don’t see the point. Our parents and grandparents worked hard for the prosperity that we now enjoy. Therefore we “deserve” everything we have. Unfortunately the word DE-SERVE, could be hyphenated and it means “from service”. To keep that which we have, we must continue to serve. Or to get more we must serve more. At a certain point the words service and sacrifice tend to intertwine.
So the give up bargain is simple. Recognize that on some level, you’ll need to give up something that you have in order to get that which you want. Not in any religious context but in a more practical way. Giving up your anger will allow you to find peace. Giving up your excessive eating will allow you to find the slimmer you. The reverse is also in play. If you are not acting in the service of what you already have, it will eventually be taken from you. You are not an independent force in this world/universe. Your actions have consequences. Giving and taking are two sides of the same coin. Therefore they are linked. Keep this in mind as you give things up. The lottery mentality is a losing strategy because it applies in such a small number of cases. Practical sacrifice and service of that which matters most to you. When you decide what you want, also decide on what you’re willing to give up to get it. Usually this bargain will involve trading now for later and so many of us are in love with NOW.
To my toilet, I’m either a dick or asshole. To my shower, I’m varying degrees of dirty. To my mirror, I’m vain or self-obsessed. And you can just imagine what the toilet paper thinks of me. All of these perspectives are completely accurate but taken from a narrow view
Each day we live our lives and show particular sides of ourselves to people. None of them is 100% accurate but also they are not 100% inaccurate. We cannot control other people’s perception of us. That is in their control. What’s within our control are the actions that we take and the words that we use.
I’m completely comfortable with my toilet thinking of me as an asshole. However that’s not the message that I want to send to everyone. Being the person that you want people to see takes effort and forethought. Decide to give your best to the people who matter. That way you know they’ll be there when you’re at your worst.
Imagine it. A soldier walking through a jungle in a foreign land just as the rain stops. In the distance there is a rainbow. All of the sudden there is an attack from the enemy. The attack is repelled and the soldier marches on. The next day the rain stops, rainbow, surprise attack. This pattern continues for a week. On the eighth day, the soldier comes upon a beautiful waterfall. With the water plummeting from a height of over fifty feet, a mist above the surface of the water forms a miniature rainbow and soldier discharges his weapon several times into the falling water. There is no attack, so the soldier is sure that the enemy is dead. It is ridiculous, isn’t it? The soldier believing that the rainbow somehow caused or could help the prediction of the attacks. The truth is that we all do it at one point or another.
The combination of two things that have almost no association whatsoever is quite common. An undefeated streak and an unwashed pair of socks. Traffic and the driver in front of you. School and learning. WAIT!!!! That’s blasphemy! Especially for someone who has spent years as a teacher and vehement proponent of learning.
The problem is that in many ways the statement is true. School and learning have almost completely been divorced from one another. People recognize that at one point in history they went hand in hand. However that relationship has decayed in people’s minds. School has become a pariah that people only endure because they have to. Learning has gotten mistaken for its cousin, information. Since information is everywhere, people have no need to engage in the relationship with learning. So this once inseparable couple is now separated and only feign a relationship “because of the kids”.
This is an extreme picture of the present situation. While not completely accurate, it is not altogether inaccurate. School is in a precarious position because it only ever came into being because of learning. The point of school was to learn (especially how to think). In many instances that has been replaced with “The point of school is to get good grades.” Like the telephone game that many of us played as children, over time the message has gotten garbled and disjointed. Politicians, administrators, parents and teachers propped up a system that only partially meets its expressed purpose. Like the situation of rogue traders who bet on speculative numbers with the life savings of others, this could leave many people bankrupt.
So for now, my suggestion is double, triple or quadruple down on learning. If it happens at school, GREAT! If it happens elsewhere, GREAT! Learn about the things that are important to you and the people in your life. Dive deep into learning about yourself. How you work. How your mind works. How your emotions work. Not so you can be self-centered but you can find balance with the world. Learning is not actually the hard part as it happens all the time. The key is learning things that are useful and meaningful to your world. So if you are still in school, don’t think of learning as drudgery. Seek out those opportunities when school style learning overlaps with your life. If you’re already done with school, realize that you aren’t done with learning. Don’t try to kill the rainbow just because it was lumped in with something that you perceive to be your enemy.
Talent is coveted, scouted, poached and revered in this country. It often comes with an extremely high price tag. That price is monetary in the professional ranks. However at the lower levels, the price of talent is far too often the possibility of teamwork. At times this comes from jealousy of teammates. Unfortunately it is more frequently a result of trading team ethos for star power. It may get results but are they the right ones and for how long?
I’ve often told my teams that “I’d bench Pele if his play didn’t make us a better team.” Now I’ve never had the pleasure of coaching the Brazilian star (nor would he need me) but that statement has usually followed the benching of a talented player for putting him/herself above the team. The unfortunate thought that is going through several people’s heads at the moment is that “a great player always makes a team better.” How I wish that were true but I know that it is not.
Talent does not exist in a vacuum. It comes attached to a person who has a narrative inside of his/her head about what their talent means. For some it makes them a large gear in the machine of the team. While others tell themselves a story that the team is “nothing” without them. In my preferred sport of soccer, I’ve never seen this to be true but I know it has been thought.
The key to a coach extinguishing this narrative is to swallow the hard pills at the right times. Recognizing when a talented player has forgotten they are part of a whole and have them sit to consider that point. Knowing when a player has “outgrown” a team and let their talent go. These are the types of decisions that are good for the long term of the team and the player but difficult in the moment.
The stories that we tell ourselves are important. They frame the world into a model that makes sense out of our personal experience of the world. There are billions of stories going on around the world. My personal belief is that the accuracy of the story is not as important as the helpfulness of the story. I started off by saying that I’d bench Pele… I’m never going to be put in that position but it frames a belief system in a way that leaves no doubt to my conviction. So as you go into your day, what’s your story? Is the world out to get you? Are your best days behind you? Are you the world’s best student? Is this your breakout year? It’s only a story and you can keep it if you want to but put it to my test, does it help?
Many sports teams are in the middle of their preseason sessions at the moment. I’m sure that many players are working hard. It is almost a prerequisite for any level of success in the sports world. The reason that I hedge is that there is a higher level of effort that is more in line with the actual effort. That level of effort is called labor.
Work is a scientific or mathematical equation: force x distance = work. It also has particular connotations in our culture. Common words that are associated with work are: hard, job, difficult, employment and pain. While these may be common, I don’t know that I would describe them as positive. Although we recognize the value of hard work. Many people would look to avoid it.
The reason that I would change to labor is not because work and labor are synonyms. It is actually in labor’s secondary meaning that all of the magic happens. Although many people may make work and labor the same inside of their heads. Labor is the process of giving birth. In particular the final part before delivery. Taken as a whole, the process leading up to and including labor is no picnic. Talk to almost any mother and there will be stories of morning sickness, discomfort and pain leading to a crescendo of “ultimate pain”. At this point, work is sounding pretty good! The difference between the two is that at the end of labor, there’s a miracle to behold. Almost any mother will tell you that it is the worst pain but all is forgotten in the end.
So as you start any endeavor, go in with the idea that you are going to labor toward your goal. The pain and discomfort are part of the process toward the eventual miracle that you are looking for. In the end, the pain will be forgotten and you’ll be able to rejoice in the two things that you’ve created: your goal and the new version of you!