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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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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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Freedom Is Responsibility (Trump and Rapinoe)

The World Cup is always filled with drama. Most of the time it happens on the field. It also usually happens between players, coaches and other people involved in soccer in some way. As the United States Women’s National Team prepares to take on France, host nation and one of the other favorites to win the cup, the biggest drama coming from France has almost nothing to do with France, the World Cup or soccer at all. Many more eyes and ears have become focused on the World Cup because of the comments made by Megan Rapinoe and Donald Trump. Since most news outlets have latched onto the story, I won’t repeat it here. This clash has sprung out of the fact that even though the two seem to have nothing in common, they both like the spotlight. So how can we use all of the light that’s been shone onto this situation? Remember that freedom is responsibility.

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In so many ways, freedom has become fashioned into a thought process that “I can do what I want.” While there is some truth to that statement it glosses over one of the inherent costs of freedom. “I need to let other people do what they want, even when it diametrically opposes what I believe is right.” Embracing freedom is easy when it is your own, it becomes difficult when it belongs to others.

So as the lights are focused on these two characters that represent very different factions of our country, my hope is that one or both of them remembers their responsibility. They both represent this country on an international stage and they have the opportunity to exercise their freedom of speech and action for the betterment of themselves OR the people who are watching. This is not Reagan imploring Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. It is a professional athlete who represents several ideals like equality in compensation, LGTBQ rights and racial equality and a president who has promised to “Make America Great Again”.

During their moment in the spotlight together, what will each of them do? Will they choose the spotlight and the clicks or will they choose the responsibility of their freedom? Rapinoe can turn that light from herself “not going to the White House” and shine it directly onto the people that she represents and their stories/struggles. The President could equally use the bright lights of this situation to address those same people and help “Make America Great” for them because Again excludes them. America was not great for women, LGTBQ or minorities in the past.

Both people have the freedom that this country affords them. My hope is that they take the responsibility seriously and see that it is not about them. It’s about us. The US may win or lose today against France. The question is can we find a way to win as a country in our daily lives? Or have we become so enamored with our own freedom that we no longer recognize the freedom of others? Republican, democrat, black, white, brown, green, woman, man, transgender, gay, straight….. at a certain point we need to figure out how to be neighbors and make America great! Even if it is for the first time for everyone.

Have a great day!

Pete

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The Women’s World Cup (Spoken and Unspoken Messages)

The Women’s World Cup has been a roller coaster ride from the beginning.  Although I support the US Women’s National Team, I am much more interested in the women’s game growing and being accepted in its own right worldwide.  Most of the results have been in line with expectation.  However the results are not all that matters.  Even though there are more games to be played, this World Cup is sending messages.  Some of them need to be heard and emulated, others need to be learned from then possibly forgotten.  Regardless, I thought it was worth the time to recap some of the biggest beats so far.

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Lone voices aren’t loud – The absence of one of the best players in the world has largely gone unnoticed.  Norway has performed relatively well without their Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg.  Her decision to stay out of the Norwegian National Team was a mild source of intrigue but in the end has been overtaken by other story lines.  There is just too much happening in a World Cup that the absence of one person is going to invoke great change.  If the World Cup is the best platform for female athletes to make a statement (and I believe that it is), then it requires a much more evident and pervasive stance.  Perhaps all of the teams deciding, they are not going to play for the first minute of each game because they want to make a statement about inequality.  Instead of kicking of an internationally televised game exactly when the whistle blows, a minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds is taken for all of the players to stand together against a common foe of inequality.

Objectively Subjective – Although it has people behind it, one of the loudest voices of the tournament has no voice at all.  VAR has all but taken over a tournament that is supposed to be about human beings playing and interpreting the beautiful game.  Unfortunately in an effort to “get it right”, it’s all gone wrong.  The games have largely been robbed of the emotion of the moment.  Referees without VAR get things wrong (and obviously with VAR things still go wrong).  Based on what I’ve seen from this World Cup, I’m much less worried about the getting the call “right” as I am the referee doing her/his best to endeavor to make the “right” call.  Human error is part of the process but two minute discussions over earphones about a possible infraction have not improved the game, they’ve cheapened it.  This is largely the reason that I’ve not watched a NFL game in four years.  The game has been taken away from the humans, so they defer, rather than decide.

Entitlement Doesn’t Lead to Titles – As a fan of the USWNT, it pained me to watch the match against Spain.  In an almost Rocky IV type moment, I felt myself almost wanting for Spain to win.  This was not me renouncing my citizenship.  It was the simple fact that I saw more instances of pride producing behavior from the Spanish team.  As a fan, pride is one of the emotions that we rely upon to continue our association with a team.  When we are no longer proud to support our team, there is little point in being a fan.  The Spanish team had a plan and they executed it well.  The US didn’t and didn’t.  At a variety of moments, it seemed as though the US were waiting for Spain to give up.  Rapinoe and Morgan seemed to want the referee to be the one to help them past the defenders.  Expectations of calls for any contact were fully on display.  Although some of Spain’s tackles were reckless, the general feeling that I got was that they were actually trying to win the game through skill and hard work rather than reputation.  My hope is that this was a blip on the radar screen but I am fearful that we are more show than GO!

One last word before she leaves – In one of the most shareable moments of the World Cup, Marta exited the tournament by laying down the gauntlet to the future of the sport.  Although the message was intended toward young Brazilian girls, it is a strong message for anyone.  The heroines or heroes that we esteem so heavily will not always be there for us to adore.  Someone, maybe you, needs to pick up where they left off or possibly challenge for their spot.  It is not going to be easy.  As Marta put it, you need to cry before you can smile.  The picture needs to be painted over and over again that the exceptional do not get there by chance or in born talent.  There is work that no one sees and most people fear but if you want to get to the highest levels, you need to embrace.

So even though it is not over, there is so much to take from the World Cup so far.  It is one of the reasons why I love soccer so much.  The result is only part of the story.  Stats and scores can only tell you so much.  The experience of the 90 (+7 COME ON!  VAR!) minutes is necessary to tell a story about the people that are trying to get that result.  Their stories run parallel to our stories and allow us to live more fervently because it resonates around the world!

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The Thirteen Year Safety Net

HighWireWalkerIn the 1970’s Philippe Petit walked a high wire strung between the Twin Towers in New York City.  It was an amazing feat that was a result of a slow but steady progression of skill and daring over years.  The film “Man On Wire” is a great documentary about the planning and execution of his walk.  A slight warning that if you are afraid of heights, you may feel uneasy.  Even though you are safe from any imminent danger, you may feel dizzy or tingly based on the images.  I cannot imagine how Philippe Petit felt during the walk, over one thousand feet in the air without a net!  Sure, he had years of experience and successful walks but the scale of this endeavor dwarfed everything else.  It is easy to look at Philippe and say that he is special, talented or even crazy.  Closer to the truth is probably that he was passionate about pursuing something to an extreme level.  The use of a net negates the entire reason that he was walking in the first place.  Under no circumstances and am I suggesting that a tight rope walk from dizzying height should be be in anyone’s future (I’m one of those people who tingles just seeing the photos).  I am suggesting that the intersection of passion and stakes is a place of power.  It’s someplace that we need to become more comfortable going to.

Unfortunately at the moment, we seem to be faced in the opposite direction.  The formative years of youth and adolescence are spent with nothing but safety nets around.  Whether it is literal foam padding to avoid injury or systems that are meant to insulate young people from failure, responsibility or any other stakes that could injure physically or emotionally.  The dichotomy of these systems are interesting because they protect in the short term and potentially injure in the long term.  Finding the balance of those two extremes is the name of the game.  Philippe did not start out on the roof of the World Trade Center.  Those stakes would have been overwhelming.  His passion for walking the tight rope also would not have grown if he never went higher than six inches off the ground.

For each one of us, we have things that could grow into passions but we are afraid to raise the stakes.  Failing, looking foolish and uncertainty are being trained out of our young people.  We have given many young people a “safe space” but the counterweight needs to be put into place as well otherwise we do not have a creative space.  All creation is messy, uncertain and possibly even dangerous.  We are born from a series of chances taken with an element of risk.  So to protect our future generations from that risk is robbing them of what is to be human.

As I often say to my players, “to be a leader, you need to go first”.  So if you have young people in your life, be a model of a balance in both passion and risk.  Perhaps you also need to break out of the foam rubber because comfort and security are things that many of us desire.  Unfortunately they also allow for little emotional intensity which is what passion is all about.  Go!  Take a chance!  Maybe even a small one and be an example for those onlookers who need someone to show them what is possible!

Philippe didn’t leap but he had to take a step off the edge and you can too!

Pete

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Cheering for Someone Else’s Kid (An Exercise in Perspective)

Huryk-LukeEvery weekend the players line up on the field, the referee blows the whistle and the microscopes come out.  I’m speaking figuratively of course.  Although a fusion between youth sports and science would be great, I’m talking about the tunnel vision of the fans on the sidelines.  It’s actually not their fault.  It is in our nature to pay attention to the things that we care most about.  So a parent’s focus on their child at a time of high emotion is both normal and expected.  Our youth sports culture has definitely swung toward the extreme with cost, intensity and behavior.  The thing that we often lack as we go through life is perspective.  We tend to think that the way we perceive the world is the way that the world is.  It is only our version.  There are billions of others and none of them is completely correct either.  So it may be valuable to gain a different perspective.

Go to a youth sporting event of someone else’s kid, not a niece or a close friend’s son but two levels of separation.  It may just be a different age group at the club that your child plays for.  Choose a child that you’re going to “support” for the game.  If you’re a cheerer, then cheer.  If you’re the quiet pensive fan, then be quiet and pensive.  Whatever you would normally do at your own child’s game, do you best to recreate it (bring your spouse to bicker about the coach if need be).  I understand this will be uncomfortable and feel odd for most people but here are some things that will probably happen.

You’re probably going to lose focus on “your player” from time to time and watch the overall game.  All of the reactions that you would normally have will be slightly muted.  You may be able to look at the player and pick up on subtle cues about them.  Do they like the sport?  Do they play with joy and look like they are having fun?  Are they afraid to mess up/of contact/of trying too hard?  Are they embarrassed by the stranger cheering for them (keep it under control)?  At the end of the game, was success or failure based solely on the score/outcome?

The payoff in this experiment will be different for everyone.  If the difference between the fan that you are in the two situations is small, that’s probably a good sign.  If the difference between the fan that you are is vast, it might be helpful to consider why.  In the grand scheme of the world, both games probably meant about the same amount.  Sports bring out some of our best and worst characteristics as humans.  The kids are practicing regularly in order to be their best, let’s be at our best as well!

Go!

Pete

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Super Glue That Post It!

IMG_4201It’s odd the way that we think of things.  Often an effective story is a much better tool for creating change than the actual 100% truth.  I’ve run up the “Rocky Steps” in Philadelphia well over a dozen times.  Each time I felt a sense of accomplishment and kinship with Rocky.  The truth is of course that Rocky Balboa never truly existed and in that moment I’m play acting much like Stallone was in the 1970’s.  Regardless of those facts, the story gets me to where I need to go more effectively.  So my explanation below is not the 100% gospel truth but it is rather an effective way to exercise change.

Each moment of your life is like a Post It note.  The difference between the moments is how much of the “glue” that you put onto it.  Most moments are just paper with absolutely no glue whatsoever.  They don’t stick and quickly blow away in the wind of daily life.  This may seem sad to some but it is a necessity.  Your brain would be overwhelmed if it had to remember every moment.  So what is the glue?  The glue is emotion.  Feelings are the things that make memories “sticky”.  The more emotionally charged a moment is, the more likely that it is going to stick.

This is useful information because if you truly want to fashion the life that you want, you need to be deliberate about making particular moments stick.  Being able to manage your mind and emotion becomes an exercise in re-scripting your life.  If you don’t give an emotional charge to the things that you’d rather not have, then they will fade.  In the opposite direction, if you don’t truly feel or even celebrate the good moments, they’ll also fade.  So the creation of the life that you want comes down to how sticky you make certain moments.  You are the “Glue Master” and you can mindlessly slather it on.  OR you can choose to make the good stuff stick.

Have a great day people!

Pete

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Torn Apart by Your Cellphone

drawn and quarteredAs recently as 1781, the practice of dismemberment was used.  In the particular case I am referring, Tupac Amaru II (Incan King) was tied to four horses who were faced away from the victim and urged to run toward the four corners of the square.  It was a brutal and painful way to die.  Usually it was used as a way to “send a message” to other’s that would oppose the powers of the day.  In the end, these forms of execution were abandoned by civilized society.  I can’t even begin to imagine the immense pain felt by the victim and the horror of those who were watching.

Although the comparison may seem extreme, I believe that there is a correlation between this form of execution and the epidemic of cellphone addiction.  The execution is not a physical one but a mental/emotional one.  The death of the individual as well is not physical but experiential.  This is not a sermon on how cellphones are evil and should not be used.  These devices can be used as tools to accentuate life in meaningful ways.  However this is meant as a call for recognition if you are being “torn apart” by your device.  Know thy self is still as relevant today as it was when the Greeks etched it into stone.

Recognizing that your phone has taken your hand might be the easiest to identify.  Is your phone in your hand more than any other object?  It might be tearing you apart.  Does your phone have your legs?  Do you only move when reminded by a buzz, ding or bell?  It might be tearing you apart.    Then look to more important parts of the body.  Does your phone have your lungs?  Are the only times that you have your breath taken away produced through your phone?  It might be tearing you apart.  Does your phone have your mind?  Is your mind on the things that are contained in your phone more than the things that are in front of you?  It might be tearing you apart.  Does your phone have your heart?  Are the only times where you feel a rush positive or negative feeling happening through your phone?  It might be tearing you apart.  Do you have a life without your phone?  Could you exist, survive and thrive without it?  For a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a year?  It might be tearing you apart.

If you’ve become unsettled by the number of times that you felt uncomfortable with the questions above, don’t worry!  The first step to recovery is usually admitting that you have a problem.  Perhaps it’s a small problem or you want to look at it that way.  The key is to take control and let go from time to time.  You’ll see that you actually don’t miss that much that is happening on your phone when you detach from it.  You just catch a little more of the life that’s going on around you!

 

Have a great day people!

Pete

 

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Don’t Lose Your Virginity

LetstalkaboutsexLanguages are amazing to me on so many levels. Words and phrases can evoke emotions of all kinds and intensities. They can be both the weapons to hurt and the bandages to heal. Certain languages carry with them differing perspectives that color the way that we go through life. Despite this fact, we seem to be less inclined to use the magic that resides within language. The flourish of Shakespeare has been replaced by the convenience of the text message. While I don’t believe that we need to embellish the daily and mundane with flowery language, it may be helpful to say something more meaningful. Or say the things that have a meaning that will propel us toward a better future rather than maintain our status quo.
Along those lines, I’d like to suggest that no one “lose” their virginity. Depending on your particular background the phrase probably means one of a variety of things.  If you’ve been raised in some religious background, there may be twinges of guilt or sin involved with this idea.  If that is not an issue, the word “lose” can even create a feeling.  Loss is generally seen as a negative and therefore it evokes feelings of that kind.  Either because it was something that was supposed to be held onto until it was lost.  Or because it was something that was undesired in the first place.  In that case the losing is not the negative but rather the having has the negative connotation.  With all of this convoluted word talk, it should be evident that the phrase does not actually serve the action well.

Rather than “losing their virginity”, people should be “earning their sexuality”.  In the long past, the idea of losing virginity probably worked because of the pervasive religious beliefs about marriage and sin.  In a modern context the phrase no longer serves.  In fact it probably harms, more than it helps.  So rather than an instantaneous change from virgin to not, why not embrace the idea that this is a process.  Sex has been sold, contorted and embellished in so many ways that it’s perception barely resembles what it is.  Perpetuating this will only lead to disaster for young people.  So why not, “earn sexuality”?

The reason for “earn” is that it should not be viewed as a right.  Also the process of earning something does not usually happen in an instant.  Therefore it requires a more involved set of steps.  In my opinion, the initial steps should be small, subtle and unrushed.  At all times, it should be the individual and not the force of society that decides on the most comfortable pace to progress.  Again the reason for the use of the word “earn” is extremely deliberate because it suggests a transaction of other actions to eventually received the privilege of the next step.  Perhaps these actions will come from self-reflection or partner discussion.  Regardless it puts the idea of process to the forefront rather than bravado or shame.  So whether you’ve lost it already or not, perhaps consider the idea of changing the language around first sexual encounters.  Maybe the shift in wording will change the way that we think and that might be enough.

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Instead…

CoachingI’d like to blame Google because it would be so extremely easy to do.  However blame doesn’t really solve anything and this was a problem long before Google even existed.

When searching for something in the modern world though, Google is “the” place to go.  After the search is done, the results come in and there are usually thousands or even millions of them.  The problem is that most of us only look at the top result (after bypassing the ads made to look like results).  Finding a satisfactory result is “quick and easy”.  Isn’t that the way that we want all things to be?  Not hardly.  I don’t want my surgeon’s training to be quick and easy.  Every situation is different and we should want different parameters for what we’re looking for from each.  Unfortunately “quick and easy” seems to have become an almost societal norm.  In my usual arena of soccer, the desire for a quick and easy result is desired by many but rarely does that garner best results.

Let’s take some of the usual situations from the soccer world and break them loose from the quick and easy solution.  Possibly if we dig a little deeper, we’ll find that a slower and more difficult solution will have result that we should really want.

Game Time!  Your child is not getting the amount of playing time that you believe that they deserve.  If you decide to go the quick and easy route, you’ve got some options open.  Move them to another team.  Spend an hour crafting the perfectly worded email to the coach that will both highlight your child’s strengths and not question the coach’s past decisions.  Hire a trainer to sharpen your child’s skills to the point where they will not be denied.  These are all employed with regularity.  So much so that they are viewed as common practice.

Perhaps the uncommon practice would actually have a better result.  Use the hours that you would have used to email, search for a new team or working a second job to pay the trainer and do something different.  Go with your child to an open space and kick the ball with them.  You don’t need to do it well.  You don’t even need to do it right.  Actually it is probably better if you don’t know what you’re doing!  It will give your child the opportunity to be an “expert” on something that you aren’t.  Regardless of whether this activity results in any additional playing time on the weekend doesn’t matter.  The game that you are playing when you are a parent, isn’t the quick and easy variety.  It is the long and fulfilling type.  Recognizing the game that you actually want to win rather than the game that is being noticed by most.

Red card!  Every referee that you encounter is horrible.  The quick and easy path has several options attached to it.  Berate the referee at every perceived wrong call.  If there is an evaluation process available to you, employ it with fervor.  Or when you are really upset, confront them personally.  These are also common place and therefore accepted.

The uncommon practice is going to be far more difficult.  Saving your breath from the derisive comments and use it to power a whistle.  Take the courses and raise the level of refereeing because obviously with your extensive sideline knowledge, you’d be very good at that job.  This type of action could save the game because unless a change like this happens, who will be the referees of the future?  The constant abuse that referees receive will continue to result in an exodus from the profession.  In the end this is not the only area where people are willing to complain from the sidelines but less likely to step into the fray.  Our world has an almost infinite supply of spectators.  People willing to act are in much shorter supply.

As you live your daily life, you’re going to be confronted with all kinds of decisions.  Sometimes the quick and easy or common paths are just fine.  It may be time to decide if “just fine” is good enough or looking for better results is in our best interest.  There are many levels beyond just fine that we can reach.  The key is that we must be willing to search.  They are rarely going to be the decisions that everyone else is making.   You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.  You can do something else INSTEAD!

Make it a better day!

Pete