Blogpost, self-reliance

The Test Is Never Tomorrow

Although I’ve been a teacher for almost two decades, I’m not a huge believer in many of the standard operating procedures that we associate with school. We live in a world with rules and norms that are very different from the ones that we learn in school. This is not an indictment of the education system. There is still a reason for the system to exist and although it could be improved, we don’t seem to be able to agree on how to pivot. My point is actually on a much more personal level. For each and every one of us, the test is never tomorrow. It’s right now.

In school we are usually moving toward some form of informational crescendo where we will have a quiz, test or exam. Eventually we amass enough of these to warrant a graduation or certification. The documents that we accept are a proof of past knowledge. Passing a test on the War of 1812 would be pretty tough at the moment. However we’ve accepted this system to give ourselves titles of high school graduate, bachelor, or PHD. No matter whether we passed with flying colors or barely scraped by, we still hold the title. It is part of our identity and helps to form beliefs about who we are.

Each and every one of us has a variety of identities that we would use to classify ourselves. I’m a father, husband, teacher, coach, blogger, author, speaker, uncle, etc. Depending on the moment, I could be filling any one of those roles. Let’s dissect this, starting from the base and working our way up.

  • When I am being a coach, it’s possible that I’m 100% ignoring my role as an uncle. Does that mean that I’m a horrible uncle? No, just like in school, it’s possible to take multiple classes in order to be “well rounded” while majoring in other things. If I only had one role for myself, that role would get boring quickly.
  • Following along from the point above. Even though diversification of roles is important to stave off boredom, your attitude toward each role is going to usually determine your success more than your aptitude. A soccer player who pours his/her heart and soul into training and matches will often get farther than a similar level one who sees it as drudgery. (Another reason to revamp school)
  • The next step up is that very few of the tests in life are going to be based on extremely predictable information that we are just regurgitating from past situations. We need to interpret new circumstances and apply past knowledge while adapting with changes. It’s almost never multiple choice. Usually it’s multiple intertwined problems that we’ve never seen before and people are watching while we work.
  • Life’s tests are almost always “pop quizzes.” You’re rarely going to know when they are coming up. They are almost never representations of our cumulative knowledge in an area. Little combinations of information and skill are needed to navigate situations. There is almost no way to predict what tests are coming your way and what will be on them. There is no curve and often, you’ll never truly know if you passed or failed.

Life is less like school and more like juggling. You don’t pass or win at juggling. Invariably everything is going to fall down at some point. Some objects that you are trying to keep up will be more fragile or heavy. The only way to get better at juggling is to juggle, to chance the missteps and off balance situations. The performance and the practice are the same exact thing except one has an audience. Ultimately many of the variables can be changed but you are the constant. If you drop everything, it’s on you to pick up the pieces and start again. A teacher can tell you how to be a better juggler but it’s on you to make the throws.

This long post really only has one point. Now and you are all that you have. If you’re not ready for the tests/pins/bowling balls that life is throwing at you, then you need to use this moment to practice for the next time. Don’t expect it to be easy or that you’ll get extra time or extra help. If they come, great but they’re not a given, this isn’t school!

Practice and perform! You can do it!

Pete

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“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

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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

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Like as a Four Letter Word

IMG_3202At a certain point too much of something becomes its opposite.  The drug that could save your life becomes poison.  Too much time and attention from a significant other, no longer feels warm and fuzzy, it feels weird and creepy.  The key to keeping this from happening is to keep from overdosing on something.  At the moment, if I’m being honest, I’m LIKED out.

Growing up in the ’80s and the “Vally Girl” movement, you would have thought that it would have happened earlier.  However it is only recently that the word like has become so pervasive that it feels like its opposite.  No longer do I want to ‘like’ anything because it feels meaningless, a throw away compliment because it’s time to move onto the next thing.  Perhaps it is time to dismiss the notion of ‘liking’ every thing that you like and only ‘like’ the things that you love.  By putting this plan into action, it reduces the number of ‘likes’ to go around.  Only the truly special will be donned with this moniker.

In life our most precious resource is our time.  If all we do is like the time that we spend on this earth, then maybe we should hold out for more loves rather than drowning in likes.  They might take some more effort to find but at least everything won’t feel like different flavors of vanilla.

Find the peaks of experience today!

Pete

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Soccer as Religion

IMG_4372 (1)It has been said many times that soccer is a “religion”.  While this may be taken as an exaggeration or possibly a slight against religion, there is reason to take the claim with a certain amount of seriousness.  Although the sport does not call for the fealty to a superhuman controlling power, it could be considered a form of faith and worship.  Routinely throughout the year, people flock by the thousands to sport cathedrals to have their faith tested by the team of their choosing.  Much like a religion, an individual must decide to keep believing in the face of conflict.  Although the teams, managers and players are the facilitators, it is actually the mass’s belief in the sport itself that makes it most like a religion.

The belief structure of soccer is not something that is written in a holy book but there are some universals that are worth mentioning as they relate heavily to life.

You’re never fully in control.  Although the ball can be “possessed” by anyone on the field, that possession is tenuous at best.  Even the goalkeeper has a time limit on their ability to hold the ball.

Progress and protection must be balanced.  Even the most forward thinking teams recognize the need for a form of balance.  Those who do not recognize the need for balance pay the price eventually.

No one can stand alone.  Even the best players in history needed a supporting cast in order to be successful.  Much like life, the individual is part of a larger whole and therefore is dependent on others.

There are many ways to meet your aims.  Style of play, formations, personnel and other components are merely ingredients to an eventual product.  The path does not always follow the plan or the map but actually doing is the key.

The tools may be finite but the possibilities are infinite.  Each player has a finite number of tools to use but their ability to respond to the situation with those tools is what brings people back repeatedly.

These are not commandments or any form of religious doctrine but rather a few ideas that are inherent to the game.  It is because of these ideas and many more that the game of soccer is so universally beloved.  It mirrors life in so many ways that the people who love it may not even realize the overlaps.  The game encapsulates in ninety minutes (or thereabouts) the struggle of what it means to be alive.  Collectively and individually we are all caught in a struggle and the game is an available guidepost to help us along the road.

Play both games well!

Pete

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The Soccer Caravan (How We Get There Matters)

Image-1Things were different before the internet.  There’s just no denying it.  I told a group of young people recently about how we used to caravan to soccer games.  Most of the group of parents would meet at a predetermined spot and follow each other to the location of the game.  It may seem ridiculous by the modern day standard.  Ten cars following each other down the highway to reach a youth soccer game.  That was just how things were done.  The positive side was that we combined cars a lot.  People would ride together.  One of my best friends from that time came from the fact that his mother didn’t like to drive on highways.  So he and his mother would ride with us.  So even though it’s not how we do it now, it had its virtues.

The convenience of the GPS has made for less people getting lost but we’ve lost our sense of people.  The chance to become part of a clan that travels together has dwindled.  We are a species that has historically worked together in order to reach our greatest heights.  Will we find the convenience to be a consolation for traveling alone on the road?  It’s not particularly how fast we get there.  It is a question of whether or not we got there well.  Bringing people together is a key to our survival.  Let’s find ourselves by coming together.

Enjoy your travels!

Pete

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Blogpost, self-reliance

That Diploma in Your Hand (What It Does and Does Not Say)

Senior High School PhotoIt is graduation season!  Whether high school or college or even pre-school, millions of students will be walking forward to receive their diplomas.  This tradition has carried on for centuries and will probably continue into the foreseeable future.  The act of public recognition of achievement is extremely important.  It releases a cascade of chemicals into our systems that act as a reward/marker for the accomplishment.  Our feelings are what drive us to do almost everything in our lives.  So the event is important but what about the paper?  What does it say or not say about us as individuals?

The things, that a diploma is, are numerous.  It is a certificate of completion of requirements.  Depending on the level of study, it may indicate certain levels of outstanding performance.  It is a signal of a certain level of commitment.  At the university level, it is almost a form of tribalism that uses the reputation of the institution to in theory say something about the individual.  All of these and many more are things that a diploma may say.  But even more important for graduates at the moment is what a diploma does not say.

It does not say:

  • That you’re done learning.
  • That you’re smart.
  • That the world now owes you something.
  • That you won’t need to reprove that you deserved to earn the diploma.
  • That you are less than, equal to or better than anyone else with a diploma or without one.
  • That you’re stuck pursuing that one thing for the rest of your life.
  • That the value of the diploma won’t change over time.

Obviously this is just a short list but at this point you probably get the picture.  A diploma is a piece of paper.  In the end it is not the paper that matters, it is you!  You are the one who will go out into the world to make things happen.  Pinning that paper to your chest to use as a shield against all future challenges is a poor strategy.  INSTEAD use the diploma as a milestone.  A marker that delineates the difference between one portion of your life and another.  The story that we tell ourselves about ourselves is extremely important.  So recognize that the paper is flimsy, easily tarnished and not very valuable on its own because another copy is available at a price.  However you have the ability to be anything that you decide to be regardless of the paper.  You are what truly matters and your continued pursuit of life will be the record that you will be judged upon.  There is no other copy of you, even if you’re a twin.  Take your individuality and mix it with what you have learned and pursue those things that create energy within you.  Build a life that you will be excited to get up and live every day!

Best of luck to all of the graduates!

Pete

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Would You Know a Good Ref If You Saw One?

refereeToday my son’s game had an extremely good referee group.  The center referee and his two linesmen called the game very well.  Despite the fact that they did a great job and got the majority of the calls right (even the ones that went against my son’s team), there were still complaints from parents.  Which made me wonder if people really have any idea what makes for a good referee or if they just want calls to go in their team’s favor?  Here are some thoughts to consider.

The level matters – Recognize that the job of a referee changes as the age and the level of play changes.  At the lowest levels, the referee is part of a learning process.  Their job is more about managing the understanding of the game rather than calling “fouls”.  Often the sidelines are complaining about things that are poor body control and not actually a foul.  The higher levels require much more reading of the flow of the game.  A good referee will identify possible problems developing in the play.  Their use of cards, advantage, player discussions and fouls called/not called will depend largely upon their reading of the game and individual’s roles within in it.  So as you are watching a game, give some thought as to the level of soccer being played and what the referee’s role truly is at that level.

Perspective matters – By design, referees are intended to be a neutral third party at the game.  So they are not carrying the bias that most of us bring to the game.  Their decisions are based upon what they see and not what they feel.  This creates another issue for most fans because their vantage point is completely different from that of the referee’s.  So it is not only possible but actually completely accurate to say that fans and referees have seen a different game.  Most of the time this is done with no instant replay, no VAR with different camera angles.  This is done live with twenty two players running in all directions and possibly screening the view.  Despite these major obstacles, perfection is the standard that many expect.

The Laws are the Laws – A good referee will call the game based on the laws of the game, not public perception of what the laws are.  There are many things that are commonly shouted from fans or even coaches about things that do not apply to the Laws of the game.  “Winning the ball” for example does not make a player immune from having a foul called against them.  If the play is deemed to be reckless, then a foul is appropriate regardless of who won the ball.  A large number of players, fans and coaches have only a cursory knowledge of the Laws that are based more on hearsay rather than actual study.

Obviously this is just a small sample but each is worth considering.  The game requires referees and the good ones need to be identified, praised and promoted.  I fear that many people involved in the soccer world would not be able to identify a good referee if they saw one.  That is unfortunate because that means that people are unable to see past their own desires.  Most of the soccer played in this country is youth soccer.  Therefore the majority of children are getting a skewed view of right and wrong.  Right means in my favor and wrong means anything else.  The ability to be objective could be lost.

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An Open Letter to My Future Players

To Whom It May Concern:

VESPhotoI am your new coach.  That’s a role that I take very seriously.  It’s a mixture of teacher, mentor, psychologist, personal trainer, confidant and many other jobs that coalesce into a position of great possible influence.  The word possible is in there because people are put into roles like this every day but just because someone leads does not mean that anyone will follow.  A position of power does not make someone a leader.  Leaders must be willing to go first.  My hope is that I am able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am.

At this point, I could list all of my past experiences and accolades but they are only slightly relevant.  Prior success is not a guarantee of future success.  Also that term is something that we will have to define together.  So what am I offering?  Commitment…  A similar commitment to the ones that I make to my wife and children.  I take it that seriously.  The commitment to do what I believe is best in the long run.  Not particularly today.  Not the things that are easy.  Not the things that most people would do but rather the things that few people would do.  Things that may lose games but improve lives.  Ultimately that is the game that I care the most about: LIFE.  Eventually everyone’s playing career comes to an end.  The things that we carry with us after the games are over are the true victories.  The friends, confidence, self-discipline, self-awareness, and so many others are the trophies that we not only carry with us but can rely upon for years to come.  In the end, your ability to control a ball will probably amount to very little but your ability to control yourself will give you everything.

So where do we go from here?  Forward!  We are going to take the necessary steps in order to prepare for what lies ahead.  There is no way to predict what those things might be.  Every team and every season is different.  So we will do our best to anticipate the challenges and prepare for them.  We will endure hardships.  Face opponents external and internal.  Enjoy the successes but no matter what it will be done together.  Every one of us will contribute to whatever we accomplish.  From the starting captain, all the way down to the last person on the bench of the lowest level team, we all have something to give.  It may not be goals, saves or minutes but there is value in all of it.

I could go on but rather than talking about starting, we should just start.  So for now, let me just say that I am extremely excited to be working with you.

See you soon!

Coach

P.S.  Below is something that I wrote a few months back.  Not sure how it will play into my plans but I’m putting it here for your consideration.

“Toward Full Stature”

I go out today in search of victory,

Not over the opponent who stands in front of me

But the lesser self that resides within me

Before I can conquer anyone or anything else

I must first conquer and control myself

And if today I am able to stand victorious,

I know that tomorrow will bring a new challenge

Each day my ability to stand tall will be tested

But I am confident that I will reach my full stature