Tenacity at the table: Three lessons for mastering anything

1 Mar

It is brilliant in its simplicity.

A year’s worth of dedication, captured in a single five-minute video. By now you’ve probably seen the viral YouTube sensation that is Ben Larcombe.

His charge was mastery.

His medium, dedication.

His obsession, table tennis.

Ben is the guy who dedicated the better part of an entire year to mastering ping pong and videotaped the entire thing. He then posted his 365-day odyssey to YouTube in a single five minute video that shows one second per day of his quest.

His amazing video and results have some takeaways for the rest of us.

Persistence

This is the obvious one. Here is a guy who set a goal and doggedly pursued it. You may disagree with his goal, or find this all a waste of time, but Larcombe took his quest seriously. And not only that, but he doubled-down by adding accountability via video.

No doubt from time to time this all got pretty old, and he could have easily quit. But Larcombe is a guy who does what he said he’d do and the sheer fact that he was making this video probably helped him stay true to his vision. Goals and plans are great, when combined with accountability they actually get done.

Lesson: Find accountability. Make it cost you something to quit on your goal

A Strong Focus on Details

You want to get good at ping pong, you have to play a lot of ping pong. That seems reasonable, but that is only partly correct. The video shows not only games, but hours of drills. It combines both with leg exercises and overall fitness.

There is more to table tennis than there seems, and focusing on the details of those other things (speed, agility, footwork) is important. You’ll note how Larcombe holds his non-paddle arm. I know nothing about table tennis strategy, but it’s clear this is a detail that a coach has told him is important and Ben is working hard to implement that detail.

Lesson: Break your goal into pieces and focus on the details of each of them.

Stick-to-itiveness 

Goals and dogged determination are important, but it also helps to keep your healthy obsession from consuming your life. You’ll notice that this video starts with a title slide that says “1 second (almost) every day”. I think this is an important detail.

What does the parenthetical “(almost)” mean?

Maybe it means that he didn’t use video from each day in the YouTube post, but I like to think it means he may have missed a few days along the way.

It is understandable if true.  This guy was as dedicated as anyone, but sometimes life gets in the way and stuff comes up. That’s fine, but the key was that those lapses never stretched into two days in a row or a week.

Backsliding is your enemy, recognizing when it may emerge is key to reaching your goals.

Lesson: Take setbacks in stride, get in gear and don’t let them snowball into failures.

Three simple lessons that you can use the next 365 days applying.

What have you always dreamed of?  What is stopping you?

Three Lessons in Leadership: The Governator

19 Feb

Schwarzenegger.

What comes to mind when you hear that name?

For some it is a black and white picture of the most impressive physique of all time. For others it is an action film star, failed governor or even cheating husband. And he’s all of these things. But above all else, he’s driven and successful.

thOMC3C122
Wanna be like Mike? Go ahead, I’d prefer to be like Ah-nuld.

Lesson 1 – Conquered weaknesses can become strengths

Leadership coaches and others will tell you that if you can develop your strengths you can frequently work around your weaknesses. While this can be true, it’s a terrible message and wholly inaccurate if you have a truly fatal flaw.

Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate your weaknesses with hard work?

Such was the case for Schwarzenegger. In the 60’s a teen Arnold was embarrassed in competition because of his weak calves. He possessed the total package of a physique, but it was all perched on top of a pair of chicken legs. He had always struggled to build the calves that would give him the symmetry he needed to win.

His answer?

To seek out the king of calves Reg Clark for consult. Only he didn’t stop there, he committed to getting up at five in the morning to train with the legend and even cut the bottoms off of the legs his sweatpants to keep his focus on his adversary. For set after set over the course of weeks he worked Clark’s system, trusting something that was totally new to him. His trust in his mentor was rewarded and all of that hard work eventually delivered the sickest calves on the planet.

A weakness turned into a strength through trust, focus, goal-setting and hard work.

arnold_schwarzenegger


Lesson 2- Stretch yourself– your comfort zone is your enemy

In 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger was already a huge star. From Conan the Barbarian to Running Man, Predator and Commando plus many more, he had essentially become his own genre.

The Terminator could have hammered dozens more films exactly like those he had already done. Only that isn’t how successful people are wired. In fact, you could argue, if he were wired that way, he’d have never left bodybuilding.

Ever the entrepreneur, Arnold had conquered the action film, it was time to find a new challenge.  He found it in comedy.

Arnold wanted to stretch himself, but he also knew he didn’t know the first thing about comedic acting. So he enlisted the help of Ivan Reitman, a master of the genre. Together they picked a project and the rest is history. The resulting project Twins, became the most profitable movie of his entire career.

Lesson 3- Always bet on yourself

Were you surprised to hear that Twins was the most profitable movie of Arnold’s career? There is a reason for that. You see Arnold made the movie for free. Instead of a salary and despite never having done a comedy, he bet on himself in a royalty deal. No pay for the film, instead opting for 20% of the back end.

That back end resulted in a full $35 million dollar payday. All because when no one else thought Arnold could pull off comedy, he banked on himself.

The bottom line

One could easily write Arnold off because of his well-publicized moral failings. You could choose to ignore him due to an inconsistent run as Governor of California. To do so would be foolish.

Schwarzenegger is the epitome of the entrepreneur. He went from enterprising immigrant to seven time Mr. Olympia, to the biggest film star on the planet.   Then for good measure he became Governor of our most populous state. He has re-invented himself and risen to success at virtually everything he’s tried.

But the other thing you’ll note about our story is yet another consistent theme. He didn’t do it alone. Arnold was continually seeking out the best of the best and asking for help. Ivan Reitman, Reg Clark and many others. Arnold is widely considered a self-made man, but he’s clearly not.

Making him just like you… minus those sick calves of course.

Little Leaguers: Truest of Athletes- The Athletic Supporter August 30, 1994

12 Feb

What has happened to little league baseball?

Ineligible players? Stripped titles? It’s enough to make me pine for a simpler time. What time you ask? Specifically August 30th 1994. That’s when the Northern Iowan student newspaper chronicled a Little League World Series we could truly celebrate.

It is throwback Thursday, I hope you enjoy this time capsule. The Athletic Supporter rides again.

Supporter

Baseball is big business.

Millions of dollars are spent obtaining players in hopes of fielding a winning team to collect millions of dollars. Baseball players are some of the best athletes in the world, paid essentially to do something no one else does as well as they can.

In the current strike-shortened season, the players and owners have a squabble over (what else?) money. The simple idea of “who gets what?” has the entire major league baseball world in a bureaucratic limbo, leaving the common fan disappointed to say the least.

Far away from the pressure-filled negotiations, untarnished by greed, a small team of heroes assembles in Williamsport, PA.

Once again it’s Little League World Series time and fans flock from everywhere to see America’s best take on the world. Young men from around the globe assemble to simply play a game and see how they stack up against the competition.

The winners will receive a hero’s welcome and the adoration of the entire US, but not much else. These same young men have been gathering for months, practicing and working hard to reach their chance at stardom.

They love playing baseball.

If they weren’t gathered in Williamsport, they most certainly would be in their neighborhoods gathering friends to organize a game. Or out back playing catch with their dads.

Somewhere upon climbing the ladder to becoming a professional, the line between sport and business becomes fuzzy. Money comes before fun as little leaguers grow up. Their innocence gone, little leaguers enter the fray of big-time athletics, oblivious to their former selves.

One day, long since gone, Barry Bonds, minus the gold chains and fat wallet was like the little leaguers.

He loved the sport of baseball.

The problem with Bonds and his cohorts on the strike front is that they have lost what the Pennsylvania kids take for granted. The players’ passion for mastery of the game has turned into a passion for what the game can get them.

Those players could learn a lot from the team from Northridge, Calif., who are vying for the title, despite an earthquake that threatened their very existence.

Baseball is one of the most sacred and loved of American institutions, and it is truly sad how it has degenerated into a number-crunching machine whose simple concern is increasing revenues while decreasing expenses.

What can we, the fans, do about it?

I have a suggestion that works for me.

Rather than sulk in the sad days of the strike, I prefer to revel in the performances of the little leaguers. It has proved therapeutic as well as entertaining.

While you are not likely to see 400 foot home runs and celebrities in the stands, you will see America’s most genuine competitors.

Someday, the far-off dollars of giant contracts may rape these young men of their innocence, but, for now, they remain the truest of athletes.

Education Report Card: Communication F-

8 Feb

reportcard

 

My second grader’s semester recently ended.   I was anxious to find out how she was doing in school so I downloaded her report card.  Having read it thoroughly I remain anxious to learn how she is doing.

Confused?  So am I.

By profession my day job is focused on metrics and effective communication.  If I communicated as well as this report, I’d be fired.

The report card was troubling, not because my daughter is struggling, but by virtue of the very manner in which she is being assessed.

The following are her Language Arts grades

Reading Grade:  Bridging

Writing Grade:  Early Independence

Is it ironic that my child’s grades in a class designed to teach her to communicate effectively, did the exact opposite.  What could these possibly mean?

Is she doing well?  Where should she focus?   How can I help her?

All valid questions. None answered by her report card, which is more of a participation trophy than an assessment report.

As a parent I shouldn’t need a decoder ring to assess my child’s performance. It turns out the full range of “grades” is as follows:

Emergent

Developing

Early Independence

Expanding

Bridging

Fluent

First, an aside. This rant is in no way intended to attack any particular educator or teachers in general. I was raised by an educator who did a great job in helping grow leaders and independent thinkers alike.  I greatly respect her and all who choose the field.

My own children, have teachers that (like most) are engaged, effective, underpaid and underappreciated. That is the precise reason why all of this is so troubling. An assessment tool should help those teachers, not hinder them.

Studies consistently indicate that the one factor with the highest correlation to student success is parental involvement. And yet the very metrics my school district uses do their best to confuse those parents.  They should be striving to make parental engagement easier, not more difficult.

The question is why are they doing this?

My guess is one of two things:

  1. This rating scale was created by an administrator who hasn’t been in a classroom in at least 15 years and had very little interest in teaching when they were.  They retreated to academia as quickly as possible and have over-engineered this process to prove their sophistication.
  2. This is yet another attempt to insulate our kids from competition in pursuit of the holy grail of self-esteem.  It serves as the latest hare-brained solution to remove the stigma of bad grades and competition.  It is a train of thought I fundamentally disagree with on every level. Competition is important and something every one of those kids will confront outside of the classroom every single day. Yet at this rate, they’ll be wholly unprepared to deal with it.

And you know what?

None of this matters for kids like mine. They’ll be fine. They have two engaged parents who are dedicated to delivering a logical and moral framework to help them understand the world and adapt.

But what about kids who don’t have this? What happens to those whose parents are checked out?  Parents who won’t even attend conferences? What about those who have English as a second language or other barriers?

What about them?

Is this system helping our hurting?

From the Emergent to the Fluent, I think we all know the correct answer.

The Super Bowl of C students: How the elite got beat for gridiron glory

30 Jan

Sb3 

The Super Bowl is the pinnacle. It is the crowning achievement of the greatest athletes in the world, a capstone that brings the best and brightest to the biggest.

Or does it?

You’d expect the game to be the culmination of a journey, one that began with the best of the best high school players who transitioned to all-American honors in college and ultimately to the league.

Only it’s not.

Sunday’s game will feature exactly ZERO players who received a five-star recruit rating out of high school. Perhaps more interestingly, it will include 10 who received two stars.

Consider that for a second. Graded on a curve (as most of life is) those are C & D students in the football world, and yet you’ll be sitting home watching them compete on Sunday; sitting home, just like every five star recruit in world.

It seemingly defies logic, until you think about it.

 Five star recruits were not only the best players on their team; they were the best in their conference, state and region. They were a huge deal in their hometown and treated as such. Blessed with insane physical skills, they didn’t have to work that hard to dominate the scores of lesser players they faced every week.

Add in the distraction of attention, from both recruiters and girls with the naiveté of a teenager and you can see the issue. These players were massively talented studs that were never pushed, never challenged, and rarely forced to be focused.

Meanwhile the two and three star players took a different path, one that featured some adversity. At every level they learned what it is like to get knocked down and to be a step slow. They also knew they couldn’t get by on reputation. The only way to overcome that skill gap was via hard work and adaptation.

A prime case study is three-star recruit, Cardale Jones, our national champion winning QB. Jones is no stranger to adversity; his short college career has been full of it.

First, he was a poor student and had some serious struggles with academics; struggles that were further enhanced by a widely publicized misstep on social media. Add into that mix a teen pregnancy and, following spring ball last year, a demotion to the third string.  

Would anyone blame Jones for fleeing Columbus at that point? Leaving the Buckeyes in search of a clean slate somewhere else?

Were he an entitled five-star recruit, he may very well have lost hope and transferred. But that’s not Jones’ style. Instead he re-dedicated himself; got his grades up and prepared for an opportunity he knew may very well never come.

You know the rest of the story. The unlikely opportunity arrived and a prepared and polished young man stepped into the Big Ten title game and never looked back. A three-game win streak led to a National title and NFL interest. All of this fueled by his decision to take his lumps in Columbus, put in his work and hope for the best.

Jones did what successful people do. He took what could have been chocked up as a failure, and re-framed it as a setback, then backfilled with effort. That is what sets Jones apart and can serve as a lesson to the rest of us.

Mistakes happen and challenges arise, your attitude in how you confront them will make all the difference. Will you embrace failure, or find a new path?

Dream-chasing isn’t for the meek. Someone will always have more money, more connections and a head start. Luckily tenacity, grit and desire are our trump cards.

In football and in life, no one cares where you started, only how you finish.

 

SUPER BUST: Nine reasons to shut off the TV & reclaim Super Sunday

24 Jan

tv

Successful people learn to say no.  They recognize their time is a finite commodity and invest it accordingly.   The worst Super Bowl matchup in history presents a great opportunity for you to follow their lead.

Nine reasons these teams and this league don’t deserve your support.

The Seahawks are patent trolls
Not since Al Gore bragged about inventing the internet has such a tenuous line of attribution been fabricated.  First the Seahawks claimed that they invented the “12th man”.  This proved to be a croc –Texas A&M owns it and now charges them a usage fee.  And this week it was announced that they filed papers trying to claim legal ownership of the phrase “go hawks”.   This is a slap in the face to all Iowans.  This is ours!  Not that we’ve been able to proudly exclaim it lately, but so what.  Boycott.

Roger’s gotta learn
To watch the game means to further line the pockets of a commish who already makes $44 million a year, but has no accountability to anyone.  Player health, domestic abuse, deflated footballs, criminal players, there is really no issue he can’t stonewall.  A CEO who hides from us deserves fans who hide from his product. Until they fire the empty suit, we should fire their product.

Win at all costs is no way to live
The Patriots are cheaters.  Past performance does predict future results.  You know these two incidents are likely only the beginning.  Can you imagine what they might have done over the years and gotten away with already?  It will all come out some day.

My money is on Gronk being a cyborg.

gronk

Cyborg Gronk. Not a huge stretch as you can already clearly see his mechanical arm.

Seahawk tradition
In a word, there is none.

This team is younger than any fan that can afford a ticket to watch them play.  This teenager of a franchise started in 1976 and yet has already flipped from AFC to NFC and re-engineered its color scheme 10 times.  Nice legacy. What are the official colors anyway? Green?  Neon?  Desperation?   All of this tweaking of tones has netted nothing, their current jerseys look like they were designed by Liberace on acid.  With these jerseys they’d be laughed off the field in the Arena League– which is exactly where this team belongs.

You are older than Bieber
Pop music pixie Katy Perry will be the lead act for halftime on Sunday and will be “joined by“ Lenny Kravitz.  Who set this lineup?  How is Lenny an also-ran and not a headliner?  That is an insult to anyone over 12 years old.  I have news for the NFL, none of the pre-pubescent crowd that cares about Katy has the attention span to make it past the first quarter to actually see her perform.  Total NFaiL.

Good old fashioned envy
Brady is a good-looking athletic multimillionaire who happens to be married to a supermodel.  I’m not a big fan of the class warfare that has arisen these past few years but this guy is clearly in the 1%…. OF EVERYTHING.  Forget him.

The Seahawk stars are sketch
This Seahawks squad includes a running back who celebrates TDs via crotch-grab and an obnoxious self-promoting braggart cornerback who belittles his foes.  What are they modeling to our kids? Russell Wilson may seem like a class act, but so did Cosby.

Belichick seems angry but repressed
It’s clear that Bill has anger management issues, but his press conferences are so controlled and Pollyanna lately that it is troubling.  I prefer not to enable this repression of his true feelings.  Maybe a little less attention and some poor Super Bowl ratings will get him out of his shell.  Coaching rants are half of the fun of the NFL.  He’s denying us our birthright. Scream angry little man, scream!

The venue is fake
University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of this year’s game is a monument to a virtual school.  Virtual means fake.  If you “went” there, you got duped.  Putting that school on your resume tells a prospective employer all he needs to know about you as a candidate.  Harsh but true.  On the bright side, if you did attend (whatever that means) you can claim Lil Wayne and Shaq as fellow alums.  Look for them at the virtual tailgates… hammering cyber beers and eBrats.

Answering Critics with Grace: MLK’s Lessons from Birmingham

18 Jan

king

In 2015, everyone wants the index card version of everything.

We don’t have time for the full story; we desire only the broad strokes, preferably 140 characters at a time.  Long form is considered anything over two pages, and it better contain an infographic and an executive summary.   We consume and quickly move on to what is next.

Some stories are worth much more.  The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s is one of those stories.  To many children (and far too many adults) his life is largely summed up by one speech and martyrdom.   We know conceptually that the man led a nonviolent revolution, but few of us can appreciate the sacrifice and vision.  Nor are we capable of grasping the reality of that historical place and time.

On the eve of the observation of Dr. King’s birthday I spent my Sunday afternoon re-reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”– King’s answer to his critics and call to action.

This open letter still applies to us today, and gives a glimpse into history as well as some thoughts on our future.  Just a few of the subjects covered include

  • The source of moral authority
  • The danger and impotence of appeasement strategies and moderates
  • The threat of violent extremists

I’d tell you more, but an executive summary won’t tell this tale.   You can’t tweet greatness.  You owe it to yourself to find 15 minutes to reacquaint yourself with a true freedom fighter, in historical context, in own his words.  Dr King’s legacy isn’t in a textbook, and it isn’t a speech.  It is the resonance and application of his words, even today.

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