Failing Your Way to Success

Des Linden, Failing Your Way to Success

This video is an excerpt of the Rich Roll podcast in which he interviews Des Linden about her journey to victory at the Boston Marathon.

There are lots of insights here, but stay to the end.

The Mind is Always There

The Way of Baseball Finding Stillness at 95 MPH by Shawn Green

the way of baseballThe title of this post comes from a great book,  The Way of Baseball Finding Stillness at 95 MPH written by Shawn Green. You do not have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book.  I am not one and yet I found this book incredibly compelling.

A coach I respect recommended it as a companion to The Inner Game of Tennis.

I love The Inner Game so I picked this book up. And, it’s been well worth it.

Shawn Green was one of the best hitters in baseball. His career stats are impressive, but that success was not inevitable.

This book describes his journey from a frustrated young professional baseball player into an All-Star and incredibly successful power hitter.

As is true of all stories of success his path was not linear.

Stillness

The book begins with a Chapter entitled “Stillness,” but the start of his career was anything but still.

Green was frustrated. His coach wanted to change and limit his batting style. He and his coach disagreed on his potential and the path he should take.   So he momentarily turned to a different coach for guidance.

The result? He was banished from the team’s batting cages unless supervised.

Pissed, rebellious and a bit desperate he turned to a batting tee in a tiny space on the team’s training campus.

What begins as a ego-driven rebellion shifts to something else:

“However four or five days into it something changed. I began to enjoy it. After the first fifteen or so swing, my mind would quiet and the swings would start to be fluid…. I even made a ritual of placing the ball on the tee the same way every tie…my tee work had started out as a form of punishment, yet it suddenly felt like something else, something more than just a hitting exercise. 

Was it becoming meditation?”

He continued the routine even after showing significant improvement and a return to the lineup.

He stayed focused on his breathing and on the ball. He kept his focus external and concentrated.

The deeper he dug into his routine the less he was affected by other people, critics and fans alike. The more still he became.

Peer Influence

He describes how his peers around the league actually became his mentors and surrogate coaches.  He fulfilled the same role for others.  They picked each others brains in search of information and keys to success.

We meet Tony Fernandez a key influence on Green. He impacted him in many ways, but one method stood out: Fernandez was willing to take a temporary step backwards in the results he achieved in order to take a more meaningful leap forward:

“Tony wasn’t one to put Band-Aids on his swing just to scratch out an extra hit or two when he was struggling; rather he remained committed to finding his true swing.  If that meant going hitless for a game or two by swinging the heavier bat, he was willing…His mere presence had a profound impact on my personal success.”

The book reminds us that we often don’t give enough credence to the role models on our teams or the power of peer leadership.

We need to pay more attention and leverage this more. ( The Captain Class, another recent read, really drove that point home.)

Locus of  Control

His account is a fascinating look at the locus of control in sport. At this point he feels as though he has gained a measure of control over the ball.

I had reduced hitting, an extremely difficult activity, to its most basic form. As a result, I took each swing with full attention.

Previously when a pitcher threw a ball to me, the ball was in control. I reacted to the ball’s speed and movement.  Since the pitcher was the one with the ball I also reacted to the pitcher. Of course, in my tee routine I no longer worked against the pitcher and the ball. Now, there was no pitcher,and the ball was simply sitting there waitingfor me to hit it. I didn’t need to speed up or slow down. …In essence I reversed my relationship with the baseball.

And, on a deeper level,I was learning to step out of time.

This is a critical paradox. He learned the timing of hitting by placing himself outside of time. He becomes both proactive and less reactive. Awareness specifically indicates awareness of the ball, the pitcher, the movements–not himself.

Of course, this has profound implications for his life off the field as well.

Life also becomes calm.

Work With What You Have

Green details the imperfections of his stride and his swing.  But the bigger point is that all hitters, even the best, have flaws in their swings.

The key is to navigate these flaws and “work with what you have.”

He credits the tee work with giving him the mental space to finally solve some of these flaws. He recognized he had always been too analytical.

He was trying too hard to solve problems.

When he got quiet and allowed space, the solution emerged. He got a picture of what was going on.

The actual problem with his swing is neither here nor there to me. The important thing, is the process by which he solved it. This movement into calm, the growing awareness, the solution through intuition.

The lack of force.

The power of simply doing the work.

Green’s solution to his flaws, “Instead of fighting where my body wanted to go, I went with it.”

He, of course describes this thoroughly, but it’s an excellent description of how to get out of your own head.

I think I could have done better with my left foot if I had read this book at 18 years of age.

Here’s a thought for coaches. We often say get out of your head, but do we create environments where people can?

Have Fun and Compete

Another important factor was how much fun he had with the other great hitters. They used competition in training as a form of cooperation.  They enjoyed this and it ingrained the competitive habits that he would need at the plate in real-life competitive situations.  The athletes created these environments for themselves.

“Coaches had always wanted me to hit for power, but, oddly, they’d never told me to practice hitting home runs during batting practice. Instead they’d give me mechanical suggestions as to what changes in my swing or approach would help me hit more home runs, but they never suggested I simply practice hitting the ball as far as I could.

Often the simplest ideas are the best.”

Here it becomes clear that the tee is only one piece of what propelled him forward. He needed this batting practice time to “bring his tee time into the real world.”

Green also does a great job of describing the way the mind can get in the way even when you are aware and experienced at managing it.

As he says “the mind is always there.”

He developed detailed routines and habits in order to manage the mind’s chatter and keep his awareness focused on the pitcher’s movements.

Success got to his head at one point even as more experienced people around him tried to guide him. Without vigilance and constant practice it was easy to slip into old habits and negative spaces. His journey back from that was fascinating and filled with many more insights. He reconciles with his former coach and comes to understand the interaction a bit better.

All in all a really insightful and entertaining read.

If I were still coaching I have no doubt The Way of Baseball Finding Stillness at 95 MPH  would be a useful tool for a thoughtful athlete.

I’ve written about baseball before

One Shot at Forever

A Short list of soccer books

(Disclosure:  The Coaching Conversation is an amazon affiliate. If you purchase a book or anything through here the blog makes a small percentage. Thank you in advance.)

Leadership on the Court

Sue Bird Leads the Seattle Storm to the WNBA Finals

Congratulations to the Seattle Storm on another WNBA title.  I doubt it’s a coincidence that they have great on the court leadership and another title.

Check out this quote from the Seattle Times article on the championship:

Sue Bird, the league’s oldest player at 37 who played with a mask over her broken nose, is the only holdover from the Storm’s championship teams in 2010 and 2004.

“It’s incredible to be sitting here right now,” said the 17-year veteran, who finished with 10 points and 10 assists. “This is probably going to be one of the defining moments of my career. To have played however many years I’ve been playing, to have won in all these places, but then to do it at the end in such a way that was different from all the others, it’s really incredible.”

Read the article about the WNBA champions here.

Great Coaches Are Often Originals

A look at the book Originals by Adam Grant

"Originality is an act of creative destruction." Joseph Schumpeter

Many of the best coaches I know are originals. They move at their own pace, think their own thoughts, and make enormous contributions to the game or the culture around them.

In Originals Adam Grant extols the virtues of these nonconformists who create novel ideas, or go against the grain of convention, and lead successful powerful lives.

Of course we all borrow thoughts from others.  We may even think they are ours. Grant describes this with the great phrase “kleptomnesia.”

Grant shows us why curiosity is crucial and leads us to question the status quo and to look behind “what is’ to see “what could be.”

“When we become  curious about the dissatisfying defaults in our world, we begin to recognize that most of them have social origins: Rules and systems were created by people. And awareness gives us the courage to contemplate how to change them.”

Like you and me

The book offers us the same cautionary tale of being selected for greatness too early that we can see all around us in sports.  We push people to achieve, but achievement motivation can hinder creativity and create a need to play it safe in hopes of succeeding.

Evidence showed that many great leaders had to be pushed and ‘cajoled” into leading as a result of this.

He also adamantly makes the point that originals aren’t inherently extraordinary. We all have it in us because we all–even some of the most famous people in history–grapple with the same doubts, fears and desire for security.

“Originals” often get pushed out into the spotlight by others much of the time.  They are often as risk averse as you or I.  The positive side of this is that it leads them to hedge bets and build stable and successful structures around their creative ideas.

Taleb in Anti-Fragile talks about building robust systems and structures. Grant seems to be making a similar point.

“Those assumptions overlook the central benefit of a balanced risk portfolio: Having a sense of       security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another.”

So don’t quit your day job, but do explore your best ideas. Originals can take big risks in one area precisely because they have security in another.

Compassionate Leaders

Some of these reluctant leaders are very attuned to others. They show deep compassion and can be very deliberate even hesitant and self conscious when making decisions.

They weigh the opinions of others.

He uses the example of Abraham Lincoln the remarkably deliberate president. (By the way I  just watched the movie with Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. It was great, subtle and made me think about this book.)

Ok, so originals are very much like you and me. They weren’t necessarily the early overachievers, they are likely to play it safe in many areas of their lives and they can be self conscious and care what others think.

So how do they make the leap?

Remind yourself that originality is not a fixed trait. You can choose to be an original. Sometimes we just need someone to show us that is possible, which this book does.

After you buy in to the promise of your new idea Grant says we then need to be prepared to communicate it well. Then he shows how to sell it to a bigger and bigger audience.

The last third of the book focuses on how to set your own originality free not just in your career, but your life.

His final chapter “Rocking the Boat and Keeping it Steady” presents ways to manage anxiety as you push bravely forward. It’s fascinating and important to recognize how many “originals” deal the same ambivalence and doubt as you and I do.

“Psychologist Julie Norem studies two different strategies for handling these challenges: strategic optimism and defensive pessimism. Strategic optimism anticipates the best, staying calm and setting high expectations. Defensive pessimists expect the worst, feeling anxious and imagining all the things that can go wrong…”

They both performed well

“At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism, Norem writes. “Before long, I realized that they were doing so well because of their pessimism.”

Turns out this pessimism can be motivating.

Finally, at the end he has included a section called “Actions for Impact,” a reminder that if we want to join the list of originals it’s a choice and an action.

Get going.

You can follow Adam Grant and his podcast WorkLife

The Coaching Conversation is an amazon affiliate. When you purchase a book through here we get a small percentage which supports the work we do. Thank you in advance. The public library and your local book stores are also great options and provide a wonderful service for your community.

14 Standards

No Rules, But We Have Standards

This is a fantastic interview with Coach K on standards employed by the USA Team.

The standards were created by the team and coaches–“all of us imposing and living our standards.”

Video via @RyanPannone on twitter