Sunday, January 8, 2012

Define Yourself

"The secret of life is this: When you hear the sound
of the cannons, walk toward them." ~Marcel France

Define Yourself

We are less than a week away from our first 2012 track and field meet (Jan 14th UNI-Dome). I love this time of the year. The always difficult fall training is behind us and it is time to take the exams. Competitors love this part of the season. The pretenders; not so much.

Like I referenced in last week’s blog, this is an extremely young team. We have some amazing upperclassmen (and women) who you will be hearing a lot about once the guns goes off, but it is always the newcomers that get my attention heading into the season.

Every generation is different. It is our job as coaches is to understand what makes each new group unique, and how we can bind them. Within that group it is our job to figure out what makes each kid special and what makes them tick. I love this process. One thing I always try to get the newcomers to understand is that life is hard. Seems simple to a guy over 40, but we are in the entitlement age. This new generation is fantastic in many ways, but they seem to think life is supposed to be easy and there must be something wrong if it is hard. Sweet idea, isn’t it?

So it is very important the idea that life is hard is understood and accepted as fast as possible. Once we get that ingrained, we can move on to the fun stuff. The dreams stuff. What I tell my athletes at the start of every new season is this: Define yourself.  It is absolutely your choice. Who do you want to be when you walk out these UNI doors? Who do you want to be as a student? As an athlete? As a man or woman? You get one shot son, who do you want to be in this life? Once you realize it is a choice- once you start defining yourself; then you start living it. Be that person when you wake up in the morning. Be that person when you go to bed each night. Be that person when everyone around you is accepting something less for their lives and encouraging you to do the same. Welcome to the frightening age of accountability. Oh, you’re not going to define yourself? Guess what, partner? You just did.

I have been preaching this message my entire coaching career. In my opinion, this is the single most important factor to the psychology of success, to the psychology of winning. I also think this is where Sports Psychology comes up short. If you define yourself as a winner- and you successfully define what a winner is, then you have a template for success. If you define your team or organization as a winner, then you’ve got a foundation for success. As a leader, as the head coach, it starts with you. You’ve got to be the compass. You’ve got to set the standard and provide a vision. And by the way, you’d better be a winner or you and your team has got no chance. (And yes, I consider myself a winner.) Once the team shares this winning identity, it’s easy. Harvard Law, Julliard, John Deere; these are organizations that define themselves as being the best. They set the standard among their peers. It means something to be part of those teams. If there isn’t a sense of pride that comes with putting on that uniform, then there’s a lot of work left to be done.

Once you successfully set the stage for these newcomers, motivating them also becomes so much easier. My commitment to them during the recruiting process was that we will bring out their best. As part of that agreement, they will be pushed harder than they ever imagined. I believe too much in them to let them have an easy road. It would be a disservice to both of us. Sure, you may need to hold up a mirror to them on occasion- they’re still kids after all, and many will screw up. But negative reinforcement isn’t necessary if you have done your job. You find out who made them, who matters most. You hold up the mirror and you remind them they are UNI Track and Field athletes and that means we don’t do that. You remind them of their goals. You remind them Aunt Suzie and Grandpa Jack hold a heck of a lot of stock in their success as a human being, and this behavior is dishonoring that. “You and I both know you are better than this. Time to grow up.”

Most will shock you at their ability to meet your high expectations. It’s all how you frame it.

Let’s hope you’ve recruited kids that love to compete. You’ll recognize them as the ones who have been winning their whole lives. I’ll tell you right now those winners can be tough to deal with. But hope for them to be tough and courageous enough to challenge your coaching and vision. The greatest athletes are always a pain to work with. Those are good problems for coaches to have. It means you recruited the right kids. If you can’t handle it as a coach, go join a recreational league somewhere. Competitive people make a lot of people nervous. It goes with the territory. And I’ve known plenty of people who I’ve rubbed the wrong way in my life, but I consider it a great compliment that I’ve never met a winner that didn’t like me.
Less than one week and it all begins. I am smiling as I write this. I can’t wait to get going. Some UNI newcomers will start a journey where their dreams come true. Some will learn they aren’t going to become Olympians. Some will bring tears to my eyes when their years of hard work finally pay off in a moment only those close to him or her will understand. Like a family understands.  My job through all of this is to help them along their unique journeys and to help put meaning to their experiences. I can’t wait to get going.

I invite all of you to take the journey with us. The gun goes off this Saturday at 11:00am

GO Panthers!

2012 Home Meets in the UNI-Dome: 
Sat.,         January     14            Panther Open
Fri-Sat.,   January     27-28     Jack Jennett Invitational
Sat-Sun.   February  25-26     Missouri Valley Conference  Championships

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