I consider myself privileged to have been able to participate, from an early age, in sport (mainly baseball and hockey) as it has taught me important life lessons.
The current Covid-19 reality is offering me a wonderful opportunity to reflect and be grateful for the experiences I have had and the learning that has resulted, even though I was not aware at the time in many instances. I guess that is the true beauty of authentic learning; sometimes we are not even aware of it until much later.
I confess that my list is not exhaustive and perhaps not in line with everyone else’s experience. However, I will attempt to translate my lessons into how they have helped to shape me into the soon-to-be half-century being that I have become. At the end, I will offer my reason for the number of lessons I selected.
1. Leave it all on the field: Giving 100 per cent is important in any endeavour, but the result of not putting your best foot forward? Regret. And, is there any worse feeling than looking back to say ‘I should have…’? Not for me. And yes, there are experiences where I can look back and say I could have done better. For that, I must accept and move on and leave it exactly where it is: in the past. There is no value in holding on, but I can control how I will invest my time and energy in the future. Lesson learned.
2. Preparation is crucial: I will use my baseball experience here as I learned a little later the importance of off-season training in this sport. The taste of losing the last game of the season is bitter. I used off-season training, beginning the very next day after a bitter loss to train hard and focus on what was required for success. The physical part was central, but the mental component was equally being developed to determine how I could be better individually, and be a better teammate to help us achieve improved results, together. Preparation is key to success. Visualize what that looks like, and plan backwards to establish a plan to arrive at your goal.
3. Respect: From an early age, my parents/family taught me the importance of respecting other persons for who they were. In sport, this was important with teammates and coaches, but also officials, opponents, fans, etc. Was I always the perfect athlete? No. There were times where my character did not demonstrate what I was taught off the field or off the ice (hockey). But these experiences did teach me that while I cannot decide how other people act, I can choose how to react to them. This was a valuable lesson and one I hope I am able to successful teach my children.
4. Humility: No individual succeeds without help from others (NOBODY). There is no such thing as a self-made anything. Great success stories are indeed the result of a driven, hard-working person, but they could not possibly achieve their goals without others – mentors, friends, foes – to assist, inspire, challenge, accompany them along the way. In sports, we must learn to accept that some days will be more challenging than others and that we must keep our heads down and forge ahead. It is important as leaders to give credit to the team, and not gloat in your current success. The player who hit the winning homerun also needed the rest of the team for the entire game, or they would not have had that opportunity. Be gracious in defeat, be humble in victory. And, relax! After all, it is just a game!
5. Patience is a virtue: Rome was not built in one day. Results and success come from many hours of practice and repetition. The 10,000-hour rule is very relevant in today’s society especially where overnight success appears to be the expectation. In baseball, the hitter who squeezes the bat tightly and is anxious to get a hit is much more likely to chase pitches, ultimately resulting in a lower success rate. I learned, from an esteemed mentor, the importance of remaining quiet and calm, and of focusing on the task at hand; hitting a round ball squarely with a round bat, arguably the most difficult skill in all of sport. My youthful exuberance did not allow me to fully understand initially, but his patience and sense of confidence/trust enabled me to learn and see results. I remain grateful to Mr. Barry Marchand to this day for being my teacher and showing me that I could attain more by waiting for the most opportunistic moments to choose my pitch. Much as in the batter’s box in baseball, patience serves us well in many other realms in a world which tends to focus in instantaneous expectations. Take your time.
6. Self-care: Proper self-care is essential to success. We cannot be at our best when we do not take care of ourselves. We must eat well, by that I mean consuming reasonable amounts of healthy alternatives on a consistent basis. Yes, you can cheat once in a while, but I caution you that you can easily experience creep into your lifestyle and you may become more lenient with your cheat eating. Be strong, be daring, and plan your meals so you are less tempted to eat unhealthy choices. Ensure you get adequate rest, including sleep. Also, I strongly urge you to plan time for yourself in your day. Put it in your schedule; reading time and physical activity. Whatever you may choose, make that your time, and make it non-negotiable. It is there because you need it? If that means going to bed a half hour earlier, so you can be up earlier to get your day started on the right foot, so be it. While we all have our preferences, I have learned that I can adapt, and I have chosen to change, and now am up before sunrise. I find this time most productive as it is quiet and the daily hustle and bustle will not start for a few hours. This is my new prime time!
7. Resilience: The ability to bounce back from an adverse experience, becoming stronger in the process. We will face setbacks. It is how we will choose to respond that will be the main determinant in our success and well-being. Failed a test? Now what? Will you choose to toss it in the trash bin, or will you review it in detail to learn in the areas where you were unsuccessful? Your attitude toward growth and learning will lead to future success when you choose to build upon failures in a meaningful manner. So, you missed scoring on a vacated net in the last minute of the game and your team lost in overtime. How do you react? Will you wear that as your albatross (read Rime of the Ancient Mariner if unfamiliar with the analogy) and use that as your mantra moving forward? Or will you bounce back and be stronger? Only one person can make that decision for you. Check the mirror, you will find her/him gazing in your direction.
8. Empathy: It is imperative that we accept others for their strengths and their shortcomings. We will have good days, and we shall have bad days. We need to be there to support those around us, including in the current crisis we are facing on a global scale. Phone a friend, use technology to connect with people who may be secluded, lonely, in need of someone, even if nothing more that to see a face or hear a voice. We are better – and stronger – together. The importance of being able to place ourselves in someone else’s situation is an asset, demonstrating emotional intelligence, but most importantly, genuinely caring and helping others. In sport, this support is very strong. Let’s bring it over and show it in everyday life with family, friends, and co-workers. Remember, alone we travel fast, together, we travel far.
9. Risk taking/Failure: If you do not fail, you will never learn to succeed. Had I given up on baseball the first time I struck out, I would have missed out on so many experiences that allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, many with whom I maintain friendships years later. In MLB, it is a major accomplishment to hit .300 for a season. Let’s reframe that: it is an accomplishment to fail only 70 per cent of the time! Sir Winston Churchill perhaps framed it best: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Without losing enthusiasm! Again, attitude is everything. Be willing to take calculated risks; do not be reckless – there is a significant difference. But, do not limit yourself by succumbing to your fears, especially unjustified and imaginary fears. If you want something, respectfully go about finding ways to achieve it.
I hope you have found this letter somewhat informative, and perhaps even a little inspiring. With respect to inspiration, I offer the following as to why I have chosen to focus on nine lessons: it is to honour the man I believe to be the all-time best hitter in baseball, the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. He remains the last MLB player to record a .400 batting average in a season, hitting at a .406 clip in 1941. What is quite possibly more impressive is that he was only 22 years-old when he did it! He then missed three full seasons from 1943-45 for military service. In 1957, he came close again, hitting .388, at 38 years of age! Again, an amazing feat!