In life we are often told what to do, but not so much why to do it.
I've found the best way to have effective, efficient, and successful teams is to ensure that everyone understands what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we will define success in doing so.
Continuing the end of practice talks and feedback, I'd like to follow up on what was working and what wasn't from the team's perspective.
As the third coaching staff in three years, the team was experiencing their third different approach to practice and how it ran.
I believe until you achieve a certain level of technical ability the best way to coach a team of twenty plus is to drill on the whistle. This allows the coaches to see everyone at once and mistakes stick out and can be corrected either with the entire group or individually.
Our practice structure was different from what the team was accustomed to. We taught and drilled most of practice in the early part of the season. They wanted live wrestling.
I explained to them that until they were doing things right, live wrestling would only reinforce bad technique and habits.
Another thing that came up repeatedly was to learn new moves. Wrestling is the oldest sport and the fundamentals have not changed very much throughout its history.
If you are not fundamentally sound, you will not be successful.
We zeroed in on specific moves from neutral, top, and bottom. They were basic moves, not exotic ones. I explained that there is no secret sauce. As the season went on, they saw that other teams were not using moves they had not been taught, but they were executing ones they were taught at a much higher level.
The first couple of weeks were a learning experience for everyone involved.
I forget if it was at the team meeting or the first day of practice, but three female students asked if I was the new coach. I said, "yes." And one looked me in the eye and said, "we are your managers."
I loved their confidence and they became invaluable as the season went on.
I also made it clear that the managers were a part of the team and were to be treated as teammates. Growing up, our managers were called Mat Maids. To this day, they take pride in having been in that role. At my high school we actually had tryouts to become one. They had to take a test on scoring, school wrestling history, and create a promotional poster. Over 20 girls would try-out for the position and the ones that made it were a part of the team.
Only problem was I didn't think in today's environment that a Mat Maid would be politically correct, so I asked the girls what they thought of being called, "The Mama Bears (the school nickname was Bears)", after all they took care of everything for the team. They embraced it.
The few days of practice taught the staff about what we had to work with in terms of the level of technique. I had scripted two weeks worth of practices, but soon realized it was over-aggressive. Speaking with the staff we agreed to simplify and focus on fundamentals.
I began to emphasize to the team, something my father taught me: everyone knows how to do a move, the difference is understanding what makes the move work. This carries over into life. Everyone knows how to do their job, but some execute their work more effectively and efficiently then others do.
During nearly every practice I spoke to the team at the beginning and end of practice. Typically after stretching or even during it, I would give them any updates they needed to be aware of. Bus times, practice times, general information they had to be aware of, and then at the end after our conditioning we pulled together to talk.
The post practice talk was more personal. I'd ask, "what was something good that happened to you today?" or "who can tell me something positive about one of their teammates?" or "what do you admire about how one of your teammates practices?".
I'd also use this time to get their feedback. I'd pass around index cards and pens and ask them on the lined side to write down three things that were working well and three things they would like to change. No names, they'd fill them out and drop them in a duffel bag.
That night I'd read through them all, summarize them, and present what stood out to me. I spoke to them about what I saw the majority of them thought was working, called out a few items that were outliers, but that I thought were important, good observations and why they were so.
The main focus was on what wasn't working. They needed to understand why we were and were not doing certain things.
This past school year I had the opportunity to be the head wrestling coach at Pleasant Valley High School in Pennsylvania's District XI. District XI is arguably the toughest region for wrestling in the country.
It was something I had always wanted to do, but given professional work, it never seemed to be a possibility. My father was a legendary coach. He was the head coach at my high school for 34 years and never had a losing season. My brother went into teaching and coaching and was another local school as head coach for 14 years. He did something I shied away from. I intentionally didn't go into teaching and coaching because I didn't want the comparison between my father and I.
This year was different. A former teammate was coaching football and heard the school might cut their wrestling program if they didn't get a coach. He called another teammate, whose girlfriend suggested I'd be a good candidate. They both agreed with her and after several discussions and their swearing they'd do it with me, I applied and got the job.
We did it to give back to the sport that gave us so much in life. Wrestling is unique. As a young student-athlete you have to train for hours a day to be able to compete for six minutes. You have to keep your grades up, learn good technique, manage your weight, improve your strength and conditioning and then you perform one on one in-front of everyone. There are no excuses.
I was hired very close to the season and only had two days of preseason to even see them. The first time was to introduce myself and my then two assistants. The day before the season started we coordinated a team meeting with a guest speaker via Zoom. The guest speaker was Rob Rohn of Lehigh University. Rob was an NCAA Champion in what is arguably the most amazing comeback in NCAA finals history. I interviewed him so the kids could understand how he balanced having academic and athletic success across multiple sports.
I wanted to set the tone that we were leveraging wrestling to help them be successful in life. This was an ongoing theme throughout the year.
To step back, we knew we had a big challenge in front of us. We were the third coaching staff in three years and there was no Athletic Director when we started the season as he was hired, but had not yet started working. He was also the third person in three years. There was no school budget with the exception of tournament fees and transportation. The kids didn't feel supported by the school administration.
Early goals were simple. I wanted to get 26 kids out for the team (there are 13 weights so that could mean a full JV and Varsity line-up) and I didn't want to have any forfeits on varsity, so we had to have them spread out by weight class.
We ultimately got those numbers, but it was a struggle and we had to prove ourselves to the team in order for them to recruit kids for the team.
Another challenge with those numbers is they hadn't had nearly that many kids out the past several years and as a result we didn't have enough warm-ups and singlets for them to wear. Good problem, kind of.
Another in my FS (the Far Side): series of blog posts.
Trying to understand a situation through someone else's perspective is critical.
To do this you need to take a step back, withdraw your own conclusions and ask yourself why? If you spoke a different language, lived in a different climate, had a different educational background, or if your experiences were not the same as another person, you would likely come to different conclusions. Try to find them.
How we communicate has changed dramatically.
Today, it is very easy to connect with people the world over. At the same time, more and more frequently these interactions are filtered and 'personalized' based on past activity and consumption.
As a result, despite the abundance of information available, we are seeing more and more of what is consistent with what we've seen in the past. Our past is constantly being reinforced with similar content creating an echo-chamber of information.
You have to break out of these barriers and think more broadly in order to take advantage of what is available today, or you'll be destined to make assumptions.
This is the fourth in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
Both reality and manner. Substance is not 'stance' enough: you must also heed circumstance. The wrong manner turns everything sour, even justice and reason. The right one makes up for everything: it turns a 'no' golden, sweetens truth, and makes even old age look pretty. The 'how' of things is very important, and a pleasant manner captures the affection of others. A bel portarse is precious in life. Speak and act well and you will get out of any difficult situation.
This one is straight-forward. It is more important how you deliver your message than the accuracy of the message. Gracian supports this by stating that even justice and reason can be undone by poor delivery, whereas the right manner of delivery 'makes up for everything'.
Maybe Gracian is so direct in this instance, because it is so hard for a younger person who is more idealistic to accept it.
Despite age and experience, I don't want to accept it. I want to believe truth exists, that something just will be accepted and that reason will be understood.
The sad fact is that Gracian appears to be mostly right.
It is too good to be true! We are taught if it seems to good to be true, it probably is, yet there are those people who keep putting 'it' out there and other people who keep accepting it as true, until they learn the hard way it is not.
Which brings us around to vanity. Gracian isn't saying directly that you are vain, but he is saying that vanity plays into what people want to believe and hence they do. If you want to get out of any given situation, you need to speak well and back it with your physical being - your expression and body language. It requires not one or two aspects only, but a complete package to achieve success.
Introducing the FS (the Far Side): series of blog posts. In the midst of cleaning out a drawer this past weekend, I came across a stack of one a day calendar tear-offs featuring Gary Larson's the Far Side that I had kept and not looked at in some time. I figured it would be fun to revisit them and comment in posts for each.
This begs the question, how do you know unknowns or consider unknown-unknowns? And for this you need a comparison to 'normalcy' or in other words an expectation. It could even be to an ideal.
The difference, a gap analysis, between what you see and what you expect helps identify what is missing or additive, between the two. Now you have a sense of your known-unknowns.
The unknown-unknowns are often factors that lead to disruption. They are the 'things' that are not the norm, they are 'outside the box', they are likely to lead to radical change, for better or worse.
These are much harder to identify and sometimes simply the awareness of them with a general understanding to be alert to them will prepare one to deal with them if they arise.
When one thinks about it, most of us are employed by the fact that there are problems that need to be solved. And most of life is a sequence of problems to solve and challenges to overcome. Then once in a great while, we get confronted with the absurd (think the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man) and Larson reminds us that it is okay to laugh at it.
This is the third in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
#11 Associate with those you can learn from. Let friendly relations be a school of erudition, and conversation, refined teaching. Make your friends your teachers and blend the usefulness of learning with the pleasure of conversation. Enjoy the company of people of understanding. What you say will be rewarded with applause; what you hear, with learning. What draws us to others, ordinarily, is our own interest, and here that interest is ennobled. The prudent frequent the homes of courtly heroes: theaters of heroism, not palaces of vanity. Some are renowned for their learning and good judgment: oracles of all greatness through example and friendship. Those who accompany them form a courtly academy of gallant discretion and wisdom.
To begin, Gracian makes a statement. He does not say, if you associate, indicating that you will associate with others and therefore you need to choose wisely.
"You are who your friends are" or some variation of this quote is both common and age old. It was the first thing that came to mind when I read this.
Gracian, however, doesn't begin there. First he implores the reader to identify the company one keeps as a school. He noted 'friendly relations.' To me this implies not only camaraderie, but also openness and acceptance.
Next he explains how to benefit. Be willing to learn from these people, absorb what they know and expose through conversation.
Only then does he note that the people should be those of 'understanding." They should be courtly heroes, not vain. They should be renowned for learning and good judgment.
Then, the group, the school as it were, will become a "courtly academy of gallant discretion and wisdom."
In the midst of describing the people, he notes, "What you say will be rewarded with applause; what you hear, with learning. What draws us to others, ordinarily, is our own interest, and here that interest is ennobled."
What you hear with learning is the most straightforward as that is the premise of the entire piece.
Being rewarded with applause I'm not so sure about. It strikes me as vain to seek applause for your thoughts, at the same time, this could speak to the overall environment which is encouraging, open as I noted earlier, to hear and discuss topics without prejudice.
The final sentence I take to be another reinforcement of learning. If your interest is to learn from these people and if it is done as prescribed here, then the learning goes to another level.
The notion of 'the company you keep' is age old. Here Gracian reminds the reader of its being and place, while explaining how to benefit most from it.
What are your thoughts?
This is the second in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
4. Knowledge and courage take turns at greatness. Because they are immortal, they can make you so. You are as much as you know, and if you are wise you can do anything. The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself. Judgment and strength: eyes and hands. Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.
Gracian begins by stating that knowledge and courage are immortal and if one possesses each they too can become immortal.
The great question is "Why?" Why are knowledge and courage immortal?
History appears to support Gracian in that the most knowledgeable people of all time are remembered and often have had to have courage, because their beliefs and writing went against convention or they had to overcome significant obstacles to accomplish their goals.
When generally searching to get a sense of who others deem to be most knowledgeable, often the results focus on intelligence or more specifically, those with the highest IQ.
The word 'knowledge' (according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories) is Middle English, whose source is Old English 'cnawan'. The word "was originally a verb in the sense 'acknowledge, recognize'."
Know has two strands, 'apprehend' and 'comprehend'.
The ability to apprehend everything that is known and further to comprehend it all is something that is unattainable today and likely ever. Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) is often attributed with being the last person to "know everything". Da Vinci (1452-1519), Shakespeare (1564-1616), and Goethe (1749-1832) are also cited by various sources as being in this 'class' of individuals.
While these individuals surely had very high intelligence, they are more well known for the diversity of their knowledge as compared to Newton or Galileo who were more specifically known for their work in math and science.
Courage is also Middle English and was 'once referred to the heart as the seat of feelings'. It is derived from Old French 'corage'.
'Having heart' is often associated with courage. It is a 'fighting spirit'. It demonstrates one's desire to achieve.
In the next sentence, Gracian goes beyond having knowledge and courage by adding being wise. Wise is related to 'wit', which is 'have knowledge of'. Being wise is then using one's knowledge and experience to make 'good' or 'right' decisions. In doing so, one 'can do anything'.
He closes with two sentences: "Judgment and strength: eyes and hands. Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit."
Here he reinforces his opening statement that knowledge and courage must work together to achieve success.
So what about, "The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself."?
This sentence seems out of sorts with everything else in this passage. It strikes me more as the start of a promo for the book itself, "The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself. Learn how to be enlightened, live well, and be immortalized in history by reading this book!"
I don't think this is what Gracian had in mind, though.
The entire work is based on, as stated in the introduction, "a book of strategies for knowing, judging, and acting: for making one's way in the world and achieving distinction and perfection." The opposite of which is one who does none of these things, the 'uninformed' person and being such that individual is in a solitary place without hope for improvement.
This person has neither knowledge or courage and by extension wisdom or strength.
What do you think?
This is the first in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
2. Character and intelligence. The poles your talent spins on, displaying your gifts. One without the other brings only half of success. It isn't enough to be intelligent; you must also have the right character. The fool fails by behaving without regard to his condition, position, origin, or friendships.
Without delving into what is the 'right character' and what constitutes being 'intelligent', Gracian does state the two must both be possessed by the individual to achieve success.
This reminds me of Sun Tzu saying (to summarize) 'know your enemy and yourself and in one hundred battles you will never be in peril, when ignorant of the enemy, but you know yourself, the outcome is even, and when you know not yourself or your enemy you are certain to be in peril in every battle' (The Art of War, Chapter III, #'s 31, 32, and 33).
Both require internal and external understanding.
Gracian is not as clear on this point until one reads the last sentence regarding the fool. If one's condition, position, origin or friendships are not considered, then one is a fool. So external understanding is as important as internal.
Looking externally, then, allows one to rightly or otherwise, assess their own character and intelligence as compared to others.
Character is a Middle English word that was taken from French via Latin and initially from the Greek kharakter, 'a stamping tool' (The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories). In the early 16th century it came to mean a 'token, feature, or trait' and after that 'a description, especially of a person's qualities.'
As such, character requires a qualifier and how you are perceived by others is critical to your success. The perception will most likely be derived by how you present yourself to others, but it will also be based on what others who do not know you learn from those who do.
Act as if no one were watching, or some variation, is often considered a definition of one's character in that a person's true self is how that individual acts when no one is watching. On the other hand it also cautions that what is presented to others isn't always a true indication of the individual.
The ideal then is to present one's self consistently in both instances. This, however, doesn't mean one will present one's self well. The consensus is that social norms will change how one acts in public to accommodate them, whereas when not in public the true self will be revealed.
The goal then, is to act alone as one would in public.
Intelligence is derived from intellect, another Middle English word, based on the Latin, intellectus, 'understanding', from intellegere 'to understand' or literally 'choose between'. The term was little used before the 16th century.
The 'choose between' is intriguing. It implies to me that given two choices, the person with intelligence will choose the 'right' one. Of course intelligence as we consider it today is far more complex than a single option of choosing between this or that.
I've personally found that the most intelligent people are those who can take very complicated concepts or situations and make them understandable to the layman.
For fun, let's represent Character and Intelligence as literal paired poles. Each pole would be bound one to the other, but heighted based on the quality each one possesses.
The bond would be you, the individual person.
Now we come to your 'talent'. Regardless of your character or intelligence, you possess talent.
At issue is the quality of your talent and the extent to which you 'display your gifts.'
Here I would insert 'balance'. The better one can align character and intelligence, the more one's talent can 'spin' or flourish and thereby be projected for better or worst.
The higher the poles of character and intelligence, being well-balanced, will result in talent spinning faster (than if the two were unbalanced and unsteady) and therefore, given their height, projecting further without being obstructed by others.
As is found throughout Gracian's work, there is a lot to digest in a short piece of his writing.
Hope you enjoyed these musings on aphorism #2. Feel free to post your thoughts or comments!