December 6, 2018

Playing Well

“I would rather play well and lose than play poorly and win.”

– Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, 4-time Super Bowl champion

“There’s no such thing as a moral victory.”

– Just about every other coach

I was pondering the other day – again – what do you do when nothing seems to be going your way? Or when you’re completely outmatched before you take the field?

The current basketball team at one of my alma maters, Duke, is ranked in the top five and seems pretty solid. They opened the season by hammering then-number-one Kentucky and has played well in not only their wins but also their single loss.

On the flip side, the Stetson Hatters (what a great mascot) traveled to Durham last week with a 1-7 record, having lost seven straight. One ranking put them at 348th out of 353 college basketball teams.

Hardly a fair fight.

So I was pondering, what are you thinking if you’re Stetson? Sure, you want to win the game. You put your best plan in place and look to win the game, as Herm Edwards said. I never took the court, gridiron or diamond unless I thought I was going to win, although looking back, sometimes it was more delusion than confidence.

Winning is the point of keeping score. We never lost sight of that when I played college sports, or when I worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

But as you may have guessed, despite good intentions Stetson trailed 59-25 at half (including a 48-16 deficit at one point) on it’s way to losing by 64 points. Kind of had their hats handed to them, if you will.

Sounds a bit like a day I had last week.

So is there really no such thing as a moral victory? Is winning really the only thing?

I don’t think so.

Mike Young, the successful basketball coach at Wofford College, has an approach similar to Tony Dungy’s. Mike told me this fall that he doesn’t point the team toward particular fixed goals, but rather a standard based on several inquiries: Are we playing as well as we can? Are we growing and improving as individuals? As a team?

And finally, Did our performance this season demonstrate that we’d maximized our capabilities?

Sounds very similar to Tony Dungy. Tony measured his Colts teams not against other records in the league or even other Colts teams, but what were they capable of. His Super Bowl team was not nearly as talented as a couple of others that he had, but it maximized its potential by season’s end.

However, winning that championship wasn’t the measuring stick. Similar to that Super Bowl team, he had one team that exited in the first round of the playoffs that he felt was one of his most successful, since on paper it shouldn’t have been in the playoffs at all. It had maximized its potential.

We need to remember that. Every sales call won’t result in a sale. Every book won’t hit number one. (Unfortunately.) We won’t win every game.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re failures. Are we learning and growing? Better today than yesterday? That sales call may pay off later, or in some unexpected way. That book may deeply impact a few people.

Those are the measuring sticks we should be using.

Sure, we play to win the game. But as you do, remember that playing well and losing isn’t all bad, either.

November 18, 2018

Reflections from the Iowa Speedway

I recently had the chance to speak in Iowa for Keltek, Incorporated. In addition to speaking on leadership concepts from The Mentor Leader, their Director of Sales & Marketing, Jesse Peters, asked me to speak on the unique platform we each enjoy, which is one of my favorite topics. The basic concept of “platform” is that each of us has a unique sphere of influence that no one else can fill in the way we can.

No one.

Iowa SpeedwayAmong those in attendance that day at the Iowa Speedway – what a unique place to speak! – included everyone first responders from Iowa State Highway Patrol officers, EMS technicians, a couple of fire chiefs, several sheriffs, and numerous deputies, as well as the installers that outfit first responders’ vehicles in the workshop, receptionists and other administrative assistants.

The beauty of platform is that everyone from Tim Tebow to Tony Dungy, Oprah, the Governor of Iowa, and my retired next door neighbor all have one. My platform may not be as significant as theirs from a numbers standpoint, but there are particular individuals on whom I can have a greater influence than any of those.

That’s true for all of us. There are people we interact with, sometimes under our own roof, sometimes outside, who we can impact – for better or worse – in a unique way. As I spoke on this topic, I looked out into that crowd of first responders and others, and was again reminded that while I may have been onstage, they were going to go out and impact the world around them in a way that I never will.

And they got it. From Kelly and Jamie Milligan of Keltek to the other attendees there from all parts of Iowa (and some beyond), they got it.

Keep that in mind as you move through your week. You may wish your platform was bigger, or be frustrated or unfulfilled with your current situation. But don’t lose heart! Like it or not, there are people watching, people in need of a friendly word or a hand up, that Oprah, my neighbor or I can’t reach.

But you can.Iowa Capitol

October 2, 2018

Ring of Honor Reflections

Filed under: Life,Sports — Nathan @ 11:01 pm

“Okay, so how did you handle the bitterness?” Silence. “I mean, did it help that you immediately went to work for the Colts, or was there still some residual bitterness that you just needed time to heal, or maybe just pray your way through. Or both?”

More silence. He was about to speak but I jumped in to clarify one more time. We’d been really making good progress in the interview until I’d hit this snag. Maybe the wounds were still so raw he couldn’t articulate it.

“You said that you’d tried to build an organization and team in Tampa that did things the way you thought the Lord would want them. You and your players had been active throughout the community. You took a moribund franchise and put them in the playoffs every year. And for that…you were fired. So how’d you work through the bitterness of following what God wanted you to do and yet get fired?”

So it went in February of 2007 as I sat with Tony Dungy in his office in Indianapolis. We were beginning a thirty-day race to write Quiet Strength (we didn’t have a name for it yet), and I was trying to understand where he was coming from at critical moments in his life.

I was reminded of that conversation last week when my wife and I were guests of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Tony was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.

Ring of Honor collage            His answer eleven years ago underscored the attitude that made possible that evening last week: “Bitter? Why would I be bitter? God had work for me to do in Indiana, and unless the door in Tampa was closed, I would’ve never left.”

My response was probably also instructive as to my all-too typical mindset. “Wait. I’ve been bitter on your behalf for five years, and you weren’t even ever upset?”

He admitted to the all-too human emotion of disappointment, but said that he and Lauren hadn’t spent any time being upset with the Bucs or their owners, because there was another mission field.

I’d been scheduled to go the following week with the rest of the Bucs scouting department to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama but was told I had to stay behind. “Bill Parcells will be arriving while we’re gone, and somebody needs to be here to help him get settled.” While they were gone I’d grown a beard and had taken to wearing flannel – I looked like a malnourished lumberjack – and was so annoyed I should’ve had a High Voltage: Do Not Touch sign around my neck. (Coach Parcells opted not to come, and a month later we had Jon Gruden as our new coach, but that’s another story.)

So here we were, the Dungys, Tony’s players, coaches and front office staff from his Buccaneers tenure, watching his induction into the Ring of Honor, recognizing his place among the franchise’s greatest contributors.

My takeaway from the unlikely event of the night (at least in 2002 when he was fired by Tampa Bay)? Sure, don’t burn any bridges came to mind. But even more, it’s darkest before the dawn or God causes all things to work together for good seem even more apropos.

Look, I was also fired by the Bucs, but my induction into their Ring of Honor is…unlikely. But so often the greatest opportunities come out of the depths of seeming disaster.

Hang on. Keep scrapping. You never know what doors are opening, or why.

 

October 10, 2011

Save Situation

Filed under: Life — Nathan @ 8:29 pm

I’m currently watching the Rangers play the Tigers in the American League Championship Series.  As a longtime baseball guy, I’m mildly embarrassed to say that I don’t even know what game it is, but I think – I think – that the Rangers lead 2-0.*  I could look it up, but I don’t trust Wikipedia.

Unless I’m on a book deadline.

In my defense, I was traveling this weekend, and simply lost track of the series.  Plus, the Rays and Braves may or may not have already been eliminated.

So I’ve got the game on in the background, and they just posted a stat in the ninth inning as Jose Valverde, the Tigers closer, came into the game to pitch.

It was a non-save situation, and his stats for the year were along the lines of:

50 appearances in save situations**: 0.53 Earned Run Average

26 appearances in non-save situations: 6.95 ERA

Leaving aside the argument of my law school buddy, John, who provoked a decades-long debate one night over tempura in Harvard Square that a save was no big deal, and he could complete a save 50% of the time despite not having pitched in years, I was shocked by Valverde’s stat.

What does that stat say?  Maybe nothing about Jose Valverde – I’m going to take liberties – but a great deal about a lot of us.

I mean, how hard is it to perform well in life when life is going well?  When it’s smooth sailing, can you hang on?  Can you build on your lead?

Maybe nobody can relate, but it seems like I went months without dates in high school and college (pretty much until I got married, to be brutally honest).  And those rare times when a young lady couldn’t find anything else to do, and did stoop to go out with me?  Inevitably someone else who had previously turned me down would show up at my door with a change of heart and want to go out.

When it rains, it pours.

But what about the rest of life?

What about the times when you can’t catch a break?  When you’re pitching from behind?  Can you just hold your ground?

Sometimes the little Dutch boy is the best we can hope for – keeping your finger in the dyke until the tide heads back out.

When I was working for the Bucs, Jon Gruden kept searching for guys who were “mentally tough.”  I’m not sure that the guys always knew what he was looking for, other than they were supposed to have scowls.  My thought is that he was searching for players who could set adversity aside and press on as if it had never happened.

“…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…,” wrote Paul in Philippians 3:13.

Even as life bangs your around, and it will, keep pressing on.

By the way, after a leadoff double, Valverde escapes the non-save situation and kept the Tigers alive.

You never know.

 

*It was only 1-0 Rangers for the series, but Game One had a rain delay of more than two hours and finished long after I went to bed, so it’s fair that I thought it should count as two games.

**There’s more to it, but basically, a save situation is defined as one in which the pitcher comes into the game with a lead of three or fewer runs and finishes the game or the tying run is one base, up to bat or about to come up.  In other words, you come into the game when your team is ahead.

 

August 4, 2011

Happy New Year

Filed under: Life — Nathan @ 8:02 am

I woke up this morning and had no idea where I was.  No, it was worse than that.  I had no idea who was in the bed with me (as it turns out, it was the woman with whom I’m celebrating a 17th wedding anniversary this week, which is what we author-types call – wait for it – a happy ending).

That came on the heels of cleaning the porch last evening.  After seeing flying, stinging insects circling around (not yellow jackets or wasps – more like sleek, quick bees), I climbed, perching on a chair to spray the large, dark mud dauber-ish structure that had been built in the week we’d been on vacation, tucked away in a corner.  Up high.  Don’t see what could go wrong here.

As I sprayed, I realized that the “structure” was instead a large, dark moth as it took to wing and floated toward me.  It circled my head and torso.  Oh, not a moth.  A bat.  Sure.

All in all, I’ve been a little off my game since we returned from 75 degree mountain weather to the 95 degrees of home.  The bugs, bats and sleeping on the right side of the bed again, after a week on the left, have thrown me off.

But it’s good to be home.  And not because the vacation was anything other than outstanding.  For those who follow me on Twitter (and really, how are you reading this now if you don’t?), you know that we spent a couple of days in Atlanta, at the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola, and went to two Braves games, courtesy of our friend, Clint Hurdle.  (Since Clint, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager, was kind enough to host us, the Pirates have gone 1-7.  Sorry about that.)  Then we – my children, wife of 17 years who SLEEPS ON THE RIGHT, and parents – headed up to North Carolina for a few days.  The weather, small-town atmosphere, family bonds, watching my daughters hunt for snails and a relaxed schedule, all made for a wonderful time.

But it’s good to be home.  It all just feels…new.

A new NFL season, with so many friends (and clients) now having the uncertainty of will-there-be-a-season? behind them, replaced with the more familiar, comfortable angst of will-we-win-any-games?

A new school year.  A new dog.  Finally being settled in our home after two years of (mild) upheaval of moving and renting.

God gives us opportunities to reinvent ourselves, and as I look ahead to 95 degree days for the foreseeable future, this feels like another one of those.  And I understand full well the idea that “as man makes plans, God laughs,” but I think we are all called to push ahead, purposefully, in the direction we feel called.  Toward significance.

What do you have in store?  As for me and my family, who knows?  We should always look to the future with hope, I know, but sometimes it just feels more…obvious.  Things are at work.  It feels like a new start, even in the dog days of summer.

So I’m glad to be back.

Happy New Year!