“One more.”

Posted by jlubans on August 08, 2016

Bosses have made much of a quote attributed to the hockey phenom, Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
It pops up when leaders speak mystically of anticipating change. Using that quote, the boss implies he might have some idea of where the “puck” is going to be.
Or, maybe the boss has no more of a clue than anyone else and is simply exhorting subordinates to “Be like Mike!” (I mean Wayne).
I might want to be like Mike and dunk a basketball from 15 feet out, but it’s more likely I will trip and fall on my face near the free throw line.
Ditto for anyone being like Wayne. The experts say that Gretzky had an uncanny ability to read plays. In other words, he had a special gift, kind of like the card player who memorizes all the dealt cards and figures out the mathematical probabilities of what card is next.
Now, as a NHL coach, Mr. Gretzky surely must have admonished his team, the Phoenix Coyotes, to anticipate where the puck was going to be. But his hectoring did not quite have the anticipated effect. Coach Gretzky lost more games (49%) than he won (44%) with 24 ties.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Coach’s Influence Off the Field: Sports instructors teach how to manage emotions: perseverance, resilience, conquering fear,” reminded me of the overused Gretzky and Mike exhortations, and, more meaningfully, of several coaches early in my life whose simple words and actions changed me.
If you read the article you’ll note that a coach’s advice is brief; it is succinct and it is specific to something the coach sees that you do not, either in your technique or in your personality. The coach helps you adjust and, most importantly, to challenge yourself to do more, to improve. He or she assesses how ready you are to make that extra effort. An example from the article is a fencing coach’s insightful comment for a fencer in tears over losing: “Were you fencing to fence or were you fencing to win?
Because if you’re fencing to win you never will.”
I recall a PE instructor in middle school. One day, he had the class doing several calisthenics, sit-ups, squats, pushups, etc. Each of us had to do so many to get a passing grade for the class. I could do most of these events, but the chin-up bar was a challenge. I could do maybe five or six. The PE instructor, standing nearby as I dangled from the bar, encouraged me, “One more, do 7”. That “one more” put things into perspective. I gave it a mighty effort, wriggled up and, gasp, did the 7th chin-up!
Small stuff, sure, but BIG stuff to me. I remember that coach and that moment from 65 years ago.
Another of my coaches was “Pop” Toolin. He was the cross-country and track and field coach at Braintree High School. He was also the chemistry teacher. While I did well under his tutelage and training, (and got an undeserved passing grade in chemistry) most of what I did was on my own – I loved to run; I was highly motivated and did extra training, including weight lifting, an early version of cross training. He let me do stuff that other coaches probably would not have permitted and I just really liked the guy. I suspect nowadays Pop, an un-boss, would be seen as far too laissez-faire, but if he was, I benefitted.
Following high school I had another running coach: gruff and fixated on winning. Now, I have to admit I ran faster under that coach than I did under Pop. My relay team won a championship at the prestigious Penn Relays; I was the fifth man and was called up at the last minute to replace an injured teammate. I had the second fastest time, I believe, of the four. So, yes, I ran faster under this coach but I have no recollection of anything he said that made me run faster. I do believe that his techniques and training regimen helped me improve stamina and speed. Talk was not necessary nor did I doubt that he knew his stuff.
How is it that coaches can have these impressive effects on one’s life? Why is it that a coach’s advice or persona may make a greater impression than do many of the other people trying to help us?
For one thing, the article points out, “Most people participate in a sport voluntarily, so they are open to learning. There is emotional intimacy and trust in a good coach-student relationship. And, perhaps most important, the lessons are simple and immediately reinforced.”
That certainly happened for me when the PE instructor calmly encouraged me to do “One more.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

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