Friday, March 11, 2005

Day Five: Pursuing Excellence

I'd been thinking about this group of guys and how they were different from all the teams I'd seen as a freshman through senior. Certainly the senior and junior leadership was rather lacking. These guys inhabit the gym, but they don't own it. They're on the team but it isn't their team.

I thought about the skills and information that somehow was no longer transferred from seniors down to juniors and sophomores and freshman. These upperclassmen didn't even know that they were supposed to be molding the next class. And they certainly weren't putting in much effort to pass along their knowledge.

But worst of all and as I've written previously, I got no sense that any of these guys were really pursuing excellence. They were attempting to learn enough skills to do a good routine. But nothing more.

So I asked coach if I could talk to them about that in the opening meeting. He turned the floor over to me and I went into it. I told them that the goal here is Excellence. To pursue it, to achieve it, to exude it, and to understand it. I told them that the real world has very little opportunity for excellence. That in the last three years I'd achieved excellence in my professional life about once. That I had to desperately seek out my own means of achieving excellence since my life was so lame and uninspiring without it.

I told them that Adrian was going back to school because his current professional life couldn't satisfy his need for excellence. I asked him, "how often do you achieve excellence at work?" "Rarely. If it happens, it's more likely to be something that happened here, at practice." And that's why he's been an assistant coach for Steve for seven years now.

So I told them that they were lucky. They had this great sport that was designed for excellence. That demands excellence. They have the chance to achieve excellence every day they come to the gym. They can achieve it - and be duly recognized for it - at every competition.

I told them that gymnastics was just the lesson. Gymnastics was just a means to an end. And that end, that goal was Excellence, whether they knew it or not. That's why they're in the gym. That's what they're supposed to be striving for.

I had coach's son, Rich, stand up and show them his salute to the judges. He was the only one that caught my eye with his demeanor and confidence out on the floor. I made them look at him, study him. I asked them, "what do you see in his eyes when he salutes?" I could hear it in their voices, they started getting the idea immediately. They rattled off: Confidence. Poise. Determination. Strength. Excellence. We take for granted and assume that people will observe a thing and learn from it. That's not always the case. This time it had to be pointed out.

I told them that that's exactly what everyone should be projecting out there - and not just during the meet. Take that same attitude and apply it to practices, to strength, to everything they do. Pursue Excellence.

I don't know how much of that will sink in. I know it made a strong impression on the kids and even the coaches. It at least opened their eyes, opened their minds to a whole new take on the sport. Whether or not they can take it and run with it is up to them. Coach had told me that after I left there really wasn't anyone to pick up the mantle and carry on the tradition. No one to instill in the younger classes that drive for excellence. Ten lean years without much leadership. After my speech he pulled me aside and said, "maybe this is the year we get them back, get it all back on track." I certainly hope so.

Tomorrow's meet will be very telling. It's a six team invitational and will be crowded, chaotic, and confusing. I hate being disappointed and I so very much want to see that edge, that steel creep into their performances. I don't expect perfection, but by gods I hope I see improvement.


Blogger Jules said...

Are you sure you're not related to Knute Rockne?

Fri Mar 18, 12:20:00 PM CST  

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