Sunday, December 28, 2014

"We Get What We Tolerate" - Hugh McCutcheon

Former coach of the US Women's National Volleyball team and all-around genius Hugh McCutcheon is fond of saying this. For everything that we all believe we are capable of as directors, coaches, athletes, what we allow to happen through our developmental process is what we become. If we know better but do not do better, consistently, than we are no further ahead than those who do not know better at all. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing and there are knowledgeable fools everywhere if you are paying attention.

How do we reconcile these gaps for ourselves? Does this lessen the message shared with us from others who we know are excellent practitioners yet you see things they are doing with people and that they allow that are simply not acceptable? In my mind this does not lessen the message at all it just means that there may be more work to be done than even these practitioners may be able to fully comprehend for many reasons. Maybe they are viewing their own work with rose-colored glasses; which is always ironic because it is often coaches/teachers who believe that parents are the primary population where this exists. Maybe they are aware of what is happening, and not happening, in their program but chalk it up to having a "lesser" population or individual they are working with.

None of this changes the fact that at whatever level we are talking about if what you observe actually happening in programming is less than what you expected this just demonstrates that in virtually every population there is room for growth. Some of the solutions for such problems are simple and some are more complex. The skill-set required to be a leader of excellence is truly vast.

Similar dialogue is profiled in the excellent book "Higher, Faster, Stronger" where Peter Vint refers the author to the text "Better", on the process of improved medical care, where the author Atul Gawande notes, "we have not effectively used the abilities science has already given us. And we have not made remotely adequate efforts to change that." So again it is worth noting that if there are things being missed in the process of physical preparation these are simply gaps that must be filled. If those who have brought things to this point have missed them then the responsibility falls on us to continue to find ways to address them. Sometimes we are not ready to run the program we want to run because the program we are running is insufficient.

Someone who talks about training one person may have limited knowledge in how to make a program run in a group or team environment but you can be damn sure that what they are able to do in their environment can add a special amount of focus that often gets lost in the process when we lose sight of the individual. Can they do your job as a team/group coach? Maybe not, but what they can do can only help you.

I was inspired recently when I had the opportunity to see expert performance coach Mark McLaughlin give his talk "Learning To Train One" at Mike Robertson and Bill Hartmann's Midwest Performance Enhancement Seminar. Mark's points resonated strongly because I have coached in many different environments with large groups of 25-50, in a University team environment, and with individuals/small groups. Many of us have this diversity in our backgrounds but for those who do not and may be very dialed in to your specific experience with either teams or individuals there are some things that do not translate easily across these training populations. Yet if you have not learned how to effectively train one person there is no sense in deluding yourself into believing you are prepared to train 10, 15, or 20+ people. Mark is right it all starts with one. Sometimes not even one person. It may be one correction. Of attitude in groups or making one positive change, one person at a time in a team. Mark's approach is uncompromising but his laser-like focus on excellence and quality translates across all populations. He does not tolerate less and he talked consistently of teachable moments and holding athletes accountable for a higher standard.

In the past I had a colleague who because we had a falling out I will only refer to as CV. To this day I still tell people that there is something special about what CV concentrates on and the questions CV ponders. Yet in dialogue we shared with another colleague whom I consider a mentor my opinion was that CV approached it from a very disrespectful place. CV simply could not understand why my mentor would allow things to be done the way they were in his program. My opinion was that my mentor has always done an outstanding job, keeps athletes/clients healthy and happy, and if there was anything being left on the table in development it was up to people like CV and myself to find ways to do the job better. If others are unconvinced that the changes you believe are necessary are possible then if you believe they are important enough you have to make them. Be the change. Lead the way.

Telling someone you can do the job better is not doing it better. Seeing what someone else has built as a program and picking at it is not the same thing as building a program, a business, and a culture. Maybe your skills are better suited for improving on something that has already been developed, for consulting, but you do not know that you have the skills and ability to build that program from nothing unless you have done it; which let's face it those who have spend less time talking about it from that perspective. Therefore you may never get the opportunity to do what you are truly great at if you do not have the ability to collaborate successfully and humbly learn from everyone. Have the humility to listen and learn, to contribute and challenge others respectfully when necessary, and represent positive change in what you do.

Training Density

Actually revising this article because I went in a completely different direction but thought it was still worth sharing. A little abstract...

“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The irony of having improved knowledge, systems, and methods available to us in this day and age only to have the demands on those same things squeezed for every ounce of efficiency is something many of us struggle with in the day to day management of teams and athletes worldwide. For everything we gain that helps us do our jobs better it seems we lose something else along the way that makes doing our jobs equally challenging in a different way. It seems obvious that at the highest levels sports have never been played at a higher level however when we evaluate ourselves, and our programs, most of us have a very good idea of just how much we feel is being left on the table. Most often this is absolutely by necessity but one of the absolute truths that gets lost in the shuffle is this, “More is not better. Less is not better. Only better is better.” 

So I submit now that the very best of what my programming has to offer fails in comparison to what has been lost for the youth athlete of today: growing up to learn the value of diversity in movement and activities, in learning to push their bodies hard but also knowing what it is to just walk or run when you have “nowhere to go but all day to get there”, to understand that failure is not something you can opt out of in the learning process but is there for us because our growth requires it. No, our program cannot give these kids that environment back yet but our programming can take steps that will impact their value systems in such a way that they can, with time, grow to appreciate these things. Then mindfulness perhaps becomes the center. Not upgrades. Not efficiency. Just, perhaps, simple awareness that what we value grows with us.

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it. The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn’t separate from the rest of your existence. If you’re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren’t working on your machine, what trap avoidances, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together.” – Robert Pirsig (from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”)

There are no shortcuts. The voodoo? The crazy skills of that manual therapist you hear legendary stories about? They are just paying attention. Perhaps better attention. But still nevertheless they didn’t spontaneously develop those skills. The movie “Miracle” and Herb Brooks? No way! Every account we have of the tremendous process of identification and development of that team says that there were deliberate steps taken every step of the way to let everyone know this was possible. The only miracle may have been in getting people to believe. We don’t need our clients/athletes to know right now that they can do it. All they have to know, and believe, is that it is possible.
And perhaps if we had been taking better care of ourselves, or our clients/athletes of themselves, then the necessity of such magic would be reduced. Irrefutable. Qualifying what is important about what we pay attention to is certainly necessary. But we still have to understand the value system and way of thinking that led our clients/athletes to this point: what is it that you thought was so important that it allowed you to make your health/performance less important? That is a message aligned with quality and with excellence. That is a conversation I will gladly take part in.

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” – Haim Ginott

The gaps present in the development status of our clients/athletes require that we develop a similar value system in learning how to identify and address key strengths and weaknesses in their performance. These gaps are where plateaus happen and where everyone gets stuck. We have to be able to address these gaps competently but we have to remember these gaps are not where our clients/athletes live it is just where they get stuck. We may sell the correction of these gaps as a major part of our process, because they are, but if we do not first and foremost offer up our work’s quality and excellence as the umbrella under which everything else lives then we leave people with the idea that their fix is transactional. We have to be able to lay the groundwork on the need for transformation. For a majority of us having that standard of excellence as a transactional figure in their lives is the only thing that gives us the ability to help these people make transformational changes (for more on transactional vs transformational please read “InsideOut Coaching” from Joe Ehrmann). We cannot and will not be able to “rah rah rah” our way out of some of these problems. Enthusiasm is always required but in the absence of the necessary skills to help others make positive changes it is a shallow form of connection. We will still have to accept responsibility for not being able to identify those things that limited someone in their pursuit of achieving their full potential.

If we can instead use this message of transformation, of quality, and of excellence to take progression and growth as a step-by-step process we will better understand the things that limit ourselves and our clients/athletes. The simplicity of this process should not be underestimated. There is a story about JP Morgan that says he offered a large sum of money to any person who could share with him the secret of success. After many failures a man came to his office and offered an envelope. JP Morgan opened the enveloped, read its contents, and gave the man the money. What was in the envelope? “1. Write down the things you have to do today. 2. Do them.”

If we attempt to aid our clients/athletes in their growth and use the power of our connection as the driver I think we will have found a far more powerful way to get things done. Instead of discussing the ankle joint and why it fails we should instead be as specific as possible and discuss “13-year-old Emma’s ankle” and the things we absolutely have to do to keep Emma healthy. Use this process to do what we can to help Emma and others, learn what we have to in order to do what we cannot currently do, and then do them. 1. How do we address Emma’s ankle properly? 2. How do we make Emma unstoppable?