Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Learn from Losing"

I recently read a fascinating book about legendary college football coach Eddie Robinson. Grambling University’s head coach for 57 years, the Louisiana native’s career paralleled the Jim Crow era of segregation in the Deep South and every major event of the Civil Rights Movement.

Grambling University, and other predominately black colleges, was loaded with outstanding black athletes until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s because the more powerful athletic conferences, like the Southeastern and Southwest, still insisted on forming all-white teams. Eddie Robinson, ever the gentleman, didn’t rail against the injustice, instead encouraging his players to work hard, make healthy choices and show love and respect for one another and country and believe justice would prevail. Many called him the “Martin Luther King of football.”

Author Denny Dressman tells many great stories. One in particular exemplifies how often in life, in defeat, we learn our greatest lessons, if we choose to learn from the experience.

The scene was Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama in 1970. The University of Southern California was on the road for a season-opening tangle with Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, pride of the Southeastern Conference. Alabama had no black players on its roster. Southern California, under Coach John McKay an equal mix of talented white and black players, routed the ‘Tide 42-21. After the game Bryant met McKay at midfield and thanked the Trojans’ coach for the humiliating defeat. Bryant knew the stinging loss would be a watershed moment for Alabama football: the next year, running back Wilbur Jackson and other black players debuted, and starred, for the Crimson Tide. The point is this: Alabama’s embarrassing defeat, with an all-white team, opened the eyes of ‘Tide faithful who needed to be awakened to the necessity of social justice.

Quite often defeat is exactly what we need to chart a new course encouraging us to become superior to our former selves – home, work and elsewhere.

The racial integration of the Southeastern and Southwest Conferences hurt Robinson’s recruiting efforts at Grambling since black student/athletes had more options and were not limited to the predominately black colleges of the Deep South. But the Hall of Fame coach never complained. He realized Grambling’s defeat, in terms of recruiting, was a victory for social justice in America.

The ability to turn defeats into victories, home, work and elsewhere, in my opinion, the most important skill we can ever learn. You know life can be cruel. We get hit with devastating blows. If Coach Robinson was alive – he died in 2007 – he’d encourage you to pick yourself up, get back in the game and learn from your mistakes and probably holler at you: “If you’re learning, you can’t be losing.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

This week's Pep Talk Blog: "Jump Time?"

I have recently returned to my sports roots and, daily, co-host two hours of sports talk radio. It’s fun chatting up co-host, Jimmy Doogan, guests and listeners about sports, which have been a huge part of my life.

Recently, Dave Krieger, outstanding columnist for the Denver Post, was a guest. We were talking about, at the time, the Colorado Rockies’ inability to deliver key hits late in baseball games. Krieger, when talking about the problem, suggested the modern-day player’s ability to watch videotape of their swings might be hampering them a bit. “They go back into the clubhouse and watch swings where they crushed the ball and want to emulate that swing when the situation dictates a different approach.”

In other words, when making contact and putting the ball in play might be very beneficial to the team, players are locked into a “homerun” swing. Because of this mentality, too often, players have been striking out when, in baseball terms, “situational hitting” would serve the team better.

Listening to Krieger expound on his theory, my mind wandered to a message I share often about the necessity, usually more often than we like, of becoming superior to our former selves – home, work and elsewhere.

For the Rockies the challenge is smarter hitting. For us it might be more intelligence at work, relationships, parenting or losing weight – to name just a few. Recognition of the problem is certainly the first step, but then comes the tough part: having the desire, and determination, to truly transform. Sounds simple, but we all know, it ain’t easy.

There’s a well-known saying that goes: “There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else; true nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” I read it a few years ago at the bottom of my gym monthly bill. Then it was meant to encourage members to get in better shape. Right now, it’s meant to challenge each of us to take inventory: Where in our lives is it REALLY time to put the excuses aside and change – become superior to our former selves?

Change is tough, you will often feel like quitting, don’t. Connect with like-minded folks, facing similar challenges, and encourage – give hope and confidence to – one another.

Whenever blessed to have a chance to encourage others to play like champions in the game of life, I always challenge them to “put fear aside and allow wonderment to win.” It’s true for the Rockies and their hitting woes and it’s true for whatever ails us: to become superior to our former selves requires us to leap into the great unknown of possibility. It’s jump time, are you ready?

Monday, July 12, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Matters of the Heart"

Do you have a “bucket list” of things to accomplish? Whether expressed publicly, written and stuffed away or secure in our heart, I think most have a list. It might be big: becoming president, curing cancer or advancing world peace. It might be personal: having a child, running a marathon or visiting a foreign country.

One thing vanished from my list recently after recording my first hole-in-one. On a par-3, 165-yard hole, a properly struck seven-iron ended up in the cup. The guys in our threesome wondered, “Who are you going to call and brag about the great shot?”

I honestly could think of nobody who would give a hoot that Mac finally – I’ve been close a few times – recorded an ace. Well, there is one, but his cell phone is out of range. My father, he passed three years ago from cancer.

After celebrating with pictures and high fives, we headed toward the next tee, thoughts more on my old man than what had just transpired. We, along with my younger brother, loved to play golf together. It struck me, far more dramatically than the shot, at the top of my bucket list would be spending more time with those I love and cherish.

That was the mindset a few days later when I ventured to Crested Butte, Colorado to spend Father’s Day with two buddies. Yea, that’s right, we spent Father’s Day, not with our families, but with each other. “What does this say about us that on Father’s Day weekend, we’re here while our families are elsewhere?” I asked buddies Pete Guignon and Dan Lauer. Almost in unison the Kansas City natives responded, “It means we’re good dads who, 51 other weekends out of the year, are dedicated to our families. They’re saying go have some well-earned fun.”

It sounded good to me, mainly, because it’s the truth. We had a blast hiking, four-wheeling and hanging out, being guys. In the rare moments when the conversation turned philosophical, we talked about encouraging one another to embrace a common bond: return to our respective worlds and continue the life-long mission of being responsible fathers dedicated to honoring, nurturing and adding value to the communities we serve – home, work and elsewhere. And yes, having some fun along the way.

We know if we do that, next Father’s Day, we’ll have earned another weekend away. To consistently honor, nurture and add value, a bucket list item far more important than a hole-in-one. Wherever my old man is right now, he’d agree to that. I hope you feel likewise. Whatever’s on your bucket list, make sure at the top is taking care of business where it matters most, matters of the heart.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This week's Pep Talk Blog: "PRIDE vs. PITA"

I was on the phone with a dear friend, and during the course of the conversation, she got around to speaking of her children. One of her daughters had a situation at school that was challenging. “Boy,” she groaned, “There’s an administrator at my daughter’s school who is really acting like a pita.”

A perplexed look came across my face as I asked, “What the heck is a pita?” She went on to explain that “pita” is an acronym for “pain in the ass.” I had never heard that before and got a pretty good chuckle out of that one.

But after hanging up the phone, I could not get “pita” out of my mind. How exactly would we define someone who is acting like a “pain in the ass?” What types of behavior are usually associated with being a pita? A few came immediately to mind: someone who is chronically late; does not deliver as promised; permeates negativity instead of optimism. Tardy, unreliable and grumpy, do you think those three unflattering traits would qualify you, and me, for entrance into the Pita Club?

But let’s turn the question around. If being consistently tardy, unreliable and grumpy would qualify us for the Pita Club, what might be some good character traits that would keep us from ever being considered for membership?

Five come to mind. Here they are. Let’s all work hard this week to be members of the PRIDE club. Yea, let’s be committed being: punctual, respectful, imaginative, dependable and enthusiastic. We have prides of lions, why not a pride of people, in our thoughts, words and actions, determined to remain members, in good standing, of the PRIDE Club. We would view the PITA Club as a rival along the lines of Republicans vs. Democrats, Red Sox vs. Yankees or Saks vs. Neiman’s – you’re either one or the other, there’s no in between?

Admittedly, it’s not easy to remain in good standing within the PRIDE Club. Life, with it’s unwanted and unexpected twists and turns, can get very annoying at times – but we don’t have to. When the going gets tough and it’s tempting to transform into a pain in the ass, instead focus on being punctual, respectful, imaginative, dependable and enthusiastic.

Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig once said, “Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple – and difficult – as that.” He is so right. It’s tough to be devoted to PRIDE and not PITA but like anything else worthwhile in life, certainly worth the effort.
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