Lessons I learned in youth sports have become tenants of my adult life. Especially when you grow up in a small town, finding a place on an athletic team can keep you out of trouble, and abject boredom. It would be fair to say that I was a “spirited” adolescent with a strong need for verbal expression. OK, I had a smart ass mouth that got me into trouble on occasion. My need for structure led me to join the track and field team in high school. Initially, it wasn’t because I loved it. I was somewhat fast and in need of something to do.
The one thing that saved me (in addition to the grace of God) was an amiable yet straight-shooting track coach. Mr. Riva had my number. After a rather tumultuous eight grade year, he made me a promise. “Commit to the track program and I’ll commit to helping you stay out of the principal’s office.” One season of cross-country (I hated distance running with a passion) and four seasons of spring track kept me focused and less likely to be sent home early. I felt accountable to my teammates. I didn’t want to let them or Mr. Riva down by being suspended from a meet.
Cardinal rule 101 in track and field is to “Run through the tape.” Similar to “protect yourself at all times” in boxing, focusing on a location after the finish line protects the runner from being beaten unexpectedly. So, when I see a professional like Molly Huddle edged out in the 10,000 meter World Championship race, I’m both bothered and reflective. She eased up, raising both of her arms in victory a millisecond before reaching the finish line. That was just enough time for teammate Emily Infeld to pass her to capture the bronze in Beijing.
My mantra to our eight-year-old is to follow-through. Doing just enough isn’t enough. I want him to give a full throated effort to everything, beyond what he sees right in front of him. Those of you with school age children know the frustration of getting a child to read one more page past what the teacher instructed. I’m not trying to get on his nerves. I need him to know that nobody is going to hand him anything. He must work to earn what he desires. I’m giving him life skills that even professionals need reminding to access.
These skills are applicable to adults too. How many of you can say you have this kind of focus in your business and relationships? Molly Huddle’s misfortune is a reminder for all of us to pick up the pace and run through the tape. Let me know how you do.