I have had the fortune and benefit of sharpening many tools, knowingly and unknowingly, through my career in sports. These tools have shaped how I am today personally and professionally as a leader, teammate, and consultant. I once had a job recruiter for an executive position ask, "How long have you been in a leadership position?" After an internal chuckle, my answer surprised her, "Honestly, in some form or another, I've been in leadership positions my entire life."
I reflect on sports and athletics as that early training ground for leadership development. Those early lessons are still a source of inspiration for me into more traditional leadership and communication roles.
This past year (2020-2021), I have been coaching my oldest daughter's 6th grade basketball team. In an early season tournament we were in a physical and demanding game against a very good team. We hadn't won many games to that point in the season. The score was back and forth for the majority of the game.
With about 15 seconds left, the other team tied the game. We had the ball next. We broke their full-court pressure and our player went driving to the basket. She missed the shot, but was fouled in the process. Here's this 6th grader at the free throw line with 6 seconds remaining, shooting 2 shots for the win with all eyes on her. I could see she was nervous and uncomfortable. First shot, miss. Second shot, miss.
The other team flies back down the floor and made their shot for the win. After the game, this player quietly stood in our huddle with tears in her eyes. When we broke, she grabbed her ball and asked, "Can I take a couple shots?" I nodded and subtly watched her walk to the same free throw line and shoot 2 shots, making them both. She quietly went over to her bag, changed her shoes, came up to me and said,
"We can go home now, Dad."
One of my favorite books that puts this in perspective is "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin. The author identifies how we often mistake natural talent, prodigy, and genius with what is really a lifetime of purposeful practice, hard work, and pushing of one's comfort zone. Certainly in many instances, there may be a baseline competency, acumen, genetic influence, or interest propping up opportunity. For example, someone 5'5" is likely not going to be the next Shaquille O'Neal and dominate the center position in the NBA. But in many if not most cases, the continual and deliberate testing that challenges skill methodically improves those skills.
Those people society often looks up to as overnight successes, often took a lifetime of development to reach that level of skills, knowledge, and abilities. Let's celebrate those journeys even though they sometimes sting. Individuals willing to risk (short-term) loss, disappointment, and struggle, will emerge from the pack over the long term. I learned that over my life experiences. My daughter is now baptized into similar life lessons. Her willingness to stand on that (free throw) line, take her shot, then go back and fix it will serve her well in the future (both in basketball and life).