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Posts Tagged ‘preparation’

courtesy of maxpreps.com

“It’s not about money and it’s not about a paycheck. It’s about a mission, and it’s about walking away from this life making your little acre a little bit better than when you found it.”– Coach Bob Ladouceur, at a Jan. 4th, 2013 press conference where he resigned as head coach of the De La Salle football team

If you followed any kind of Bay Area high school sports, you knew about the legendary De La Salle Spartan football program. Named high school national champions 7 times, 12 times as best the team in California. When California finally instituted a state championship bowl game in 2006, De La Salle appeared in all seven, winning five. Coach Lad never had a losing season in his entire 34-year career at De La Salle, including 19 perfect seasons, most of them strung together in one mythical run that captured headlines across the nation when De La Salle did not lose for 12 years (1992-2004).

Many have made pilgrimages to this Mecca of high school football, looking for some kind of shrine to football greatness, adorned with banners, trophies, a state-of-the-art weight room, maybe even a stadium that could rival a top Division I college program.  But if one were to walk onto the De La Salle campus, no such shrine exists. No banners. No trophies. No remarkable locker room or stadium. No idols of football greatness to be found. It would be like going to Warren Buffet’s house in Omaha and expecting a 10,000 acre mansion, and finding a modest 5-bedroom home that was bought for $31,500 in 1958.

That level of understatement is just how Coach Lad wants it.

It’s not about the streak, or being the all-time winningest. I appreciate the benchmark and the recognition of the long haul and my hard work, but it’s about being a positive part of so many young kids’ lives. It’s pretty humbling.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

So how do you motivate teenagers to excel without the carrots of gold and glory?

“I think the key is not focusing on the wins because wins are outcomes and I keep telling our kids that if we’re going to gauge our success on how many wins we accumulate or how many losses we receive, they’re just not good indicators. We look for other things: learning of life skills, whether these kids can come together and truly respect each other and admire each other, and hopefully, in a certain sense, learn to love each other.”HS Coaching Legends: Bob Ladouceur, Football

So what does one do after receiving such motivation?

“Preparation is a high priority. It’s also about offseason hard work. I tell the boys that in order to succeed you have to be working to get yourself into a position where success is possible.”
“Preparation is not fun. It’s hard work and difficult, but doing something difficult builds character. It’s difficult to have fun with drudgery and repetition. The fun is on game night, making it pay off.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

Moving beyond the limited perspective of one’s self and individual accomplishment and focusing on the intangible, the spiritual, on supporting the team and one another. Focusing that motivation into a daily regiment of difficult, challenging, consistent practice, just looking for improvement every day. Such “drudgery” makes me believe success is only awe-inspiring from the outside; from the inside, success is the simple, daily combination of tremendous effort and the satisfaction that one has moved closer to something greater.

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“Pursue fame and fortune and victory at all costs… but make it a contest, a ritual, a spectacle, and honour your antagonist afterwards for his strength and bravery. Abandon reserve and live urgently, vitally: surrender the abstractions of the mind to the primacy of the body… They have engaged in the most baldly punishing and yet most human of all pursuits—chasing the high pitch of gesture and glamour to which all artists aspire, creating beauty through the body in the face of inconceivable pains and dangers.” – Oli Goldstein, “Violence and the Sacred

Last Saturday I watched in horror, along with the entire Filipino nation, as our Manny Pacquiao, our Fighting Pride of the Philippines, succumbed to a destructive Juan Manuel Marquez right hand. In a fight where Pac boxed his best rounds against his storied rival, where he was knocked down for the first time in 13 years only to respond with a knockdown of his own, where he rained rights and lefts upon his opponent’s head with conviction, staggering and bloodying his foe, making a strong case for a convincing victory of his own, a conscious-shattering counter that annihilated our hero, leaving us with an image we thought we’d never see: Manny Pacquiao, lifeless on the canvas.

“…it hurts kind of beautiful.” Shivaree

As an artist, I live to create compelling masterpieces. Performances that will be honored and remembered throughout the ages. Pieces of art that speak to our humanity. But what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece? What makes anything universally human? Deep down inside, as painful as it was to watch, I’m certain that the battle I witnessed last week was a masterpiece, and in my opinion Manny’s greatest fight in the last 10 years. Somehow, this hurt is an integral part of the masterpiece equation.

I don’t pretend to know much about boxing. I’ll let the experts argue the technical qualities of Manny’s fights. All I know is that since knocking out Miguel Cotto in 2009, I felt Manny had technically solid performances, but were mostly forgettable overall. The typical post-2009 Pacquiao fight would consist of Manny feeling out the first couple of rounds, then definitively scoring combinations to win rounds 3-8, only to coast to a victorious decision, still winning late rounds but clearly fighting not to lose. Watching Pac fight during this time frame would be akin to watching Pavarotti in concert and expecting Nessun Dorma, but instead getting his backup vocals to the Spice Girl’s Viva Forever. A good performance from one of the greatest of all time, but he’s clearly capable of so much more.

After losing a split decision to Tim Bradley (a bad decision by the judges, but Pac’s coasting had cost him), and a potentially lucrative superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. yet again postponed, something changed. Instead of waiting for the superfight (and guaranteed fortune) that seemed to never come, Manny took the courageous route and risked all the momentum of a Mayweather superfight and accepted yet another fight with Marquez, a man he had yet to defeat definitively.

Manny could have approached the fight like his recent bouts, tentatively picking his spots, doing just enough to win each round. That would’ve been smart. But this fight went beyond a simple win, beyond the opinions of three judges at ringside. This was about legacy. This was about ending the dispute over who had TRULY won the past three meetings. This was about defeating a rival in the manner that had catapulted Pacquiao to superstardom. He had to knock Marquez out. This wasn’t smart, but it’s very human.

For six rounds, Manny was Manny again. He unleashed his arsenal with unrelenting speed and power. He pushed the action even after dominating the round. He responded to getting knocked down with even more aggression. He saw blood dripping down Marquez’s nose, and he saw the end in sight. He took his chance, with only 2 seconds left in the round, in front of the entire world, allowing himself to be vulnerable for one more attack, and lost it all.

There is an honor in being true to ones self, unleashing both one’s great power and vulnerability for the world to see. For 17 minutes, 58 seconds, Manny was his true self, a ferocious attacker, willing to take a punch to give two. Marquez also stayed true to his core as an elite counter-puncher, bravely withstanding blow after blow as he patiently waited for an opening to unleash his devastation. What resulted was a boxing masterpiece, an epic struggle of two men providing their absolute best in the face of destruction.

As an actor, I have the luxury of risking everything for an ideal of a person in an imagined world, living in a temporary danger while keeping my personal self safe. Boxers like Pacquiao and Marquez don’t have that luxury. If such people are willing to dedicate their entire lives to cement a legacy, or to climb massive walls, or to find God, then the stakes in the imagined world must be just as high for artistic masterpieces. Works of art that allow people experience moments of extreme struggle and immeasurable risk to help inform the real struggles and risks in real life. Sounds like fun.

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When I decided to write this blog about how to achieve success and great achievement, I felt it was important to acknowledge that travelling the road towards success is really hard. I didn’t want to be just another guy who put up inspirational quotes or feel-good stories of amazing feats; to feature only great victories would dismiss all the other stories of people who are in the middle of their journey, who are still in the thick of extraordinary adversity upon which great success is founded. I wanted to feature stories where the outcome was still in doubt, where the protagonists are still trying to find their way, where the demons are still alive and well.

For such a story, I go back to the world of pro wrestling. If the story of Eddie Guerrero is one of a man who found redemption, then the story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is of one still trying to find his way out of the wilderness.

The wrestling exploits of Jake Roberts, considered one of the greatest in-ring performers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, have been overshadowed by his battles with alcohol and drug addiction. His troubles were documented in the 1999 film Beyond the Mat (a real-life precursor to Mickey Rourke’s critically-acclaimed 2008 film The Wrestler) where Jake was being interviewed while on crack. Internet videos of Jake’s intoxicated stupors at independent wrestling events have sprouted over the years, the most infamous appearing on TMZ in 2008.  Reports on wrestling news websites of Jake’s attempts to rehab, only to relapse again, appear with tragic regularity, a sick reminder for all to how far such a beloved icon had fallen.

Jake’s most recent attempt at recovery, however, is showing some promise. “Diamond” Dallas Page (DDP), a former wrestling protege who gained viral fame after helping a man lose 140 pounds in 10 months, brought Jake into his Atlanta home where, through a steady program of diet & yoga designed by DDP, they hope to get Jake in shape for one final run in pro wrestling.  To occupy his time constructively, Jake is learning to use a computer, and has even created new Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. One touching YouTube video features Jake discussing what he is grateful for on Thanksgiving. So far, Jake has been sober for almost a month and lost 40 pounds.

In November, about two weeks into DDP’s program, Jake gave a candid radio interview about his rehabilitation and how he once contemplated suicide:

You start looking at yourself at that point and you hate yourself…I had a lot of shame, a lot of anger, a lot of freakin’ anger, basically I had given up. I didn’t want to live. I had no hope. I had no dreams. I hope nobody out there gets to that point, but when you quit dreaming, when you quit having hope, it’s a pretty goddamn horrible place to be. You don’t care if you breathe. You don’t care about anything.” – Jake Roberts, Big WrestleShark Show, 98.4 Pulse FM, UK

I’ll save the commentary for today and allow you to draw your own lessons, but for now I urge you to read the full story on Jake’s rehab with DDP. Here’s to hoping that Jake’s long journey ends with the redemption he’s always desired.

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For the last six years I’ve been ever so fortunate in that out of all the survival jobs actors take to support themselves, I get to teach chess to kids. It never ceases to amaze me how children can embrace such a complex, nuanced game that baffles most of the parents who pick them up after class. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the critically-acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Castle which follows the most dominant middle school chess program in the nation, that of New York City’s I.S. 318, a Title I school where more than 65% of the students live below the federal poverty line.

The featured players all have their own compelling stories. Alexis sees chess as a stepping stone to support his immigrant family. Bobo is the most boisterous and charismatic, tying his chess ambitions with his own political aspirations (including a run at the class presidency). Rochelle aspires to be the first African-American female chess master. Justus is already a chess master as a 6th grader and enters IS 318 with heavy expectations. As a student with ADHD, Patrick uses chess to build his concentration and confidence.

At the center of this program is chess coach Elizabeth Vicary Spiegel. I was especially curious about her perspective on success on how to teach it, especially since she must walk the fine line of pushing her students to perform at the highest of standards while helping them cope with the volatile emotions that come from both the pressures of high-level competition and the tumultuous years of adolescence.

On the one hand, Ms. Spiegel (who at the time of filming was still the unmarried Ms. Vicary) stated that a child’s success comes from values we’ve mentioned in previous weeks: hard work, perseverance, determination. She once had a student who lost his first 21 chess games and after two years of sheer doggedness placed first in his section at nationals.

On the other hand, however, she also encourages “a level of negative thinking”:

One [great thinking habit from chess] is this practice of double-checking yourself relentlessly. That you can play really well for fourty (sp) moves, and then you make one miscalculation, and your opponent sees it, and you lose…a level of negative thinking, of finding the problems in your thoughts—and not being like, “Oh, I have a great idea, I’m fantastic.” You know, you have an idea, and you’re excited about it, and then you go and try to find every possible thing that might be wrong with it, and make sure it’s really correct.  – Elizabeth Spiegel, The Creativity of Chess: a Conversation with Elizabeth Spiegel

This seems to run directly counter with my own philosophy on immediately acting upon one’s inspiration. Of course, improv and chess aren’t exactly the same. One is an art form propelled by the strongest choices, and doesn’t really deal in the realm of correctness. The other is a game with discrete rules and a defined objective, where correct moves bring one closer to that objective and incorrect moves take one farther away. It’s at this point where we might ask what does real life more closely resemble: improv or chess?

But upon further examination, I think this question implies a false mutual exclusivity. Great improvisers constantly dissect their performances and look for opportunities for stronger choices. Chess players must often rely on their inspiration as they move farther away from established opening lines and into unfamiliar positions where the “correct” move isn’t obvious. So if there isn’t mutual exclusivity between these philosophies, how can relentless evaluation AND spur-of-the-moment inspiration co-exist and lead to success?

I can’t give a simple answer, but we can start by imagining situations where each philosophy shines. Relentless evaluation works best in situations where time is not a factor, like playing mid-game in a chess tournament, receiving notes after an improv show, or testing the structural integrity of a skyscraper. And the evaluation must consist of objective judgments on a performance, and not indictments of personal character. Ms. Spiegel reinforces the power of objectivity:

“You know—you’ve lost, and you’re crying—and what chess teaches is that understanding what just happened does make it easier.  And I think that’s an important thing for [the students] to understand in life, as well. Nothing is really so terrible once you figure it out—and that working through something does make it better.”  – Elizabeth Spiegel, The Creativity of Chess: a Conversation with Elizabeth Spiegel

This objective study provides the foundation so our creativity and inspiration can shine.  We rely upon inspiration when time is of the essence and we can’t afford to hesitate, like when we’re playing chess with a minute left on the clock, or we’re improvising a scene, or we have an epiphany on how the world works. We need these bursts of creativity to expand the limits of what we already know. Once the urgency that birthed the inspiration has passed, evaluation takes over again, thus restarting cycle of constant study and performance. And while material award and fear of failure can provide motivation, I’m inclined to believe that the cycle itself is its own reward, since the infinity of the cycle is one of the few things that can fulfill the human heart.

I.S. 318 continued to dominate long after Brooklyn Castle finished filming. In April of this year, even after facing program-threatening budget cuts, I.S. 318 became the first middle school to win the US Chess Federation High School National Championship. Knowing what these kids have overcome, do we have any excuses?

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“But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.”

I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Your depressed facebook friend goes there every few days. You feel inept, lethargic, and powerless, this day when you’ve accomplished nothing.  All the while, everyone else is happier, stronger, and better than you. They’re getting things done, making things happen. No matter how hard you try you’re going nowhere, and you feel like an idiot for believing you could accomplish anything special. So you take the above quote drenched with extra self-loathing as your motto of the day.

If so, make sure to give credit to the author: Charles Darwin.

Yes, Charles “The Father of Evolution” Darwin. And no, this was quote was not pulled from some angsty, emo, prepubescent childhood diary. It was discovered in a letter written in 1861, two years AFTER Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

I naively used to believe that accomplishing great things meant every day needed to be some amazing, life-altering, transcendental experience, and any moment of self-doubt, reluctance, or fear was a sign of inadequacy. But Darwin’s FML moment shatters all such assumptions. Great achievers still have their moments of madness. They just don’t surrender. They just get back to work.

So if you ever again find yourself going nowhere, drink this cup of schadenfreude, and know that constructing the most influential theory in modern biology is the most that you could ever accomplish.

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Ask the average American about the world’s greatest athletes, some common names emerge. Michael Jordan. Usain Bolt. Michael Phelps. People shouldering the biggest of expectations while the cameras are on and millions watching around the world. If they fail, the public will revel in their ridicule. And yet those are the moments when they’re known to thrive, when they’re at their absolute best.

A few months ago, another athlete caught my attention, one whose accomplishments might be even greater than those mentioned. He’s not wealthy. He’s not necessarily a household name either. But he’s a superstar in his sport. A sport where one mistake doesn’t just mean embarrassment. It means certain death.

Alex Honnold is widely considered to be the greatest free solo climber in the world. To free solo is to climb a wall without a rope, and only the most elite of climbers are successful at it (or die trying). In 2008, Alex became famous for his 2,224-foot free solo up the Northwest face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, which was later featured  in the North Face-sponsored documentary, Alone on the Wall. In June of 2012, Alex accomplished something even more daring, completing the Yosemite Triple (Mt. Watkins, El Capitan AND Half Dome, almost 7,000 feet of vertical rock) in 19 hours, about 95% of the route free soloed.

While the most impressive free solos are incredibly difficult, free soloists tend to choose routes with which they’re familiar, and thus are well within their abilities. Therefore, the biggest challenges for the free soloist aren’t technical but mental. Alex describes one moment during his 2008 free solo up Half Dome when his mentally broke down:
 

Basically when I’m soloing, normally I have almost like a mental armor. You can say I’m ‘in the zone.’ I have something that’s, let’s say, protecting  my head from thinking too much, and for whatever reason, on Half Dome, I ran out of whatever armor I had. I found myself, like, 1800 feet above the ground. I was like, ‘What am I doing up here? Why am I doing it?’ You know, just all the questions suddenly entered my mind. – Alex Honnold, “Alone on the Wall”

“Thinking too much” is a bad thing? But I learned to value thinking. Thinking was a GOOD thing. Think before you act. It’s one of the first major lessons we instill to our children. It’s our hope that this snippet of wisdom will keep them safe in a dangerous world. When our basic desires intend to lead us astray, whether it’s to retaliate, to stuff ourselves with cookies, or to jump into bed with that hottie we met at the bar, thinking keeps us from doing something we might regret. And if thinking is good, wouldn’t lots of thinking be great?
 

The sitting around and reflecting, like “Do I want to do this? Do I not want to do this? You know, is this something I can do?” Like that’s the really scary stuff. It’s all just like games you play within your head. That’s why I’m committing to the route. On the ground still, in the van, I’ve committed.

I think doubt is probably the biggest danger in soloing. Because basically as soon as you start to hesitate, then you’re screwed. – Alex Honnold, “Alone on the Wall”

So excess thinking turns into doubt and hesitation, which would be helpful for escaping unfamiliar situations, but for elite athletes, who minimize unfamiliar situations by investing thousands of hours into practice and preparation, doubt and hesitation become enemies of performance. And Alex certainly prepares:
 

To prepare himself [for the Yosemite Triple], Honnold arrived in Yosemite in May and embarked on a climbing frenzy. He became the first to free solo the west face of El Capitan and the first, along with fellow professional climber Tommy Caldwell, to free climb the triple. They did it in about 21 hours… On June 1, he climbed the iconic 2,000-foot-high northwest face of Half Dome, alone, with a mix of aid- and free-soloing techniques in a staggering 1:21 — 48 minutes faster than his previous record. On Sunday, Honnold and Hans Florine, a Yosemite speed climber, hope to break another speed record climbing The Nose route up El Capitan. Potter and Sean Leary currently hold that record at 2:35:45. Solo Climber Reaches New Heights, New York Times

Alex devotes his entire life to preparation:
 

I think my lifestyle can just be summed up as I do whatever I have to do to climb as much as I can… The only way I can go climb all the time is to live in the van. – Alex Honnold, “Alone on the Wall”

And how can he make such a full-fledged commitment?
 

Climbing gives me everything. Alex Honnold in “Respira”

It’s remarkable. And it’s crazy. But for those who reach such heights, it’s not. It’s simply what must be done. It’s his heart’s infinity. And there’s no question that for Alex, the sacrifice is worth it. Which leads me to one more question.

How much is your heart’s infinity worth?

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