Monday 21 November 2011

Be better

On Friday and Saturday I attended the SASCOC Coaching Framework conference where the new Coaching Framework policy was signed off and handed over to the Department of Sport and Recreation. In short, there's a stronger focus on sport - across disciplines - with specific attention to Sport in Schools. Federations, like our Orienteering Federation, are encouraged to expand into schools across Provinces, which is what we're doing.

One of the speakers on Saturday was Frank Dick, OBE. His coaching credentials are extensive and he is also a motivational speaker, using sport and his coaching experiences as themes. And what a speaker this guy is! Funny, insightful, fluid and energetic -  a pleasure to watch and to listen to.

One of his stories was an absolute gem. To paraphrase... A nine-year old girl sees him working with athletes at a track and asks him to coach her. A short period later she's lined up at the start of her first 100m  race, against seven others. She finishes 8th and is feeling down at finishing last. Frank tells her, "But you finished 8th and you ran 18 seconds". She again says that she was last. He tells her that she ran 18 seconds which is faster than the 19 seconds she ran previously. So, in fact, she's just run a personal best.

Great perspective. This story continues around being "better today than you were yesterday... everyday".

Great message.

Frank illustrated it with this clip of Usain Bolt, when he ran 19:30 in Beijing in 2009. In the second slow-mo replay the camera is on Bolt's face and it is clear that he is running against himself, against the clock - he's striving not just to be better than the other runners that he has annihilated; he's running to be better than he was yesterday.

And this message comes in parallel with a super blog post this past week by marketing guru Seth Godin.
The other day, after a talk to some graduate students at the Julliard School, one asked, "In The Dip, you talk about the advantage of mastery vs. being a mediocre jack of all trades. So does it make sense for me to continue focusing on mastering the violin?"
Without fear of error, I think it's easy to say that this woman will never become the best violinist in the world. That's because it's essentially impossible to be the one and only best violinist in the world. There might be 5,000 or 10,000 people who are so technically good at it as to be indistinguishable to all but a handful of orchestra listeners. This is true for many competitive fields--we might want to fool ourselves into thinking that we have become the one and only best at a technical skill, but it's extremely unlikely.
The quest for technical best is a form of hiding. You can hide from the marketplace because you're still practicing your technique. And you can hide from the hard work of real art and real connection because you decide that success lies in being the best technically, at getting a 99 instead of a 98 on an exam.
What we can become the best at is being an idiosyncratic exception to the standard. Joshua Bell is often mentioned (when violinists are mentioned at all) not because he is technically better than every other violinst, but because of his charisma and willingness to cross categories. He's the best in the world at being Josh Bell, not the best in the world at playing the violin.
Other people don't count. You - the best you - does.

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