Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vivid Examples of Excellence

"Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence."-George F. Will

In 1989, Michigan point guard, Rumeal Robinson, was fouled at the end of a game against Wisconsin. With no time on the clock and his team down by one point, Robinson proceeded to miss both free throws. There is no worse experience for an athlete than to be put in a position to win the game and to fail. It’s something that is devastating enough that it could ruin a weak-minded individual, but Robinson wasn’t the sort. The story is that he shot 100 extra free throws after every practice from that day forward because if the situation happened again, he didn’t want to fail. Later in the year, in the NCAA championship game in overtime, he drove to the basket in an attempt to make the game-winning shot, but he was fouled. With no time on the clock, and down by one point, Rumeal Robinson calmly sank both free throws to give his team a one-point victory—an NCAA championship.

Several years later, I was coaching a 7th grade girls’ basketball team. We were undefeated, late in the season. I don’t recall if we were behind by one or two points, but one of my starters, a girl by the name of Stephanie Duell, was fouled on the last play of the game. She immediately started crying. She knew if she missed, our undefeated season was over and the emotion of the moment overwhelmed her. She shot the free throws, and, of course, missed. We lost one game that year. That was the only season I coached 7th grade. The next year, I moved up with the team to 8th grade. Stephanie was the hardest working girl on the team. Every time we shot free throws, she made it a competition between me and her. She practiced extra, and she was very good, but wouldn’t you know it, later in the year, against the same team with our same undefeated record on the line, Stephanie was fouled with no time on the clock, our team down by two points. That time there was no tears. She walked straight to the line and sank them both. I couldn’t have been prouder of one of my players than I was right then.

Two years ago, Detroit Catholic Central High School lost in the state wrestling finals to Oxford High. The number one ranked DCC team led going into the last match but lost the state title when Evan Toth was defeated. Two years later, last Saturday, as fate would have it, DCC was pitted against Davison High School, and Davison was leading 26-23 as the last two wrestlers walked onto the mat—one of them was Evan Toth. Based on criteria, if tied at the end of the meet, Davison would win, so Evan Toth couldn’t just win the match, earning his team three points—he needed bonus points. A simple win wouldn’t be good enough, and before he knew it, he was down 9-2 with his state championship dreams fading away once again. But Toth didn’t give up hope. While grappling against a quality wrestler, the clock, and demons from his past, Toth pinned his opponent with just thirty-five seconds remaining, earning six points—enough to give his team the state championship.

All three stories are feel bad stories followed up by feel good stories. All three stories demonstrate how sports can be a vivid example of excellence. Michael Jordan, a man whose name is synonymous with game-winning heroics said the following: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” John Wooden, considered by many as the greatest college basketball coach of all time said, “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.” Colin R. Davis said, “The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.”

I’ve been blessed as an athlete, a teacher, a parent, a coach, and a sports fan to witness incredible feel-good stories of people who looked into the face of previous discouragement, previous failures, and previous mistakes, and instead of letting those moments defeat them, they rose above them and succeeded. They understood—and sports is usually a vivid example of it—that while others are simply dreaming of success, winners wake-up in the morning and work hard to achieve it. All of the feel-good, come-back stories that I mentioned earlier are examples of people who didn’t let failure get the best of them. They worked hard, prepared themselves well, and ended up succeeding in the very thing for which they failed earlier. Why don’t more people take the lessons from sports and apply them to their lives? Why do independent writers, for instance, write a book that doesn’t sell well and then put in the same effort and do the same things for the next book and expect it to do better? Why wouldn’t an indie writer take LOTS of extra time learning punctuation, capitalization, and grammar rules? Why wouldn’t the writer listen to advice from knowledgeable readers whom they can trust and be willing to make changes to his or her book—maybe even a complete overhaul? Why wouldn’t a writer use a thesaurus, do word searches for repetitious words, and even double and triple-check for spelling and capitalization and punctuation consistencies?

Athletes like Rumeal Robinson, Stephanie Duell, Evan Toth, and Michael Jordan went the extra mile, dedicated the extra effort, and refused to give in to failure. They believed in themselves and realized that in life there are usually numerous failures and mistakes on the road to success. Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Earl Nightingale  said, “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.” Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And finally, Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Yes, sports serve society by giving vivid examples of excellence—examples that everyone can apply to any area of life. Do you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again? Then it’s time to renew your efforts and enthusiasm because the next great success story might be yours.