The more I practice the less I suck (once more from the top)

The following post of five years ago has been revisited as its message is timeless. If you want to get better at something, practicing will help, especially when you practice the right things to improve.

The above phrase was uttered by Joe Walsh, the legendary guitarist with The Eagles and as a solo artist. Walsh was a guest on Daryl Hall’s show “Live at Daryl’s House,” where Hall has a studio in his mountain house and the crew and guest jam together, then cook and eat a meal. It is worth the watch (see a link below).

After jamming on Funk 49, Rocky Mountain Way, and Life’s Been Good along with a few of Hall’s songs, the group sat down for a meal which they prepared with a guest chef. As they spoke of how they got started in the music business, Walsh regaled them with his story.

In essence, Walsh spoke of an early band where “we all sucked.” This brought lots of nods and smiles. Then, he said The Beatles came out and they learned to cover The Beatles’ songs. He said if you knew the songs, you could get gigs and they began to play more. But, they also had to practice more beforehand. Eventually, they got closer to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice, which ironically referenced The Beatles in his book “Outliers.” Gladwell noted The Beatles were sent to Hamburg to learn to play better in front of an audience with seven shows a night, six days a week.

And, he then uttered the above line. The more I practiced, the less I sucked. This succinct lesson applies to far more than playing music or singing. It could be related to golf, tennis, free throws, research, business analysis, teaching, presentations, general medicine, surgery, investing, etc. It could be as basic as driving a car or learning to cook or bake.

If we put in the time, we will suck less. Doing something once, does not make you proficient. It means you did it once. It takes practice to get better at something. Thanks Joe for your music and advice. You no longer suck.

http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/

Bull Durham – a baseball movie which is more about life (a revisit)

Our friend Cindy recently posted a baseball season opening post to celebrate her husband and kids’ fondness for baseball. During the course of comment conversation, I learned of their love of the movie “Bull Durham,” which is a favorite of mine, as well. Here is an old post from a few years ago.

I was commenting last weekend on An Exacting Life’s blog about being superstitious  and was reminded of the movie “Bull Durham” starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.* While the movie, written and directed by Ron Shelton, is around the subject of minor league baseball, it is more about life and life’s wisdom that is imparted by the two wise seasoned characters – Costner’s Crash Davis and Sarandon’s Annie Savoy – to a budding baseball star who does not think deep thoughts, Robbins’ Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. You need not be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie.

The movie has some of the best quotes this side of “Casablanca,” which I will share from memory, meaning I will likely be paraphrasing more than quoting. The one I shared about being superstitious is in the climactic scene (I must use this word cautiously as the movie has some scintillating scenes between Costner and Sarandon during the denouement), when Savoy enters Davis’ apartment without knocking to accuse him of telling LaLoosh to stay out of her bed, an idea she started, to channel LaLoosh’s energy into his pitching several weeks earlier. The team began a long winning streak thereafter.

Davis responded by saying he did not tell him that and said “You don’t mess with a streak as they don’t come along often.” He added “If you are winning because you think it is due to your not getting laid, then you are. And, you should know that.” Savoy realizes he is right and professes her desire for Davis, which had been smoldering all season. The irony of all ironies is while Savoy ends up with Davis, in real life, Sarandon falls in love with Robbins after meeting during the filming of the movie which led to a long marriage.

Some of my other favorite lines of the movie, include:

– Davis (who is the catcher) telling LaLoosh (the pitcher) on the mound to “Don’t try to strike out everyone. Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.”

– Savoy notes about LaLoosh “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

– Davis, after being challenged to a bar fight by LaLoosh, who did not know Davis was his new catcher, diffused the situation by tossing a baseball to the wild pitcher, saying hit me with this. The pitcher noted he would kill him if he hit him, to which Davis retorted, “From what I hear, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of boat.”

– Davis telling LaLoosh after one of his pitches was hit for a long home run, “Man, that ball went so far it needed a stewardess.” This was after Davis told the batter what pitch was coming after LaLoosh kept shaking of the signal.

– Davis picking up LaLoosh’s shower flip-flops which had fungus growing on it. “If you get to the Show (the major leagues), people will think you are colorful (with the fungus). Until then, people will think you are a slob.”

– Savoy telling LaLoosh who needed to think less on the pitcher’s mound, “To breathe through your eyelids like the lava lizards.”

– Savoy telling LaLoosh to slow down when he rips off all his shirt the first time they are alone foregoing the romantic theater. She adds, “Put your shirt back on. I want to watch.”

The most memorable scene, though, occurs when he Davis responds to Savoy’s question when she tells the two ballplayers she will choose one of them to be in a monogamous relationship with during the season. Davis asked why does she get to make the choice and why not one of them? When he later add he does not believe in choice like that in “matters of the heart,” she asks him what do you believe in. Davis’ character lays on a diatribe that tells her more than she ever wanted to know about what he believed in such as “I believe Christmas presents should be opened Christmas morning” and “I believe in slow wet kisses that last for three days.” After which she is obviously smitten with him saying, “Oh, my.”

I recognize these quotes don’t do the movie justice, as there are so many well crafted scenes and lines offered by a terrific cast. The dugout banter between the manager and pitching coach is priceless. The wedding gift discussion on the mound in the middle of the game is terrific.  If you like the movie, tell me your favorite scenes. If you do not, I would love to hear your comments as to why. And, if you have not seen it, please do check it out.

Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.

Win or lose with class (a repeat)

This post is a repeat from three years ago, but applies still today. I wrote this originally on the anniversary of 9/11.

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.

Thank the passer – the legacy of Dean Smith (a reminder that the one who gets the glory had help)

This was written following the death of Dean Smith a few years ago. With the NCAA Basketball Tournament back in action after a year off, I thought it would be good to honor him with a repeat of this story on a key legacy.

For those who follow basketball, the legendary basketball coach Dean Smith passed away this weekend. Smith coached the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for many years to great basketball success. He also coached the US Olympics basketball team to the Gold medal when we still used amateur players. A great many things are being said about Smith by his former players, fans and the media. They are all deserved. Last fall, his wife accepted the US Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Smith did much to help young men grow into adults. He taught valuable lessons about basketball, but life as well. He also helped integrate the UNC team with its first African-American player, which is widely known. But, he also helped integrate the Town of Chapel Hill by eating in restaurants with African-Americans. He did not want fanfare over this, as he noted to author John Feinstein, who was told the story by someone else, “doing the right thing should not get publicity.”

Being a former basketball player, I also wanted to share a basketball and life lesson that Smith instilled in his players. This may sound trite at first, but please bear with me. Smith made his players who just scored a basket to acknowledge the person who passed him the ball as they ran back down the court. If you have played basketball, you know that the most fun thing to do is score. Yet, this is a team game, just like life. Someone else saw that you had a better chance to score and passed you the ball.

This sounds so simple, but at the end of the 1970s, the NBA had turned into a game of individual moves to score. This individualism promoted selfish play and the NBA was in trouble. In fact, TV ratings were so down, some of the Championship games were shown on tape delay at 11:30 pm. Think about that. It was not until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird joined the NBA in 1980, that the NBA started a come back. These two players were renowned for their passing ability and seeing a bigger court.

Smith knew this first hand, which is why he had his players acknowledge the passer. Just as in life, most success involves a team effort. Of course, there are stars, but Michael Jordan, who played for Smith, knew he needed a good team to win. So, as a former basketball player who took pride in passing, I admired this trait. It is a good one to take away from the court. I have made this point before about the best leaders – they tend to deflect credit to others. This is a great way to sum up Dean Smith, he deflected credit to others. But, they knew who passed them the ball and are pointing back at him.

Rest in peace Coach Smith.

The Mighty Casey – a tribute to a great teacher

The following post was written about eight years ago in tribute to a college professor. As my mother was a teacher for years, I have a great affinity for all teachers, but especially the ones who go beyond the call. We should especially honor teachers who are risking their health by reopening their classrooms in these strange times.

Queen Latifah, whose mother was a teacher, is hosting a documentary show called “Teach.” The show highlights the passion, caring, capability and tenacity of several teachers at various grade levels. Peppered throughout the show, are small segments where actors and others come into view and highlight teachers that made a difference to them. It caused my wife and I to reflect on the teachers that meant so much to us. I had several in my K-12 years, but I wanted to highlight one from my college days, as I had his classes several times. I will call him The Mighty Casey, which is actually a nickname from another venue. More on that later.

Teachers come in all forms, shapes, and styles. Some are more demonstrative than others, while some are fairly studious even in front of a class. The Mighty Casey was actually more of the latter. He had a great sense of humor, yet did not use it as part of his teaching method. He was interesting beyond his subject matter skills (more on that later), but did not use those interests as props in his lectures. His gift was his magnificent ability to explain complex things for many to understand. And, if you did not get it, he was very generous with his time after classes to help you understand. He was quite genuine and approachable. This man, who could have had a large-size ego on exhibit due his reputation and authoring of books and papers, was not one to condescend and make you feel stupid.

We even drafted him to play on our basketball team at the college, which may have been the worst team ever. As one of our departing gifts at graduation, we framed a quizzical picture of him in a rag-tag basketball shirt. I reflect on that with an open question – how many students would give a picture of their favorite professor wearing a ill-fitting basketball shirt? But, that was part of who The Mighty Casey was and is. His love of sports was a reason behind the nickname he chose for a radio sports talk show he used to call into.

The DJ had a quiz format at the end of each radio show. Over a period of months which turned into years, when the questions were not answered by any listeners, our professor would call in and correctly answer the question. Instead of giving his real name, he chose the nickname “The Mighty Casey.” Many Americans know the reference to the Mighty Casey, from a baseball poem about a hero who strikes out to end the game called “Casey at the Bat” written in 1888 by Ernest Thayer. But, our professor rarely struck out. He became so proficient, he became the go-to guy on tough questions, not unlike his ability to explain complex topics to students. When the DJ needed to conclude the quiz part of the show when it ran long, the DJ would ask if “The Mighty Casey,”  “Casey” or even “Case” was listening. He usually was and would call in and answer the question correctly. And, it was not unusual for him to provide some deeper context to the events around a question.

Not using his name on the sports quiz show is a look into the character of this great teacher. He did not desire the acclaim for his name. He just loved to share what he knew so others could learn. I think that is the best way to think of him. His joy was helping people learn. He did not want people to only know the answer. He wanted people to be able to solve for the next answer using what he taught them. The Mighty Casey was a mentor and teacher to many. He made a huge difference to my career and life. His patience, understanding and love of learning and teaching are remembered well by many people.

Thank you – The Mighty Casey. You did not strike out when it mattered the most. All the best to you and your family. Readers, please feel free to share your favorites and why. I would love to hear your stories.

You have a “towards” problem – revised old edition

Since we are in need of humor, the following is a revised reprise of an earlier post from several years ago. Although I left out some of the more colorful metaphors, I did include one or two that might sit less well, so please forgive. My wife does not like the prom queen reference, for example, but I wanted to deliver the line as uttered.

Sports competition often provides us with comic relief. The more down time between shots or plays gives more time for one liners and jokes. Golf is ideal for comedy for this reason, especially when you fail more in golf than you succeed which offers fodder.

While golfing with an elderly couple with whom we were paired, my wife was apprised by the gentleman late in the round that he had diagnosed her swing  problem. On the 17th fairway, he quietly said she had a “towards problem.” A “towards problem” she exclaimed. “What is that?” He said, “Your are hitting the ball towards the wrong direction.”

On another occasion, yet another elderly couple played with us. I think we attract them when we play, but now we are the elderly couple. Again, the man said to my wife on the infamous 17th hole he also had diagnosed her problem. As she was all ears, he said, “You are standing too close to the ball after you hit it.”

I have seen some strange things on the golf course, some that I have done, as well. I watched the wife of a friend hit the ball and it went through her legs and struck a male friend in the face standing behind her, maybe two feet ahead. She swung and he sprawled leaving a golf dimple mark in his face – he was OK. I had a boss who could hit the ball a long way, but straight was usually not the direction. He would normally play the hole from another hole adjacent to the one we were on (a definite “towards” problem).

I used to golf with another boss, who had many one liners, some courtesy of TV evangelist Reverend Ernest Angley. If he hit into the woods, he would say, “Out Satan” or “Be healed” using his best Ernest southern drawl. If a tree knocked it back into the fairway, he would say “I played it off the tree.” Or, if he hit a ball into the water and it splashed out, he would say, “This game is easier when you know where all the rocks are.”

One of my favorite golfing buddies loved to offer his sayings. When he had a nice swing pattern going, he would say, “That swing was smoother than a prom queen’s thigh.” Another friend when he pulled the ball way left, would call it a “Babe Ruth.” When we asked what a Babe Ruth was, he said “It is a dead yank.” 

Another popular golf saying I think is traced to Lee Trevino, the very funny pro. He routinely hit a nice fade shot, not unlike Ben Hogan. Lee would say, “You can talk to a fade, but a hook just won’t listen.” When my Ernest Angley quoting friend lived in Dallas, he saw Lee in a McDonalds the day after Trevino won the tournament in Dallas. My friend complimented Lee on a memorable chip shot, but Trevino responded “Thanks, but I really have to thank my five iron, as it is the club that keeps me from having to dig ditches.”

Some of the sayings are not very flattering, so I will leave those behind. It should not be a surprise when a guy says something that could be offensive. Much teasing can go on when your fellow foursome member tops it, hits it into the woods, does not hit past the ladies’ tee box, hits it out-of-bounds or misses an easy putt. It should be noted, my golf swing created many a comment like this.

But, the funniest line I ever heard on a golf course was by a sassy beverage cart woman. She did not take guff from anyone which served her well around her usual customer base. One day, she had a stone hanging from a necklace. When our group inquired about it, she said “It is a sex stone.”   We asked what it did to deserve such a name. After sufficient baiting and time, she said “You don’t get it. It is just a f**king rock.”

On that note, I will say sayonara. May you find your golf balls in bounds and on the green ground. Please share some of your favorites, whether they are golf or another sport.

Hank Aaron – quiet dignity, quiet strength

A great baseball player passed away yesterday. His name was Henry Aaron, but he went by Hank. He was a very quiet man growing up in the south in the middle of the Jim Crow era. But, arguably he is on a very short list of the greatest baseball players ever.

Rather than bore non-baseball fans with endless statistics indicating how great he was, let me focus on how poorly this African-American was treated as he chased records set by white ball players. He received multiple death threats and family kidnapping threats and was openly called the N word both aloud and within the many letters of vicious hate mail.

Like Jackie Robinson before him, he took all of this with quiet dignity and a heavy dose of quiet strength. Racism and bigotry was dumped on this man like garbage. But, he stood strong.

When he chased the greatest of records for home runs held by the legendary Babe Ruth, the threats were at their worst. Yet, when he broke the record on national TV, he quietly ran the bases. Then, he tipped his cap to the home crowd. Ironically, a teen came out of the stands to circle the bases with him, but he was all about touching all the bases first.

When we think of the white supremacists and nationalists who have crawled out from under the rocks, I think of all the great Black ball players who came before Robinson and Aaron that did not get the chance to play in the Major Leagues. When they were allowed to join, the Major Leagues got better.

To show how racism impacts results, the National League integrated faster than the American League, so when All Star games were played in the late 1950s and 1960s, the National League had an impressive win streak against its annual opponent. Taking this one step further, the Boston Red Sox had an opportunity to sign both Aaron and Willie Mays, arguably the two best ball players, and signed neither because they were Black. The Red Sox had a long dry spell of winning championships.

Hank Aaron received the Medal of Freedom for his success, but also for the manner in which he carried himself. Quiet dignity and strength. He did not boast. He just succeeded when too many did not want him to.

A true lesson in correcting racist action

I heard this story yesterday while visiting with friends dating back to grade school. One of my friends was a catcher on a good college baseball team.

As they played an arch rival, my friend was catching an African-American pitcher, whom I have met as he was a good friend of my catching friend. That day, an opposing player got a single off the pitcher and, while standing on first base told my friend’s first baseman, “Tell that ‘N-word’ I will own him all day!”

The next time up at bat, the African-American pitcher dusted him back with two pitches (meaning he threw pitches closer to him than homeplate). The opposing coach came out to complain and the Black pitcher’s coach told him what was happening. The offensive batter’s coach told the pitcher’s coach “to throw at him two more times.” After the batter walked to first base after four balls, his coach removed him from the game and told him why. He told the pitcher’s coach after learning of the racial slur, “We are not going to put up with that s–t.”

While I am not condoning a pitcher throwing toward a batter, I repeat this story as it is an exemplar for people in leadership – a coach, minister, teacher, boss, mentor, representative, governor, senator, or president – they can make a huge difference in condemning racism. His quote is priceless, “we are not going to put up with that s–t.”

Just think if these people in leadership positions or, even the rest of us, said “that is not right” or “I do not agree with your saying that.” Or, just by actions, to show support to a target of racism. We need our leaders to be among our better angels. Yet, we must also walk the talk. If our so-called leaders fail to lead, we need to share our disappointment and ask them to do better.

Impromptu conversations

Earlier this week, I had a delightful conversation with an 80 year-ish old couple in a doctor’s waiting room. Doing what I often do, I observed
a conversation starter and took the chance to inquire.

The man was wearing a white t-shirt that had the cursive “Dodgers” in blue on the front. Rather than speak across the room, I walked over, got a cup of bad coffee, stopped at their seats and dove in.

“Is that for the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Los Angeles Dodgers?” I asked indicating where the baseball team moved in the late 1950s. He smiled and said the answer I hoped to hear, “Brooklyn.”

In response to my question if they are from Brooklyn, he said “No, Cuba.” Rather than segue into a different subject regarding why they left Cuba, I stayed with baseball. I asked if he was a Jackie Robinson fan and he became animated. He said he actually got to see Robinson play.

We discussed what a treat that was and our collective knowledge of Dodger history. I can remember old baseball history much better than recent history. We meandered down the path of Robinson, beating the dreaded Yankees in 1955, the book “The Boys of Summer,” the pitching prowess of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres that swept those same Yankees in 1963 and the current team’s prowess.

His wife relished in his enjoyment of the conversation. She had a big smiile, Before I could move onto her, his name was called by the nurse.

It was a delightful conversation. I have shared before how much I like to uncover conversation starters, be it a name like Olivia or Aimee likely after a star or song or some version of double names like Mary Ellen or Betty Sue. Or, I love it when resort areas have someone’s home town on his or her nametag.

My wife said I made that man’s day, but he helped make mine better. I encourage everyone to have impromptu conversations. It brings us closer. Just look for those cues.