Tag Archives: fear

Rhyme, Reason and The Things That Drive Us

 Little Slice of Heaven

I’m likely going to be taking a bit of a baseball and coaching theme with my posts in the near future. This stems from both the fact that Little League coaching begins soon (I find out my team on Saturday) and that it’s a rich source of inspiration for posts. Kids have an uncanny ability to teach adults a lot if those adults are paying attention.

It reminds me of a conversation a year or so ago while helping out with All-Stars practice one day and one of the players, Shamus, strolled on up to me as I watched a drill. He stood next to me for a few moments, watching the same drill and the following conversation ensued:

Shamus: Hey coach… are you married?

Me: No, Shamus, I’m not.

*brief pause*

Shamus: Got a girlfriend?

Me: No, Shamus, I don’t right now.

*longer, more thoughtful pause*

Shamus: Gettin’ kind of late…

You can’t make this stuff up. Hence, the wisdom of the youngins.

What I’m thinking most about with the season so close to starting is what drives me as a coach. The biggest piece is the fact I coach my nephews and have been doing so for 7 or 8 years, ever since my older brother was volunteered by his lovely bride and… well… he wasn’t going to do it solo. Suddenly, Assistant Coach Kevin was born!

But what about beyond that? What am I trying to accomplish? What’s my goal? My mission? My philosophy? Gosh darn it, don’t I have a vision statement with a 5 year plan developed by Wharton-educated consultants?!?!?  *ahem*  Wow… that got scary for a second.  Thankfully, I’m back and I can answer these questions fairly simply:

I coach with my Little League self in mind as much as I possibly can with the dual purpose of helping my players get better and (more importantly), enjoy the hell out of playing baseball.

THAT right there is my mission statement.

I think of my Little League self because I was never the most confident of baseball players, although I had some ability that could have become something nice if got out of my own way. Instead, I probably spent a lot of time thinking I would never be like my older brother who was fantastic at baseball, would end up being All-State in high school and playing in college.  I can actually remember a time when I was in 4th or 5th grade where I was at bat, it was raining and T.J. Church was pitching to me… and all I kept saying to myself was “Please just strike me out.” Yup… that truly happened and I can almost feel that pit in my stomach just thinking of that moment where I wanted to be anywhere but at the plate trying to hit. Not a great moment, but one indelibly burned in my memory.

I never, EVER want a kid that plays for me to feel that way, not even for a moment. I can’t even totally say why I was feeling that way – my parents were always really supportive. I just felt miserable out there and wasn’t having fun, at least not on that day. I would do better when I got to high school and played baseball all 4 years… but I often suffered from the greatest shortcoming any young athlete can have:

I was far more worried about messing up than the upside of laying it out there, possibly achieving something magical or great and feeling the joy of doing well. That’s a missed opportunity and I don’t want it repeated under my watch if I can help it.

So that drives me and it’s really why this entire coaching experience means so much to me. I think a lot about how that felt for me as a kid and, oddly enough, the kids I will be coaching this year will be in exactly that same age range as me during that day in the rain.

No matter how I need to scramble out of work early for a game or changing up my weekend schedule because of games… it just doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Hey, don’t misunderstand me – I am not some noble saint for taking this position. I do all of this because it’s just so much damn fun – I get at least as much out of it as the kids do. It’s not really work. It’s not a grind. It’s just… well… fun.

Here’s to the start of the upcoming season with a watchful eye towards the why of coaching… maybe the most important aspect of all.

Driven by Fear

logo_tough-mudderMotivation can come from a lot of different places, some internal and some external.  I hear people debate over which is really the most powerful, but I tend to find the debate odd in that I think it’s impossible to separate the two.  I think they effect each other in many ways.

My motivation right now is pretty powerful and it’s really not one that is a typical driving force for me to do good things… but it is at the moment.  What, pray tell, could this mysterious catalyst be?

Fear.  Pure and straight-up.  Not on the rocks.  No chaser.  Straight out the bottle and into my gut fear.

This isn’t some kind of fear borne of what I would call real world worry – losing a job, a loved one, serious medical issues, etc.  Nonetheless, it is a fear for me as sure as can be.

The fear in question?  The logo above will say it all.  I’m signed up to compete in the May 6, 2012 Tough Mudder race at Mt. Snow in Vermont.  Why?  Because despite my many years of education and belief that I am a productive, semi-respectable and contributing member of society, I am also a complete idiot.  Obviously.  Why else would anyone opt to do a race of a shade over 10 miles with 30 increasingly bizarre obstacles… especially when the farthest I’ve ever run was 5 miles for the last obstacle course race I did.

Now, the obstacles themselves actually don’t really worry me in the slightest.  Hell, they actually look kind of fun.  The thing that concerns is… well… IT’S 10 MILES FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!

Anyone who follows my adventures on this blog can see I’m a weightlifter.  We Kuzia’s are built a bit more for strength or explosive moments of fury over short distances… not quite so much for slogging along over reaaaaalllllly loooonnnnnng stretches.  I’m 5’7” and 192 lbs of twisted steel and sex appeal.  That’s not really Boston Marathon winning proportions, ya know?

But I’m signed up, on a team and committed. And I know how hard it was for me to do the 5 mile race (which I can see I was WOEFULLY prepared for from an endurance standpoint).  That knowledge has begotten fear… a fear of what I will feel like at mile 5 when I am only halfway done and with 15 obstacles and 5 more miles to go. A fear of feeling like I just want to drop to my knees, roll to the side of the course and just lay there, staring at the sky for… ohh… several hours.

And all of that, my friends, drives me and drives me hard.  My conditioning sessions are not skipped these days.  They are never shortened.  While I am not perfect with my eating (I believe in the rule of 90% on that kind of thing), I am eating better than I have in a while.  The countdown clock on my desktop which is ticking away the time I have left until this event (112 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 22 seconds as of this moment) is my reminder that the amount of time I have to work with is very finite.  Not being prepared is just not an option.

The fear is a simple one: I don’t want to let my teammates down and I don’t want to let myself down… especially when I have the time and ability to be completely prepared.

I wouldn’t ever recommend fear as a primary motivator for much of anything.  It can easily cloud your otherwise clear vision cause you to make some utterly horrible decisions.  But on something like this?  With a clear path and a clear end goal?  Fear can cut away all clutter… all extraneous nonsense… and be a completely beautiful thing.

Quick side note: The Tough Mudder races do some excellent work raising money for a great cause – The Wounded Warrior Project.  If you are interested in helping me with my fundraising, please click HERE to donate.  I can think of few things better than giving back to the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for us to enjoy our freedoms.

The Lesson of Three Fouls

In the event you didn’t know it already, my 3 nephews are one of the greatest joys of my entire existence. As a bachelor guy with no kids of my own, they put life into a kind of perspective that comes from no other place. I know my relationship with them isn’t ever going to be akin to what their parents have with them, I do feel a connection, love and a strong level of protectiveness for them that is just… well… incredible to me.

When they do well or are happy, my heart soars. When they are sad or down or frustrated, it hits me hard. It’s part of that whole thing of being the “sensitive one” in Team Kuzia, I suppose. I like myself just fine that way, hence I take the downs that will always go along with the really great ups.

Today was my oldest nephew’s first basketball game of the year and Berry Insurance (that’s his team) pulled out a 30-28 victory over Finman Windows. It was really kind of nerve-wracking towards the end… you know, as much as one would wrack their nerves over 10-13 year olds playing hoops. Which can be a lot. Why? Because parents and relatives are bat-guano crazy when it comes to their kids, that’s why.

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My nephew (#4) getting his instructions and his game face on… umm, not that you can see the game face. But I assure you… fierce.

Now, my nephew has some pretty good athletic ability and is actually really fast. Seriously… kid’s got jets. The thing is… when he gets into game situations, he gets a little bit tentative and never really seems to get after it. It actually goes to something I’ve seen from coaching kids for a little while now: until MAYBE high school, the thing that separate kids in sports is not pure talent, but aggressiveness. Hands down. It’s not even close. You will occasionally have a kid who is sublimely talented, but they are a truly serious outlier.

I wish I could help my nephew be more aggressive out there… not because I am obsessed with winning (I’m not… certainly not for kids) or anything in that realm. I just think he would have more fun if he was just letting loose and rolling with the game instead of feeling pressure to do well. I know this feeling more than I care to admit: it’s pretty much how I was as a kid. It’s hard at that age to sometimes step back and realize it’s just Little League, Pop Warner or rec basketball. It really was for me and if I had been a little more relaxed, I would have played better and had a ton more fun in the process.

So if I could give my oldest nephew and my godson a bit of advice, it would be this: Every game, commit at least 3 fouls. Every. Single. Game.

If you’re currently having a moment of, “Kuzia… you may be the worst kids coach to ever curse this planet”, I don’t blame you. OK, I might… a little bit. Seriously… curse? That’s unduly harsh, you jerk. Umm… where was I?  Oh yeah…

In basketball, committing a foul is something “wrong” or “bad” or “against the rules”, hence a lot of kids avoid it like the plague. They want to be good kids, do the right thing, say their prayers, eat their vegetables and so on. The huge majority of kids just want to do the right thing to make Mom and Dad proud.

But here’s the thing: committing a few fouls per game means you are actually going after it on defense. You are playing a little more aggressively and worrying a hell of a lot less about making a mistake. And quite frankly, in basketball at this age, the last thing you want are kids wringing their hands over messing up, for the love of God. Where’s the fun in that?

Plus, it give the kid a chance to break that cycle of fearing to fail or messing up or looking bad in front of their families. If they know committing some fouls isn’t that bad of a thing, then they can loosen up enough to play hard. This isn’t teaching them to mess things up… it’s teaching them to get past the small nonsense that matters little at all.

Granted, we’re not talking about drilling a kid into a wall on a fast break. Let’s not get completely kooky, kids.

But I think it’s a powerful lesson for kids everywhere and something important to learn as early in life as possible: it’s far better to give your all and mess things up a bit than to never dare mightily at all and wonder “Could I have done more?” But come to think of it… it’s not just kids who need to learn that, now is it?

The Plank in My Eye

I think I’m like many people who can be a total ace at passing out advice that I then do a less-than-ideal job of following for myself.  I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that in myself or in others – it’s just far easier to cast the penetrating light of truth upon a situation removed from myself than it is to see that same case in me.

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Case in point.  This past season of coaching baseball, one of the things we implored of our kids was to be aggressive and not fear the consequences that would follow.  If they were going all out and made a mistake in the process, ehh… that’s fine.  More often than not, their aggressive on the baseball diamond would be rewarded with something good than a mistake.  Plus, we kept reminding them… this is baseball.  A game.  Something to have fun with and not something with the future of mankind perilously hanging in the balance.  I think we made a bit of progress on this with a lot of the boys and I hope it sticks with them.  If there is one HUGE thing I’ve noticed in youth sports, it’s that the kids who are either the most aggressive or the least concerned about making mistakes are the ones who do best (and also seem to have the most fun).

And God forbid it all be it about fun.  I know… that’s a pretty nutty thing to say about youth sports.  We’re supposed to be prepping every little Johnny and Jane to be Olympic-calibre athletes from the time they are 6 right? (I will now seek to turn down my sarcasm a shade).

Getting back to the notion of seeing the speck in your brother’s eye while missing the plank in your own.  Yeah… that’s right… I just went Biblical.

A few weeks back I was playing a game in my basketball league and I was absolutely awful.  I mean… just… wow… I was really bad.  My time on the court seemed to serve little purpose outside spelling a teammate who needed to rest for a bit.  I was tentative and second-guessing and awkward.  It was probably one of the worst basketball experiences I’ve had in my life, outside of some bad Nerf hoop experiences when super young.  You know those where you are just starting to learn to play, but have an older brother who just swats away every shot you put up with that puffy orange ball?  So yeah, besides that, my worst outing ever.

Then it hit me loud and clear and with no small amount of force: I was exactly like one of the 10 to 12 year olds I had just finished coaching who didn’t seem to get out of his shell and just be aggressive.  Boom – head shot.  I sat there as a coach and felt I was so wise with all my perspective on the value of being aggressive and how you not only play better, but have more fun… and yet I never saw it in myself.

I played again last night, freshly self-chastised for coaching one way and playing another, and guess what?  I played much better, was much more aggressive, had a blast and smiled throughout a lot of the game (even at some of the awful calls made by our fine officials).  Heck, we won too.

The lesson in all of this for me is simple and direct: If I have an insight for someone else… whether while coaching or with someone coming to me for advice… I need to immediately take an opportunity to then look at myself in that same vein because chances are, I will need it as well to some extent or another.  I hope to make this a habit and given the fact that my very job involves me giving guidance to people on a daily basis, I think I can get some mojo going on this point.

It’s time to get that plank out of my own eye and see things a little bit more clearly… at least when looking at myself.

Fight the Fear

I like to be fairly regimented with the training schedule I keep and do my best not to skip days because of some lousy excuse I came up with on the fly.  Missed sessions (I try never to call it “work outs” because that tends to sound more random and unplanned) have a cumulative effect and it really pays to sometimes have what a lot of coaches call a “punch the clock” sort of session.  It may not be great, but it’s always better than a complete miss.

However, there are also certain sessions I might delay for a few reasons.  One is that I might just be completely wiped from lack of sleep, stress or poor eating.  The second (which is closely tied to the first) is that for a lifting session where I know I need to dig down deep, I want to be sure I have as many factors as possible in my favor.

Why?

Because for those sessions, I am fighting a fear of failure.

Perfect example is shown in the video below:

Watching my final “work” set of deadlifts, there probably does not appear to be anything all that unusual with the moments leading up to my initiating the lift.  I walk past the camera… get some chalk on my hands… mark my shirt with some chalk (I will explain that some other time)… set up for the lift… hit a particular part of the song I am listening to and boom!  Go time.

What you don’t see is how incredibly keyed up and anxious I am as I step up to the bar… how my stomach is completely fluttering and I am wondering if the exertion of the lift will make me throw up half way through.

A sane person would likely ask, “Umm… I thought you worked out and lifted and all that because you enjoyed it.  That doesn’t sound like something too enjoyable.”

Not a totally unfair point, but the reason I get so keyed up is that part of what makes weight training so meaningful to me is the chance to face that fear of failure and go at it head on.  I don’t always win in these fights, but the effort of doing so is worthwhile in its own right.

And when I do win the fight?  When I know my best before was deadlifting 400 lbs for 10 reps and today I did it for 11?  That brief moment of exuberance punctuated by my personal war cry kind of carries me through the day.  It’s amazing… and that, my friends, is serious fun.  That’s why I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Fighting the fear can be fun… and lead to alliterations (but that is a different kind of fun entirely).