"For a breakthrough to happen, you often need to leave the old comfortable ways of doing things behind. Staying in familiar territory feels safe. It is hard to let go of the status quo and safety for all of us at times. However, getting to the next level in running and life requires new and better ways of doing things and leveraging yourself to make a change for the better".
Connecting Athletic Skills To Important Life Skills
One of my primary goals as a coach is to help students and their parents see the connection between skills learned through running and track and field and how these skills will help in life, including the future careers of our student-athletes.
Running and Track and Field lessons are more significant than winning or setting personal bests in competitions. I aim for each person to take what they learn in our programs and use those skills for a lifetime.
In 2022-2023, I am working to take this goal to a new level.
Lessons Learned That Lasted A Lifetime
Before retiring, I was in charge of many projects that required innovation, breaking away from how things were currently done.
Throughout my career, my primary job was to change the status quo to serve others more fully in whatever project I was working on at the time. Many times this meant building brand-new systems that made old methods obsolete.
The goal was always to serve our customers better in one way or another through positive life-giving change.
There is a significant distinction between what you are given to maintain in life versus innovating something new. The skill set to innovate is different from the skill set to maintain. We all should learn both skill sets. However, I focused my career on the innovation side of the house rather than the maintenance side for many personal reasons.
Creating first-ever projects that helped others in new ways was rewarding on many levels. Challenging the status quo was never dull or easy, but it was meaningful and fired me up most days.
Said another way, trying to find a better way to do various processes and activities provided a strong vision and purpose for my projects during my career.
Positive life-changing experiences from my running career were why I wanted to break barriers in my profession.
Lessons learned from running built the foundation for several barrier-breaking moments for me after my running career was over. I am writing a book on this subject that is just about complete.
Running taught me how to mentally and physically break long-standing personal and team barriers. Always looking for a better way to reach running or track goals was a game-changer on many levels.
Running taught me methods to change the status quo by continually finding ways to take ownership of and improve my performance.
Learning to take an honest and transparent look under the hood fuels positive change.
When I was first introduced to formal project management, quality improvement methods, strategic planning, and how to innovate as a young adult, these things immediately made sense to me at a heart and head level because I learned many of these skills informally through my running career.
I was usually the first to volunteer to lead challenging projects as a young adult, primarily due to my training in the physical and mental aspects of running and the belief and confidence I had developed through years of cross-country and track and field.
The lessons learned from running prepared me well on many different levels, including the right mindset to take on new challenges and break long-standing barriers in the workplace.
Teaching The Value Of Changing The Status Quo
Innovation and breakthrough projects in the workplace and other areas required the same mental tenacity I learned through championship running and track and field.
I stress personal bests and team barrier-breaking (first-ever breakthroughs) in running and track and field for youth because this mindset and attitude is the first step toward learning innovation and breaking barriers personally and eventually in the workplace.
Our teams have been blessed with many firsts, including all-time personal bests, first league championships, first state championships, and first school academic sports championships.
Breaking through existing barriers in our scope of activities is intentional and one way we can help teach breaking barriers that result in positive change.
When you break a significant personal or team barrier, you change the current status quo.
In other words, things improve, and you rise to new heights. The more significant the personal or team barrier you break, the better, I think, most of the time.
I do my best to set high personal and team standards in our cross-country and track and field each year for the short and long-term growth of those involved.
By going after high-performance standards and goals in a fun, encouraging, and faith-filled environment, you learn by doing, reinforcing the great lessons of excellence in the classroom even more.
Going for a significant personal best based on your ability level or going for a championship season teaches skills that are different from taking a recreational approach to the sport.
When you give it your all and leave it on the line personally and with a strong team, you learn more in-depth things about yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually.
The skills learned by giving it you're all to a big goal carry over to future careers if appropriately taught.
The pace of change keeps accelerating in our culture, primarily due to technological changes. For most careers, keeping up with and leading the pack is now a must, not a want. Learning how to break new ground is part of the deal.
Becoming a barrier breaker of the status quo while young is a mission-critical career skill that gives you a leg up when you move into the workplace mentally and skill-wise.
Buckminster Fuller, one of the geniuses of the 20th Century, said:
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Fuller's words made sense to me as a young man. Learning to break barriers and innovate by creating new models made sense if I wanted a long, meaningful, prosperous career.
Innovation is a breakthrough from the status quo, the ways things are currently done. Innovation always requires barrier-breaking thinking of some sort.
Innovation requires thinking differently from the crowd about how to solve long-standing problems.
Innovation is also a mindset of believing all things are possible, there is a better way, and you will find a new way with the help of your team and, more importantly, through faith in our Lord. There is always a better way mindset never goes out of style.
Teaching young people that all things are possible and then going out and breaking a long-standing personal or team barrier help cement belief in their God-given ability in stone, sometimes for a lifetime. There is something extraordinary that happens in hands-on learning.
If you are the first to accomplish something or break a long-standing barrier, much confidence, skills, and personal satisfaction "are gained" as long as humility and a desire to improve continually are maintained. In other words, we can't rest on our laurels or think we have it made.
One Young Man's Perspective Of Life Lessons Learned
The bottom line is that placing yourself in new, demanding, and challenging situations when you are young teaches valuable lessons for life.
Perhaps one of our former athletes and Air Force Academy student, Joe Oczkewicz, said it best:
“My favorite memory in cross-country and track and field is spending time with my teammates at state
getting ready to compete. This is the highest level. I feel like this is where
I learn the most about myself and how to succeed. I have been lucky to run with
great athletes that are committed to exceeding expectations. You learn valuable
running and life skills from state championships”.
So, the next time you are challenged to break a significant personal or team barrier, think about the greater long-term purpose of breaking the barrier.
Learning how to break barriers in your races and events while you are young helps give you the right mindset for innovation and barrier-breaking in college and the workplace of tomorrow.
Become a personal and team barrier-breaker! Your life and others' lives will never be the same now and in the future.
Below are some specific examples of how we approach breaking barriers in our programs
Breaking a long-standing barrier begins with an"all things are possible"mindset. Once you break a barrier like winning a state championship, your mind is open to even greater possibilities and improvements.
After breaking a barrier, even more importantly, the people around you are more apt to believe they can achieve more.
Life Lesson: As outlined above, you benefit in multiple ways by breaking long-standing personal and team barriers. However, more importantly, you will help those around you believe in their God-given abilities and do things they never thought possible.
Breaking a challenging barrier is the fuel of change for you and others. As the Bible says, "without a vision, the people perish."
When you go after the vision of a significant personal best or something like a state championship, you not only learn how to work hard, you are inspired to try new things and innovate along the journey. Better ways of doing things are discovered.
Having a solid vision is the first step of making a breakthrough and going where other teams have never gone before.
Life Lesson: Create a strong vision, a strong "why" behind your project or activity. A solid and worthwhile vision keeps you going when things get tough and bond your team together as you pursue a common goal.
In an extremely good example of what I am talking about, think moon mission here. The first moon mission was the most remarkable project in U.S. history where people self-reported their top performance and work satisfaction of their lifetime. A strong and compelling mission and vision are essential to breakthroughs and innovation. Said another way, a strong vision wins the race, whether it's a running race or something much more significant like landing someone on the moon.
One simple thing we do after a significant race is gathering in a circle to review what happened that day.
Each person, including the coach, starts by stating what went right. After everyone has a turn to speak, we go around the circle and note one improvement we can make for our next race.
Each person suggests a way to improve team performance or individual performance. Everyone is heard, everyone has a voice, and no one is blamed for mistakes. We learn from our mistakes and do better next time.
I credit this simple strategy for helping our girl's team win the state championship in their second year as a team. This one meeting after a challenging race helped turn our season around. We went from losing to the defending state champions by 99 points early in the season to winning the state championship by a few points.
Life Lesson: Breakthroughs happen if you actively listen to your team, the actual people doing the workday in and day out. Fix the problem, don't blame is the thinking you need for a breakthrough. Talk with your team openly about how to improve without blaming others. I love this definition of mistakes: Mistakes are just gentle taps on the shoulder telling us we don't know everything yet". Be easy on people and hard on issues that require change.
Systematically ask your team how they can improve, one person at a time and in facilitated group situations. Everyone generally needs a voice in the "how can we get better" process. In other words, be intentional about making improvements; a breakthrough is likely to happen if you have input and buy-in from your team.
Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina
Every Great Barrier-Breaking Moment Starts With A Simple Idea To Improve Some Aspect Of Life.
Don't kill ideas before they have a chance to start. Actively listen and discuss ideas before dismissing them from your team.
Sometimes, a combination of team ideas creates the breakthrough you are looking for. If you stop an idea too soon in the process, you may not have the best variety of ideas to reach your vision and goals.