Since late March I've had some time to rest and hit "pause." I haven't taken more than seven days away from coaching since 2009. I stopped observing, cuing, and connecting and I picked up a rod and lure. Somehow I took a liking to a hobby I'm horrible at. Fishing is outcome centered yet process driven. It is one of the rare endeavors I'm willing to put time into and be equally content in failure and victory. Fishing is also Abby's favorite pastime and more than anything represents another opportunity to share a passion. Casting, waiting, bobbing, and reeling is an art and Abby is ten times the fisher(wo)man than I. We have accompanied our fishing with many hikes and a lot of exploration on foot. The hills, trees, water and woods on the outskirts of beautiful Lake Michigan are treasures . Those scenes make me feel rooted...
But here I am...back at it again.
I'm back in the "day and age of confusion." The Buddhists may label this "dukkha." If we choose to participate in the struggle the world often presents, we will find ourselves befuddled and tired. To follow every news story is to be spun in circles like a merry go round. We are disoriented. We need to turn our heads back to front. Maybe I need to digest some ZEN(ax). Often my mind is cluttered and noisy. I hear a ton of "chirping."
Somehow I've got this Twitter Bird in my pocket. It follows me almost everywhere I go. Am I in "The Birds" movie? The birds seem to multiple and cause a frenzy. As this movie rolls forward the flock grows and draws my attention near. I'm consumed and I can't even feel myself morphing from viewer to character. Suddenly, I find myself in a panic as I see my reflection in a window--I'm furiously flapping! It is only natural that I begin chirping.
I never intended to become be a bird. When I started my coaching journey the birds didn't exist. Truth is, I'd rather my spirit animal be a LION. A mane and a roar beats the small feathers and aggravating mimic of the beak. As I continue to evolve I change colors. I'm no longer blue like a Twitter Bird or jet black like a eerie crow. My colors create personality as I take on the more personable persona of the parrot. Most of us are like the parrot. We hear "it" then repeat "it." Word for word, regardless of comprehension. We hear it then repeat it like it was our very own original thought. Our nature annoys me and leaves me asking "what is authenticity"? I pause to think, then get distracted. I chirp. I look. I hear then I repeat. Mehmet Murat Ildan describes this cycle best: "Man is a Parrot in the House of History, he listens and then he repeats the same crap over and over."
If you've picked up the tennis racquet from the garage and are ready to take a swing at my feathers, I've proved my point. I'll spare us all and drop the "Polly Want a Cracker" shit. Many of us can agree we are deeply enmeshed in a collective thought tank. My tank of choice happens to be strength and conditioning. Ten years into my career and I can honestly say I've experienced every emotion in relation to my passion and profession. Some days I truly do feel like a parrot. The replay button is stuck as I go on repeat to my athletes. I chirp. I look. I hear then I repeat the thoughts and sounds of mentors and "experts." Five to ten percent of what we chirp about appears to be original or new. Many of us (maybe I'm guilty too) regurgitate past history and with the subtlest tweak choose to exclaim , "INNOVATION!"
By now you've sensed an uncharacteristic tone in my voice. Maybe it's the four hours of sleep I somehow put together last night. Stay with me, I have a silver lining for you. While I'm annoyed with that parrot feeling, I'm starting to appreciate the upside of some of our consistency in knowledge and message. This results in an evolving common language we are beginning to share. We're growing and the trend of truth is escalating. I used to digest these words from George Orwell with disgust: "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." Today I see the power in them. If our ears remain open to everything we'll hear too much chirping; Too much noise. If you really filter and listen though, you'll hear a pause, and from this break we can hear the faint beats of the right musicians.
While I mostly choose to listen, every so often I find myself in front of a microphone. On Thursday, I spoke to a national audience of high school football coaches on Zoom. I was sandwiched between renowned sprint coach Tony Holler & UW Football legend Jimmy Leonhard. Common sense coaching, open mindedness, science, specificity, SPEED, values, & most importantly SIMPLICITY were common lyrics or themes. While we may feel at times like we've heard it all before, I was reminded of the beauty in the basics. We repeated each other a few times like ...well you get the point.
A preacher transforms into a maestro when all of his audience moves up into the choir. Someday we may find harmony. Until that day arrives, I will keep preaching the good news to those in the audience and the choir alike. Lest not forget that on our journey an off note may spring a path for a new song we can all begin to try to sing.
*Notes & highlights from High School Football Coaches Zoom Clinic.
It's been a while. About 1200 sleeps as my Generation Z athletes would say. Much has happened since I last wrote to you. I've been directing NX Level Mequon now for two and a half years. I've encountered many blessings and a few headaches along the way. Every high five and hardship has been a spring board to growth. Big performances and small victories in and out of the gym. A few losses always outweighed by gains. I became an Uncle, befriended new souls, and have been shown grace by far too many to name. I bought a condo just outside of Milwaukee and admit with the happiest heart that I circled back on puppy love. It's been awhile though. Call it writers block if you will. But, I wont apologize. I can't even comment that I've missed "you" as most of us readers always remain covert. However, I can enthusiastically say--with zero doubts-- I'VE MISSED WRITING and its Moments of reflection...Analysis…Synthesis...Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase...Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.
I'm from a clan of readers and writers. My great-grandpa Keefe was a writer and editor for the Boston Herald. His column highlighted "Human Interest." His son Bob explored his faith by producing theology-based memoirs. Passing down another generation, my mom was skilled in teaching English as a Catholic school teacher and now serves her community surrounded by books as a librarian. Twenty-five years into this pen to paper journey she still proofreads my work and every now and then corrects a blemish "pimpling" out on my Facebook posts. She met my father at Marquette University where he studied history. They were taught by the Jesuits, a body of the Catholic Church that represented some of the most inquisitive and truth seeking minds that the world had to offer. My parents still reflect on their wisdom. Using charm to win my mom proved to be equally lucrative in my dad’s sales career. The OG "Giff" became a master at "memos", schmoozing with each proposal. Once "Emails" became the thing he used his audacious sense of humor to provide laughs and seal deals. Looking for a challenge, he eventually took part in the first evening law program Marquette offered. Earning his degree while working full time was an early lesson in fortitude. Throughout his schooling process, I often spent time with him on weekends at the library. If I must admit, I chose the keyboard over the books often googling "Maurice Greene Sprint Training." My dad harped on me with the notion that effective writing could separate me as a professional. I think he was on to something. Moments of reflection… Analysis...Synthesis...Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase...Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.
My parents went on to harvest four kids. Their first two chose the barbell over books. My older brother Tim and I share the same vocation and industry as he continues to hold the title of "Rehab Strength and Conditioning Coordinator" for the Milwaukee Brewers. Not until our younger brother, Sean, did a Gifford boy enjoy paperbacks and pencil movement. Give him a paragraph to digest and surely, he'll find a loophole in every thought process or provide a combative argument to most every philosophical thought. As a youth, I once witnessed him finish a 500 plus page Harry Potter piece in one day. That boy could intake, digest, turn the page, repeat. Sean was and is a phenom. His magnum opus awaits, and I look forward to a day ahead when it is completed. Moments of reflection… Analysis… Synthesis… Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase...Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.
Sean and my parents would likely be esteemed "superior" from a script creating standpoint. However, I'm a little more competitive and of the four of us, I may most reflect Bono's sentiments when he said, "There is a root arrogance in any writer; a hugely arrogant assumption that anyone is going to listen to them." Maybe I'm being too harsh on myself. Truthfully, I've always felt accomplishment and nourishment in the creation. Applause is just the dessert. When one puts thought to paper, a piece of their soul is fed and freed. Sometimes every sentence I finish seemingly carries my favorite movie director Robert Redford’s moving voice alongside it. Moments of reflection… Analysis… Synthesis… Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase...Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.
There exists some share of courage in writing. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, hits home when speaking on the vulnerable aspects of life, storytelling and writing, "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we can ever do." You can't own the story without sharing. True courage is most revealed when we reveal our words to an audience. Pressing "Post" or publishing offers up one’s naked truths. I feel it exposes the piece of my soul I deem "creative." To share and invite criticism through my grievances, ideas and sentiments to the world is humbling and routinely serves as a lesson in vulnerability. This vulnerability compliments itself with a taste of authenticity. Yes, voices of your critics will whisper but inevitably succumb to the shouting desire to connect. When we press "Post" we proliferate power and offer ourselves an opportunity to further chase our own "truth." Brown couldn't say it better; "Authenticity is a collection of the choices we have to make every day. It's the about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen." Moments of reflection. Analysis… Synthesis...Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase...Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.
Truth be told my intentions for this site were equally superficial and altruistic. On our own paths of self-actualization, we often confront the journey of desire. We are always balancing a tipping scale with every decision and often weigh our choices by posing a dilemma; "What's best for me?" with "How can I best serve the world?" While I am looking for connection with the reader and professional development, I am hopeful my words may rinse some eyes, spark a thought and perhaps even inspire another. Every writer worth reading seems to marry their thoughts with our desire to listen and as a result sometimes even creates a certain deep emotional feeling state. I love how E.L. Doctorow puts this. "Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader- not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon." What an inviting challenge. Moments of reflection…Analysis...Synthesis...Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard... Erase...Omit... Rewrite...Repeat
Challenge...The catalyst for progression and growth often comes in the shape of a stern challenge. The most influential writing memory of mine came the first semester of my freshman year at Waukesha West High. Mr. Weatherly, a beloved English teacher to many, returned my first paper back to me stamped "C-" in solid red marker. "Dig deeper & elaborate. Develop your voice. PROOFREAD deliberately." My monologue the next few hours reiterated his sentiments, "Go deep. Be better. Set the bar higher." He set the groundwork for the mode many call "deep work." Years later, life seems to always teach me that nothing worthwhile is attained with ease. It is in the "deep work" where we uncover truths, create a platform to trend up, and move towards becoming the best version of ourselves. Writing offers an avenue to do just that. Moments of reflection…Analysis… Synthesis...Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase...Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.
Worthy progress requires deliberate practice. To write with substance one has to first become fully immersed as a reader. Reading on autopilot serves no lasting purpose. Digesting a text with intent allows an author to become your coach on style, organization, grammar, support and elaboration. Intent towards producing lasting and great work motivated Hall of Fame basketball Coach John Wooden to say, "Make every day your masterpiece." There is infinite wisdom, hope and inspiration in this thought. However, we cannot achieve this distinction without going deep. I want to honor that mantra with my writing. A 1200 day pause afforded me many opportunities to face myself. I know I need to set the bar higher and make every piece my masterpiece. If it is true that how one does anything is how they do everything--than maybe my writing will bleed into every day life and actions. Gary Keller's best seller "The One Thing," portrays mastery at its finest as a path you go down and not a destination you arrive at. "Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience." I think he was on to something. Moments of reflection...Analysis...Synthesis...Pen to paper...Fingers to keyboard...Erase... Omit...Rewrite...Repeat.