*Part 1 created momentum for the journey. Our focus was purpose and identity. They serve as a compass for the choices we make and habits we create. Part 2 will help us stay the course and remind us why the journey is the reward. The process reveals and shapes character. Most importantly it forges fulfilling friendships. Let's Chop Wood and Carry Water together...
“Always keep your guard up, and fuel your heart with encouragement...you fuel your heart with six things: what you watch, what you read, what you listen to, who you surround yourself with, how you talk to yourself, and what you visualize” (35). Encourage means to add to someone's heart. I believe coaching has a boomerang effect that can create a viable avenue for lifelong friendship.
Luke, Jake, and Jack. Three former athletes of mine turned best of buddies. I met Luke when he was an 18 year old Wisconsin Badger walk-on wannabe. I was in my first year of coaching. He says I became an older brother figure; in which I always respond “He’s the second younger brother I never wanted.”
Jake walked into NX Level Waukesha in 2012 with his brother, Nick. He was 130 pounds soaking weight. Now he is finishing his football career as a 215 pound middle linebacker with the University of North Dakota. One of my favorite success stories and its yet to finish.
I met Jack in 2014 at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Faith, fitness and football were immediate commonalities. He went from athlete to best bud pretty quickly. When you get to know one Moro you inevitably get to know them all. A month ago I bought an engagement ring from his Uncle. A day later I popped the question and Jack was one of the first to find out. A groomsmen kind of guy.
Sport breathes light to connection and intimacy. The weight room and practice fields serve as one of the best platforms for the creation of friendship. A friend not only shares past experiences but ultimately is someone who always has your best interests in mind. Trust is paramount.
Luke, Jake and Jack have my back and I theirs. Coaching has created a place for our Faith to grow together. I am so fortunate to have many more friends like them. Healthy boundaries are the foundation for any positive relationship. Friendship is a by product of great coaching but not necessarily the goal.
My closest friends know my faults; my sins; my shortcomings and struggles. Our appearances or social image can sometimes deceive. “With things like Instagram and YouTube, we only see the most edited, Photoshopped version of people's lives...No one posts anything of them not looking their best” (43). On the training floor and perhaps in my personal life; there have existed moments of cuing or conversing that led to less than ideal outcomes. There have been times in my life when I didn’t quite practice what I preached. For every perfect Instagram rep I’ve posted there has been equal amounts of imperfect positions.
Emotional strength requires awareness and introspection to address and recognize weaknesses and triggers. While we may never overcome some of our $h!%, understand attention begets change. Recognizing our faults can springboard growth and lead to bridges built to those who can extend HELP. My favorite bible quote offers up that humble perspective, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Grace is special in that we don’t have to compete for it nor earn it. A foreign concept to sport.
Competition will always voice we are lesser than someone. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it” (45). How crippling can comparison be to our psyche? The anecdote is always intrinsic. As Hemingway once said, “true nobility is being superior to your former self.” No two coaches share identical paths. Conditioning, connections, demographics, desires, environment, era, sacrifices, and basic geography all uniquely lead to divergent paths. “Compare yourself and measure yourself compared only to your own potential...Use what you and you alone have been given.You do not know what other people are going through, and everyone has their own unique struggles” (46).
"No two coaches share identical paths. Conditioning, connections, demographics, desires, environment, era, sacrifices, and basic geography all uniquely lead to divergent paths."
We often mistakenly think talent alone sets the best apart. While talent creates attention, it is mindset that separates the achievers from the rest. “Greatness isn’t for the chosen few, but for the few who consistently and persistently choose” (51). A few years back I read an article about Kobe in ESPN The Magazine. I was fascinated with the mentorship Pop Icon Michael Jackson provided him, “Your curiosity is your greatest gift. Use it to expand your scope. Ordinary people won't understand your insatiable thirst for excellence. They won’t bother to keep striving because it's too onerous, too difficult. You’ve got to study all the greats. You’ve got to learn what made them successful and unsuccessful.” Curiosity and extraordinary effort are the foundation of greatness.
Greatness isn’t always about linear improvement. Zoom out for a second. A long career has ups and downs month after month; year after year. Taking a 30,000 foot look will allow us to see if we are trending up. Mastery isn’t always about constant improvement; “it moves in steps, not constants” (59). Many variables can complicate the achievement of success. Attaining mastery can be complex.
Lets analogize the path to mastery using a map of the U.S. First, understand context and perception change outlook. While we all likely memorized the 50 states in our elementary days; I’d guess most of us would struggle to name just 25 state capitals. Retention seems to decline with time and necessity. Could you name each county in every state today? How about national and state forests? How about state highways and county roads?
Mastery, especially of human performance, is much like that previous scenario. Peel back a layer and you’ll find an entirely new set of problems or infrastructure to learn. Michaelangelo personified the chase and effort, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” Mastery...I’m nowhere close.
“Everything impacts everything. Everything is aiming” (61). The human body is a complex adaptive system: “Complex adaptive systems are hierarchically nested because they are large systems that are comprised of progressively smaller systems, etc.; these large systems can interact with each other as well. The issue of scaling and translating information from small-scale patterns and processes to understanding of large-scale problems, such as global change, is essential. This is captured in a simple way in the study of chaos and fractals. Chaos is a rich description of a complex nonlinear system that can include the coupling of different scales over time or space and where a small, seemingly insignificant change in one of the attributes of a single agent can have a widely varying effect on the system as a whole." Complexity, chaos, and uncertainty go hand in hand...Everything impacts everything. Each local change is to some degree disruptive or impactful globally. This holds true structurally and biochemically. Affecting calcaneal or talar joint mechanics has upstream repercussions. Adding heavy eccentric stress in the weightroom may impact sprint methodology. Cause and effects are endless.
We are all leaders of our own lives regardless of the inability of some to take ownership. Gordon B. Hinkley spoke on the price of leadership being loneliness, “The price of adherence to conscience is loneliness. The price of adherence to principle is loneliness. I think it is inescapable. The Savior of the world was a Man who walked in loneliness. I do not know of any statement more underlined with the pathos of loneliness than His statement: ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20).”
Once a stable environment presents itself, grow where you’re planted. Be patient. A bamboo tree can take years to grow. “What you don’t see happening is what's taking place beneath the surface. Beneath the surface, a massive, dense foundation of roots is spreading out all throughout the ground...So, you keep watering it and watering it" (64) and eventually it grows. The process is simple, the journey is not.
Plastered to the wall of my work space the last ten years is a quote from legendary S&C coach Martin Rooney, “There’s an old saying that it takes 10 to 15 years to become an overnight success. The last 10 or 15 years, I've been busting my hump. I’ve been killing myself every day, 16 hour days, never stopping. And that’s how eventually people know your name...One, you have to have courage. Two, you have to have the discipline to make it happen. Three, you have to have patience.” Courage, discipline, and patience. Chop wood, carry water.
Surrendering to the process is challenging and often is accompanied with anxiety. Throughout the last ten years I’ve encountered personal and professional trials. I sought professional counselling for the first time almost two years ago. It took me a while to surrender to the notion of paying someone to listen to me. It took me awhile to get out of my own way. I’ve come to find out I’ve had many close friends seek the advice of smart professionals.
We have coaches for every imaginable discipline, so eventually I saw no harm in hiring an “emotional coach.” A common trend in behavioral psychology and life coaching is the prescription of gratuity lists. Creating the daily habit of writing down three things (people, experiences, feeling, etc) you’re grateful for can increase dopamine and have a positive effect on mood. “When you operate with a heart posture of gratefulness, you free yourself up to be at your best and slip into the zone. Not to mention, you are also much more of a joy to be around for those you love” (77). Enthusiasm is infectious. When it compliments effort and execution in the weight room or on the track it creates an environment unmatched.
“The zone” is where we often find the best version of ourselves. Attaining flow state is often a notable phenomena of high performance. I was along for the ride and sat backstage watching Anthony “Showtime” Pettis butcher Ben Henderson to claim the UFC Lightweight title in August of 2013 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. From his pre-fight warm ups to the cage door closing he had an aura. That night he was the Michael Jordan of MMA. The electricity was brilliant. The snap of his kicks and precision of his movements were matched by one thing only--his moxy.
His performance that night was not only unforgettable but uniquely prophetic. He foreshadowed his confidence long before. I will never forget receiving a call from him on a summer Friday night a few weeks before the championship fight breaking the news of the card. He deemed future victory in his hometown as “destiny.” This belief of divine intervention coupled with unparalleled confidence led to the unstoppable mindset that night.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the father of flow. His masterful work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, highlights his theory that fulfillment is found in flow. “Flow” is a characteristic of intrinsic motivation matching engagement, skill and challenge. Many experience this as a deep concentrative state in which they are totally engrossed in an event yet lack attachment to outcomes. Anthony had this freedom. Arousal and relaxation teeter totter delicately to also carry a euphoric joy.
Flow is the end goal for high performing athletes. Flow leads to masterful coaching interactions. Flow turns a blind eye to the illusion of control. “Commit to the controllables, surrender the outcome, and trust the process” (78).
The process will always lead to road blocks and failures. “Your failures, shortcomings, and challenges can either end up as your excuse or your story. I hope you choose courage, curiosity, and persistence. Because those are stories worth telling” (82). We either fail first hand or our decisions lead to our charge failing...which likely feels ten times worse! One of the biggest failures I felt I had in my coaching career was allowing in an athlete to adopt a less than ideal movement strategy.
I was a few weeks into the NFL Combine training process with former Wisconsin Badger and current Philadelphia Eagle running back Corey Clement when I had an error in judgement. Upon returning from the NFL Senior Bowl, Corey made subtle changes in his forty yard dash stance, loading, and launch that my coaching eye and stopwatch failed to accurately detect. I allowed him to stray from the perfect technical model we had originally established in favor of what I thought was his newly acquired "ideal." This starting glitch and his inability to control arousal at the combine led to a 4.68 and 4.76 clocking in the 40. We were equally disappointed. I think we both went without sleep that night.
My emotions were a product of the attachment I had to success. For 15 years I had dreamed of training an athlete going through the NFL “job interview.” I’d idolized coaches like Tom Shaw, Luke Richesson, and Martin Rooney while in high school. I literally taped ESPN segments, bought magazines they were featured in and fell asleep to their DVD’s. My opportunity finally came and I blew it. Worse yet, I felt I failed Corey.
“The thing about incredible opportunities is that they often come to you disguised as five-hundred-pound lions...The question is, what will you believe about it, and what will you do about it?” (90) “When most people come face to face with their opportunities (lions) they run as fast as they can in the opposite direction, but when you decide to embrace the lion and chase it, you have the opportunity to build your resume, your character, and your skills” (91). Corey and I had an opportunity masquerading as a setback. We went back to the drawing board, fixed our mistakes and readied ourselves for the Wisconsin Pro Day. What a show he put on. Corey blistered a 4.5 40 and lifetime bested many drills that day.
My greatest success stories always have a main character not named Matt. “Where happiness is easy and ‘me’ focused, fulfillment is hard and others-focused. Where happiness comes from a life lived in endless pursuit of feelings, fulfillment comes from a life lived in faithful commitment to principles” (94). I was inspired early by great athletes like Sterling Sharpe, Jerry Rice, Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson, and Maurice Greene. Their accomplishments led me to coaching. If I wanted to be like them I had to train like them. I needed to find their source--The Coach.
The etymology of a coach dates back to a vehicle carrying something or someone of value to a desired destination. Way back when the coach itself had little acclaim. It was always about the passenger. Today, we may be a little confused. Evolving resources like social media, online courses, and “Zoom” often saturate our community. Modern technology and information has helped build an industry for coaching; both for the coach and the “coach to coaches.”
Everything is at our disposal...including each other and ourselves. We are smarter, more efficient, wealthier, and more popular from our Instagram posts and likes. However, I cannot tell you if this exponential growth leads to wisdom nor can I comment on personal fulfilment. A wise man once said, “But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” I have a hunch he put his values and others before his immediate happiness. I bet he contributed a lot. I think he will always be remembered.
“If you want to be great, you must be willing to boldly step away from the crowd and take personal responsibility for your own journey and development” (105). Your path is yours and yours alone; own it. There is no map that can identify your exact journey or chart your territory perfectly. You have no game plan to predict or accurately plan every shot. “Most people would rather trust their old outdated map than do the hard work of exploring the territory on their own, and finding out what it really is and what is actually possible...Anyone can read a map. Navigating the territory is the hard part!” (112).
I hope many of us can see the forest for the trees while we continue to march towards greatness. “Mediocrity is replaceable. Greatness is not” (106). There is a price to pay for every achievement; greatness isn’t cheap. How much can you afford? What will you sacrifice along the way? Two years ago my pastor and mentor Max Ramsey made me rethink my purpose, “The journey to goodness sets a very different course than the journey to greatness. At some point, I think we must choose one or the other.” I want to be a great coach but never at the expense of being a good man.
An adventurous man once climbed Everest because “it was there.” He knew “mountains were meant to be climbed” (107). While many of us have the desire to reach the top, very few will know how it feels to stand at the peak. The view is often short lived and our eyes quickly fixate on our next goal. We give the top too much credit. We forget the importance of who we become on the climb. What may matter most is whom you carried or walked with along the way.
I used to say coaching is the second best paid profession. If most of us had it our way we’d have been paid to play first. Age, maturity and perspective have evolved my thoughts. The two have flipped and the gap grows daily. I am so grateful to call myself a coach and am humbled by the responsibility that title carries. It is an important part of my life. However, it took me ten years to understand it is not my life.
One of my favorite mega pastors, Francis Chan, describes the pursuit of the fleeting and superficial, “Our greatest fear is not failure, it is succeeding at the things in life that don’t matter.” I used to reluctantly admit that one of my fears in life was not reaching my potential. No longer do I have potential, I just have today. And all that matters is today.
Thank you for letting me share my heart and the first ten years of my coaching journey! Chances are you are someone I am grateful for. Give me another 4,000 days and I will accumulate more stories and failures for my 20 year piece.
I'd like to dedicate this to Ronnie, Ty, Brad, Jeremiah, Kevin, Jason, Jacob, Tyler, Collin, DIsch, Alex, Matt, Thomas, Casey, BJ, Jake, Willy, Dylan, Ryan and all the young coaches and interns I've been fortunate to befriend. I dedicate this piece to you, the reader--whether you’re two days in or twenty years out.