Infuse the Lifeblood of Learning: 3 Non-Traditional Resources

        Learning is the lifeblood of growth.  Without new knowledge, we become stagnate.  It's how we end up with the dreaded, "Well, that's how we've always done it."  Those are not the words of a successful program or business.  "We've done it that way, but can we do it even better?" would be more likely.  I'm no doubt preaching to the choir though.  You know it's important to learn, and you make efforts to do so.  If you're a coach, you probably go to clinics, talk with peers, read books, etc.  If you're a teacher, you go to professional development, reflect on lesson plans (haha), and communicate with colleagues.  In any field, the same pattern applies.  It's what "everyone" is doing.  That isn't good enough if you want to be great though.  If you're only looking to traditional sources of information, you're missing out.  "Your world" is only a tiny sliver of the performance world.  It's "Other" section of the pie chart.  "Your world" is not even showing up on the leaderboard on Family Feud.  With that, I'd like to challenge you to move outside of your world and expand it by looking to some nontraditional resources for an infusion of learning lifeblood in whatever you do.

Resource #1:  People You Disagree With
Yes Men.  Weak leaders surround themselves with Yes Men in hope of making themselves feel better.  They need the constant shots of dopamine because their self-image and confidence in what they're doing is so fragile.  Weak learners do the same.  They read and talk with only those who agree with what they do.  As an example, there is an ongoing debate via Twitter between coaches who like Bunts and coaches who like Bombs.  The condescending banter is a great reminder of why I am not a fan of politics.  Constant bickering and writing off the other side, without any real consideration, is the nature of these "discussions."  An approach that would be more fruitful is one we learned in elementary school of, "Put yourself in the shoes of the other person."  I'm not saying to change your convictions.  Believing in what you do is a big part of success.  What I'd say to do is see if there is anything you can take from the others you disagree with.  Simply writing them off as idiots is a shortsighted move.  Try to see what they see.  Maybe you disagree with trying to hit bombs all the time, but you see value to making hitting a little more measurable than "Good swing" every time they hit a line drive.  Maybe you hate bunting but understand it could be something that could help add to the tool box of the players and/or team you coach.  We're all in it to help players so let's do that to the best of our ability instead of worrying about ego.  This is a great struggle for me as a "newer" Mental Coach, and I think that new coaches, teachers, business leaders, etc. can probably relate.  We want to know we're good at what we do.  We want to know our hard work is paying off.  As a result, we look for validation.  In reality, you're not good at what you do when you're just getting started.  You have strengths, but it's just not realistic to be "good" at anything requiring any level of skill.  We can all look back to when we just started whatever it is we do and recognize how bad we were compared to where we are now.  That's what is beautiful about being human.  Failing, being wrong, and challenging yourself to see things in different ways is all part of ultimately make you stronger in what you do and who you are.

Resource #2:  Greatness Outside of YOUR Field
I'm a baseball guy.  That is no secret.  The sport was my first love and has been a tremendous part of my life.  As I got into sport psychology, I read every baseball mental book I could get my hands on.  A funny thing happened along the way though.  I ran out.  There are only so many of these books to read.  "Now what?" I asked myself.  Fortunately, a friend who, ironically, works in pro baseball made me realize there were so many more great resources out there to learn from.  He told me about a book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  Then, I heard a podcast with someone who works with another organization discussing a book study on Give and Take.  Before I knew it, I was finding more and more new resources that didn't directly apply to baseball but could help nevertheless.  I went from the little kid who had just opened his last Christmas present to understanding every day brings unlimited present opportunities for my brain!  A similar thing happened for me in the experience of working at IMG.  Again, I was a baseball guy... or so I thought.  Working with a variety of people and a tremendous variety of athlete made me realize I was an educator/coach/sport psych guy more than a baseball guy.  I loved it all and honestly enjoyed the newness of working with other sports more than the baseball sessions.  Some of my favorites were with tennis players and golfers.  I found myself amazed by the self-awareness they had, and it made me realize again there is so much greatness out there to learn from (Thanksgiving every day?).  With that, I'd challenge you to look for these similar opportunities.  Get outside of your niche, and learn from others.  It's what great leaders like Theo Epstein, Dabo Swinney, and Dan Quinn are doing.  So should you.

Resource #3:  Your Athletes/Students
It's tough to self-reflect.  To make yourself really look at what you're doing is such a challenge again because we want to be good at what we do.  We want to think we're making all of the right decisions and that we're doing the best we can do with what we have.  In reality, we never are.  We're not perfect, and we can always do better.  We can always do more or do different.  Even more challenging, in my opinion, is getting the feedback of others.  Opening ourselves up to criticism can be a punch in the gut at times.  It's definitely a threat to our feeling of making all the right decisions.  Or, maybe it helps us do a better job.  Maybe it allows us to best serve the athletes, students, coworkers we have.  I'm a big fan of giving athletes an opportunity to give feedback.  For starters, it allows them to see that what they think is valuable to you.  If you're in the position of coach, you're given countless opportunities to show your opinion matters.  Flipping the script is great for the athletes having a voice.  They're pretty important to the experience after all.  Giving evaluations to students and athletes is great for this.  Discussions are nice, but you're only going to hear from those same 4-5 athletes who answer every question and confirm you're always right.  They're the Yes Men of athletes.  They're fun to coach and great for the ego but limit our scope of what is going on.  Evaluations provide a voice for all.  Yes.  They provide lots of warm fuzzies.  I'd be lying if I said it isn't nice to know athletes thought highly of what you've done together.  I like that feeling.  I like the "negative" feedback too though.  Critical feedback provides the choice to write it off or accept it.  A mixture of both can be necessary.  I like looking for patterns in answers applicable to group delivery and trying to understand the perspective of individual responses as well.  Then, I can make improvements to what we do to help better serve future athletes and coaches.

        My hope is by reading this you'll challenge yourself to look for more diverse opportunities to learn.  There are so many out there in the world.  Yes, there's lots of bad information.  You can still learn from it.  There are plenty of examples of "leaders" in various fields who are really poor models to follow.  You can still learn from them.  Despite what the naysayers and media present I'd still say these poor sources and models are in the minority.  There are so many great people you can learn from.  They're out there.  I promise you.  The trick is finding them.  When you do, it'll change the way you do things for the better.  It'll be the infusion of lifeblood you need to take whatever you do to the next level.

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