Wednesday, March 09, 2011

An 8th Grade Lesson In Managing Talent

He never talked about it much, but I learned while frequently pawing through a my Grandmother Adah Rae’s trunk full of army uniforms and sports memorabilia that my Dad was a four-sport standout in high school but he didn’t say a word when I came home with a “D” in P.E. in the 8th Grade. P.E? Really, REALLY?

Of course he also didn’t let me hide behind the excuse that I was going through an incredible growth spurt that reduced me to all knees and elbows and kept me out of football that year. Some things defy determination and will and grit.

It was my most embarrassing moment, rivaled only by the day when as a first grader, the third graders suddenly asked me to join in the tackle football games (no helmets or pads) they played during recess along one side of the Ashton, Idaho Elementary School.43-letterD-q75-348x356

I picked up a fumble on the first play and ran for a touchdown - the wrong direction! I’m not making this stuff up.

I had always excelled in sports before the dreaded “D",” but during that 8th grade year no amount of determination seemed to work until I caught up with my body that Spring and things started to click again in both baseball and track and field.

My Dad’s response, when I got that “D,” ignored that failure or anything having to do with improving in P.E. class. He simply said, “Why don’t you go out for varsity football in the 9th grade,” which I did. I made the team as a wide receiver so I wouldn’t get hurt. Everyone could tell I didn’t have my Dad’s frame.

I promptly and seriously aggravated an Achilles tendon in an “away” game and spent several months going to school early so I could soak in the whirlpool or what we called a whirlpool in those days, and doing other things to help the inflammation heal.

Dad’s next suggestion – “Why don’t you go for the school record in the 440 next Spring?” I did and not only broke that record but received the “most improved” award for athletics in Junior High. I wish I could say the happy ending is that I was a stand-out in High School. But I blew my left knee out.

My Dad’s solution – “Why don’t you focus on grades and getting into college,” Good idea!

Dad never came to one of my games or meets or matches. Maybe he knew the pressure I was under trying to live up to his name. He worked two jobs most of those years along with my Mom rather than declare bankruptcy like a middle man did after he took delivery of my parents’ stock one year before paying them a red “cent.”

For as far back as I can remember, he always played sports with me incessantly when he came home and that continued until I left home as an adult and even after. When it became clear I was a south paw when I was handwriting or eating but right-handed in sports, he encouraged me to switch hit. When I did excel on a team and came home to tell him about it, he was quick to bring me back to earth, sometimes not so gently.

My Dad didn’t make sense to me then, and our love and respect for him now that he is gone are much stronger than the humorous “bigger than life” caricatures that light up conversations about him at family gatherings today.

He was a star in sports but he didn’t do what the other parents did when it came to competitive sports. Knowing what I know now after a nearly 40-year career in building destination marketing teams and trying to help people motivate themselves, I realize my Dad never got the credit he deserved as a parent or as an astute manager of talent.

He never focused on failure or living up to expectations. He knew the kind of pressure I put on myself and my inherent grit and determination, a pressure I wasn’t always keen to modulate for those around me.

In hindsight I see that he had a very unique knack for helping me focus beyond the hurdle I had just missed, to a new and higher goal. I would have been a better executive and developer of destination marketing talent and teams, if I had taken more cues from my Dad.

He was always so proud of his children and grandchildren and he would have been delighted to see the pure enthusiasm his mid-kindergarten and first grade great-grandsons have for sports, as they took me through basketball, football, soccer and baseball workouts in just the first few hours of my recent visit with them.

Thanks to my Dad, I also have a great road-map for how to deal with any “D” they may ever get in P.E.

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