Filling Need with Deed

I strive to write clearly, but with the topics I write about, I am sure I fail sometimes. One ridiculously simple point that isn’t always clear: The title of my blog, makingtheplay.com. What does it mean to make plays? What is a play anyway? Hopefully this post will clear that up a bit.

I don’t feel the need to define play strictly. I believe you know the plays of your life when you encounter them. Sometimes they are explicit, such as picking off a pass in football or picking up a check in a restaurant. Other times they are less clear, such as openly honoring someone’s right to disagree or silently changing your experience of a situation by having an epiphany about it.

The importance of a play varies from person to person, and it varies from moment to moment for each individual. I like to think they all have unlimited potential. No play is too big or too small to be worthy of your effort.

Every moment of our lives, opportunities to make plays are available. We make some. We miss some. We move on in the present moment with new plays available for the making.

This past week, three playmakers in my family died. I wrote about my Uncle Jake last week (you can read that article by clicking to the link here It’s Been Fun). This week I want to write about Ron Block and my Aunt Susan Klaus Hoffman. You may or may not know them, but both made plays that were important to me. By discussing them, I hope to shed light on what it means to make a play.

Truth be told, Ron Block wasn’t part of my family. Not by blood at least. But I loved him, and he treated me like family. His entire family treated mine with kindness, so he and the Blocks are family to me.

As a single parent, my mom did her best, and her best was incredible. But she was human (although I think many would consider my mom Saint Kate with the love she has for the world), and after playing the roles of mother, father, and breadwinner, she didn’t always have time left to figure out how to take care of what she wanted for me. That’s where Ron and the Block family often stepped in.

My childhood memories are filled with times I spent with the Blocks. They drove me to countless games and events. As I write this, I have visions from their back of their minivan flooding my head (to be clear, there was a new minivan every year, and I hope more than a few of you are laughing your butts off at the thought of one of Dee’s new minivans parked next to Ron’s old S-10, both immaculately cleaned by Ron’s compulsive hand). Ron was typically at the wheel, unless of course we had been to the beach where Ron had imbibed plenty of fun (and more than a few Black Labels), in which case Dee drove back home. Anyone who knows Ron will have plenty of memories of Ron smiling and laughing as if the point of life was simply to smile and laugh, which very well might be the point of life. The man could celebrate, and he never needed much of a reason.

Once when Ron and I were celebrating at a graduation party, we had a conversation about my personality. I was a pretty serious kid at times (okay, that’s the understatement of the year, quit laughing people), and Ron noted that as I entered my early 20s, I was starting to loosen up a bit and have a little fun. I like to think I’m still on that path, and I like to think I learned some of it from him.

One particular memory of Ron has been popping up in my mind for years. One year Ryan and I had to make Pinewood Derby cars for Cub Scouts. Ron knew mom and I couldn’t handle it on our own. He was good with tools and had a workshop in his basement. So he took Ryan and I, and we designed, drilled, weighted, cut, and finished our cars in the workshop. Unlike so many parents today, Ron didn’t interfere with my design, weighting, or aerodynamics. He let me create and build my own car. He simply made sure I was safe with the tools. It was the perfect level of guidance.

I am pretty sure the design of the car was mediocre and finished with mediocre results, but today the process means much more to me than any result ever could. Ron thought about me and cared enough to step up and make a play. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful things life has to offer: Someone sees a need and fills it with deed. It’s like a dovetail joint that brings together the spiritual with the physical, the intangible with the tangible. It’s common, yet when it’s experienced with great awareness, it seems miraculous. It’s the essence of making a play.

When Ron made plays for me, Dee, Rhondi, Ryan, and Darren should get credit for their assists (and they made their own plays for me too). They shared their husband and father with me, and that’s worth more than a small mention. Sometimes we can’t make plays without assists from others.

That’s where my Aunt Sue comes in. She certainly made her own plays in life, but she also made assists by allowing my Uncle Hank to be another father figure in my life. She and my cousins, Kyle and Tim, shared selflessly and included me in their lives in so many ways.

Aunt Sue also shared her family of origin with me. I have great memories of spending time with her brothers, sisters, and parents, Harold and Ruth Klaus. One of my earliest memories is of her marriage to my uncle at their family farm in Harbor Beach. Another is smelt dipping with Uncle, Harold, and her brother Tim. We fished for hours, then used scissors to gut the fish for what seemed like hours more, then fried and ate them. Talk about filling a need with a deed. It was a perfect adventure for a young boy.

When her brother Tim was a teen, he and Uncle Hank put up a basketball hoop that provided hundreds of hours of fun for me, and I’ll never forget fishing on Sanford Lake with her sisters Jackie and Linda. These were times they used their skills to make plays my mom couldn’t make. That is not a knock on my mom. It’s a nod to their thoughtful efforts to make the plays my mom simply couldn’t. It was filling a need with a deed.

Given all the memories of my aunt from my youth, perhaps it’s a bit ironic that one of my lasting memories of her will be her late-life battle with MS. Truth be told, it wasn’t necessarily the battle that impressed me; It was the grace with which she accepted her disease.

Early on in the course of the disease, she fought through pain and debilitated motion to continue making plays in life. She constantly sought to make contributions to her communities. When she wasn’t teaching a class of her own, she was working as an assistant, tutor, or volunteer. She was always active making plays in her community through the schools, churches, and other organizations. She lived to make plays that helped enrich others.

I am sure she had moments of frustration, but she rarely showed it when I was around. On the contrary, she often seemed to be at peace with her frailty. It was as if she understood: This is my path. It’s the only one I can travel, and I recognize that I am the one who must travel it.

It often seemed as if her greatest strength, her grace, was revealed through her greatest weakness, the weakness that eventually took her life. With her grace, my aunt displayed one of the key principles of what makingtheplay.com is all about. The situations of our lives do not dictate our experiences of them. They do not control us. We have creative power to construct our own experience and meaning of life. We rise above situations when we understand that our experience of life resides in our own awareness. Ultimately, perhaps life becomes what we can make of it. No situation is too big or too small. Every play has unlimited potential, and you may never truly understand the value another person attributes to your play.

Our biological frailty has taken two great ones this week, Ron Block and Sue Hoffman. Even though they are gone from the world, their spirit will surely live on in those who knew them. For me, I hope to remember them by making plays like they made for me. I hope to be able to see needs and fill them with deeds. I hope to understand life is what I make of it. And as I progress toward my own inevitable frailty, I hope to show grace and acceptance of what I can no longer influence.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. Ron and Sue were certainly worthy of your time. Whether you know them or not, I have a humble ask. Make a play. Fill a need with a deed. Place Ron or Sue or someone else you know in mind, someone who made plays for you and has now passed. Grab your favorite beverage, and give a toast to them and the plays they made.

Prost. Cheers to Ron, Sue, and you and yours. May you make plays until the day you can’t, and when you pass, may your plays live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Feed Your Belief

One of the most consistent myths athletes (and any of us) believe is that our performance in the moment is dictated by our thinking in the moment.

 This is an easy myth to confront. To prove this idea false, try this simple experiment:

Grab a seat and stay seated while you imagine a scenario. Vividly imagine yourself standing and walking out the nearest door/exit. See your motions in your mind (from your own eyes/perspective). Imagine how it feels to move your muscles. Imagine the sensations you feel as you walk and open the door or pass through the exit. When finished, read the rest of this post.

 Were you able to imagine walking out the door while you stayed seated? Of course you were. Your thoughts were conducting one action while your belief, a special type of thought, was insisting you perform a different action (in this case, the belief was that you would stay seated).

In my work, I’ve found two major reasons for buying into the myth that momentary thoughts dictate action. First, we tell athletes that’s the case. Second, we act according to our thoughts because we believe we must act according to our thoughts.

It’s not the thoughts that matter. It’s the belief. Performance comes from belief. If we believe thoughts will dictate action, they will tend to. If we believe with a deep understanding that momentary thoughts can vary while a deeper trust in our actions reigns supreme, then we can take action based on trust without wasting a second worrying about the normal variations we experience in momentary thoughts, such as those thoughts that encourage confidence or doubt.

 As I noted above, beliefs are special types of thoughts. While weak momentary thoughts are subject to swaying with the breezes of our moods – the instances of optimism/pessimism, can do/can’t do, possibility/impossibility – beliefs are hardy and withstand fluctuations in mood. Think about some of your deepest beliefs, such as the world being round. Is that belief subject to your mood? Or will you always endorse the idea that the world is round no matter how low your mood?

The same type of deep trusting belief is possible for performance. You simply have to feed that belief. As you move through life, you can verify this again and again through consistent performance that defies doubt and dips in your mood.

Trust in your ability. Practice to improve. Believe in yourself. Believe in your mind over matter existence that transcends momentary thoughts. This is the path to breakthrough performance and making the play under any conditions, including those of your own momentary thoughts.

I’ve Got You

Individually, we create our experiences of situations (including the emotions we experience) from our own perceptions and thoughts. The outside world is a canvas against which we project and check our own thoughts and emotions. Therefore, we are creators of situations, not passive victims. I’ve called this our mind over matter existence in past writing. We use our minds to create the matters (situations) of the world we perceive in front of us.

While this helps create clarity, freedom, and possibility within individuals, dealing with others is a different issue. Even well-informed people forget the nature of our mind over matter existence and see the world as a mind vs matter power struggle from time to time.

For someone locked into this mindset, blame is a common is a common thought, and people are not always ready to hear about their wrongs. If you try to help a teammate who is locked into a power struggle and blame them for not seeing the world with the clarity you currently posses, you are only pointing toward more blame, and you are likely to become a target for the blame they are hurling at the matters of the world in front of them.

If you are seeing the mind over matter world clearly, you will realize that you can’t make them understand what you know to be true. All you can do is to point in the right direction. As team members, we will all have off days, and as teammates and leaders we need to be ready to pick up our teammates without casting blame.

Instead of blaming them for being off, see if you can point in the right direction. Sometimes the best we can do is to say, “I’ve got you. I’m going to step up and make plays. Join me when you can.” You may not even need to say a word. Demonstrate your love with action. Point in the right direction by making a play with effort and enthusiasm.

Understand that while we live mind over matter, we don’t always remember that fact. Blaming someone for forgetting it is a losing battle.

The Unmagical Trophy

I often get asked about participation trophies. More specifically, people often share their comments about participation trophies with me.
The truth is, I’m not a huge fan of participation trophies, but it’s not for the same reasons most people don’t like them. I simply don’t believe we should attribute magical powers to any trophy.

The World Doesn’t Give a Sh!* about Your Should

A friend and I had an interesting conversation the other day. This friend lives by a strong ethical code. His moral compass points sharply and consistently. It’s part of what makes him very good at his job and a number of other endeavors.

Codes are not laws of the universe. Codes are ideas and principles that describe what should happen for societies and cultures to run smoothly. Codes are necessary, but they can also be a personal source of misery.

“The world doesn’t give a shit about your should,” I told my friend, pointing to the fact that the laws of the universe and human nature don’t behave according to what he thinks should happen.

He laughed. He knew it was true.

Look, I’m not suggesting you should change your codes. Societies, cultures, organizations, teams, families, and individuals should codes. I’m simply pointing out that if you believe the rest of the world is going to conform to your code or even care about it, you might be in for some self-created misery.

If you try to map your code of what should have happened onto what exists, you are in for a particular brand of misery. What has happened and what exists are perfect expressions of the conditions that preceded them. If you want change, do what you can right now to bring about the new conditions you desire. Wishing away what is for what should have happened won’t work and will only serve to increase your own misery.

Wishing away what is for what you believe should have happened is constricting. It takes the mind to another time and situation. It clouds perception. It closes off awareness to the possibilities that exist right now.

A recent example of this was Sergio Garcia’s play in the Masters on Sunday. After losing a 3 stroke lead to Justin Rose, the wheels appeared to be falling off his round. Matters appeared worse when he hit his 13th tee shot into an unplayable lie and had to take a penalty stroke.

In the past, Sergio would have blamed the world for not producing what he thought should have happened. Sunday, he told a different story.

“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, “Oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through and whatever?'” He took a different approach Sunday. “I was like, ‘Well, if that was supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great five here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. If not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.'”

With expectations that what happened was meant to happen, Sergio remained composed, stayed open to possibilities, and made a play. He saved par, made birdies on the next two holes, and went on to win his first major in a one-hole sudden death playoff (with a birdie no less).

What I love best about this story is that Sergio was prepared to give his best and accept the consequences even if they didn’t conform to what he wanted, what he believed should happen. This openness and acceptance creates clarity, freedom, and possibility. It is a sign of trusting yourself and the order of the universe.

You should give a shit about your should. Just don’t expect the world to return the favor.

There Are No Mistakes

Do not fear mistakes. There are none. 

-Jazz great Miles Davis


If you want to change or improve, belief is important.

If we see mind over matter as a power struggle we must win, we will often believe that matter is winning. We will believe toughness must be built. We will believe that we progress and regress constantly, at best moving slowly but steadily toward our goal destination in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

While this a reasonable view, it’s not necessarily accurate.

Matter is never winning. It just seems that way because our thoughts rise and fall like a roller coaster. This ebb and flow of thoughts creates different characteristics of thinking, and we project these characteristics onto the world we see in front of us.

Beliefs are certain type of thought. Beliefs are enduring thoughts that occur to us over and over across relatively long periods of time. Beliefs do not dictate our thoughts. We can be very inconsistent, but for the most part, beliefs endure.

If we believe mind over matter is a fact of our existence, which is an accurate belief as far as I can tell, it’s possible to see progression and regression as states of mind. Therefore, it’s possible to understand that there is no real progression or regression, rather, there are only changes in the way one is thinking in the moment.

While this might seem like a bland, neutral, vanilla position, it can actually be quite liberating and thrilling. Understanding the neutrality of the world can help free us from the belief that the world has shackled us with limits it imposes from the outside. Freeing yourself from the tyranny of matter can lead to breakthroughs.

Rather than believing there is a goal destination that will do something to us or for us (this is a matter over mind belief), you can see goals within each moment, what I like to call plays to be made. When we live with an accurate understanding of our mind over matter existence, we can see plays to be made every second of every day. This is not bland at all, and indeed can be quite awe inspiring.

As our experience progresses and we make play after play after play (sometimes missing them but always remembering another play to be exists right now), we improve (based on outside perspectives such as a scorecard or scoreboard), sometimes dramatically.

When we don’t improve based on outside perspectives, if we give in to matter over mind, we start to buy into the power struggle and see ourselves as losing . While we sometimes thrive on this challenge, we sometimes see it as a daunting struggle we can’t win.

If we understand our mind over matter existence, we will begin to see that lack of improvement is simply a projection of our own thoughts. If we can do this, we are more likely to value each experience for what it is. This is where the idea, “We learn from our mistakes,” comes from, and if we extend that outward, we might arrive at the conclusion, “There are no mistakes.”

In a matter over mind world, we are oppressed or rewarded by the outside world. In a matter over mind world, we are at its mercy or benevolence. In a mind over matter world, we are free to make of it what we can. Imagine what might be possible if you knew there were no mistakes and focused on doing what you can in each moment.

The Accuracy of Influence

A couple of days ago I read an article about a pitcher who was changing his mental focus to only what he could control: His mechanics (throwing the ball).

I thought this was interesting. If he is so certain that he can control his mechanics, why would he ever have a problem with them in the first place? Doesn’t he control them?

Was he not able to control them before and now he can? If he controls his pitches now, should we expect that he will never throw an errant pitch from this point forward?

Then today I read an article that suggested I shift my mindset to one of personal control in order to avoid blaming the outside world for the circumstances of my life. I thought this was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough.

Here is why personal control is a broken concept. If I take the concept of control strictly, I must do two things when I make a mistake: 1) Blame myself, and 2) engage in denial, repression, avoidance, and other types of magical thinking in an effort to ignore the obvious: I don’t have control.

I understand self-blame is often viewed as a position of strength and personal responsibility, but it really isn’t. Certainly it’s stronger than blaming others, but it isn’t nearly as strong as an accurate understanding of our limited influence. And this is where control is weak. It stems from a fear of accurately understanding our limits.

The truth is that control is a relatively weak, insecure position relative to influence. Think about it in terms of relationships. Does anyone like being in a relationship with a controlling person? Only people who are feeling weak and insecure in relationships feel the need to try to control. To counter the weak, insecure feeling, they react in an opposite direction by trying to exert control.

The alternative to forcing control is trusting influence. Do you like being in trusting relationships? When we trust, we feel no need to control. We sense that influence is adequate. We simply trust things will work out even if they do not unfold perfectly according to our wishes. With trust comes incredible confidence.

Back to pitching and other actions. Personal influence over one’s body is a type of relationship. Often, it works exactly as intended. For example, the other day I had a physical examination. My blood pressure was the best it’s been in 25 years, and my blood numbers were all better than least year. Thus, my body’s health is working the way I intended in many ways.

Despite my influence over my body, I am acutely and accurately aware of the limits of my control over it. If my body was under my control I’d be much stronger and faster than I am. I’d be a 43 year-old NFL football player, and I wouldn’t have chronic numbness or weakness in my left leg. For that matter, if my body was under my control, I would not have hit numerous slices and hooks the other day at the driving range.

But I don’t control my body. I influence it. When I forget my influence, which is normal, I blame the world for my thoughts, feelings, and imperfect actions. When I overstep my influence and find myself yearning a desire to control, I get confused and frustrated when things don’t work as I intended. When I see my influence accurately, I trust that things have worked out very nicely for me so far and will continue to do so, until they don’t, at which point I will do my best to deal with it.

Unless we live with pathological denial, each person experiences a moment in life when he or she confronts the illusion of control. This moment can be met with horror and panic, or it can be met with trust, confidence, and the knowledge that errant thoughts, feelings, and actions don’t really exist. There are no mistakes. Every effect is perfectly aligned with its causes, and every cause is an effect of something that preceded it. We are constantly moving thoughts, feelings, and actions in a world – and a body – we don’t control but do influence.

When we clutch control too tightly, we may experience a momentary increase in confidence and focus, but we are setting ourselves up for eventual failure. When we understand the limits of control and the accuracy of influence, we set ourselves up for trust, confidence, understanding, and personal power.

Experiments vs Failures

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.

-Thomas Edison


Over and over I hear about the problems people have with failure. It seems we are risk-averse and do not want to fail.

I often talk to teens about this issue. Some of our highest flying teens seem particularly risk averse. This is often something blamed on their generation, but I am not sure this is a generational thing. If anything, I think their parents’ generation (my generation, Gen X) is the one who has pointed out how terrible it is for them to fail. But nonetheless, here is what we talk about.

I point out that the best and brightest in any field tend to take on the toughest problems. These are either new problems that nobody has solved yet or age old problems that resist obvious (and not so obvious) solutions. There is great unknown inherent in these issues, and attempts to solve them are frequently met with what can be viewed as failure.

However, the best and brightest do not necessarily see attempts to solve these problems as failures. They see it as experimenting. In order to solve problems, we may need to systematically form opinions and test them. At the beginning, many options appear to be equally good, so choosing one and trying it is a good place to start. If that one attempt out of many good looking options works, you were fortunate. Otherwise, the experiment will not get the results you hoped for, and could be considered a failure.

Here is the thing to remember. An experiment is never a failure (although some are conducted poorly). Results are always a perfect reflection of how the experiment was conducted, and all results have the potential to be informative. When tempted to use the word failure, 99 times out of 100 there is a better term.

Most times, when someone looks like a huge success to us, we simply have not been privy to all the experimenting they’ve performed in the dark before bringing their triumph to the light of eyes. If something is important to you, exhaust your possibilities, and when you believe you have met failure, remember this: You haven’t.