Last Play

 

Memento mori.

-Latin phrase meaning, “Remember, you will die.”

Carpe diem.

-Latin phrase meaning, “Seize the day.”


To start my post, I’d like to thank everyone for surviving the last two weeks, so that I wasn’t tempted to write another eulogy-type piece this week. But I’ve been thinking about loss and finality. Per usual, my mind turned to athletics and the idea of the last play, the last repetition we take as athletes.

It’s incredible to watch players who play ever play as if it is their last. No matter how physically talented they are, they are overachievers. Unlike other players who throttle back at times, worry about their next breath, save their energy reserves, and occasional give up on winning the game, players who play every play as if it were their last almost always seem to find that extra gear.

They never seem to worry about their next breath, and yet it always comes. They never seem to spare an ounce of energy, and yet there’s always more when they need it. They never seem to surrender, and yet sometimes the other team gets the best of them. They always manage to play and practice with an intensity that suggests they believe this current play could be their last.

They play and practice with minimal regrets. They certainly may experience disappointment, but for the rest of their days, regret is minimal because they left nothing in the tank. They spent it all on the field or in the arena.

Looking back at films of my old teams, we played hard. We overachieved. We flew to the ball, yet we certainly weren’t perfect. Personally, I didn’t take many plays off, if any, but I definitely didn’t play every play as if it were my last. I should have. I would have been a better player if I did.

Then again, there was my senior season at Albion. Before then, I always assumed there would be other plays. I played pretty hard. I got after it. But looking back on it, I often had another gear to give, and I never realized it until I finally hit that higher gear in my senior season, the season I finally accepted the fact that any play could be my last. On any play, I could have suffered a season ending injury. Because I wasn’t moving on to another level of football, a play ending my season would also have ended my career.

So in my senior year at Albion, 7 years into varsity football, I finally began to understand that any play could be my last. It changed how I played. I unleashed a new intensity in drills. I enjoyed every moment of every rep. I did more than enjoy the pain, I embraced and savored it. Every rep was a love affair with football. Every sprint was a celebration of speed. I’d finally begun to play every play as if it were my last. It was the most enjoyable season of my playing days, and it was probably my best. I still miss it. I dream of it. My heart breaks that I can’t play another last play.

That’s the thing about sports and life. We never really know what we had until it ends (or nears an end). Part of the beauty in life is getting lost in those moments before the last play is over.

Sports are just part of a bigger life. Someday, the last play, last rep, last day, last breath will come for each of us. This is the essence of the Latin phrase memento mori. Remember, you will die. When the last play arrives, if you have done things right often enough and given a great effort, you will leave minimal regrets.

But to do so, you may need to seize each moment as it arrives. Makes plays in the moment you have. This is the essence of the Latin phrase carpe diem. Seize the opportunity. Seize the day. It is the antidote to regret.

May we all play every play as if it’s our last.

Best wishes.

-JW


Other favorite quotes on last play:

“Even in camp, every play’s a big play. With the Steelers you learn to play every play like it’s your last.”

-Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

“Now, you guys all understand what last play means? Last play. You play every play as if it was the last play you will ever play. And if we don’t play with emotion, if we don’t play the last play on every play, it will be. There won’t be a next week. Every play tonight, you play….you think about what that means. You think about what it means to be on your last play! This is my last play of football ever! My last play! How do I want it to be? How do I want to be remembered? My last play! Every play.”

-Coach Ed Burke, Torrey Pines High School, San Diego, CA

Painter, Paint, and Canvas

Please consider an analogy. Like all analogies, it is imperfect. I can see other meanings, combinations, and possibilities within this analogy. Perhaps your own disagreements or combinations of the parts will be informative to you. In any case, I’d like you to consider this analogy:

 Life is like a painter creating a picture on a canvas.

The more you blame or give credit to the outside world for creating your experience of life, the more you become the canvas. You are simply a passive canvas built for the purpose of telling others’ stories. The outside world is both paint and painter.

The more you believe that you are free to create your experience of the world with what you can think, feel, and do, the more you become the painter. The outside world of canvas and paint are simply the tools available for creating the life you desire.

The more you believe you are a soul possessing a body being used for a higher purpose, the more you become the paint. The canvas is the world around you. The painter is a higher power.

With everything you think, feel, and do, you are moving toward one version of this analogy. It’s not for me to say which one is best for you to pursue. But I wonder, which one fits best for your typical experience of the world? Which one do you use the most? Which one do you believe in the most? What are the implications?

*Many thanks to Alan Maciag for the picture of his portrait. He is a wonderful Michigan-based artist. You can find his work at alanmaciag.com.

Freedom on the River of Life

Life has what seem like ups and downs. The more we notice that these ups and downs correspond with an existing mood, which is intimately connecting to our thoughts and the possibilities or limits we have in mind, the more we realize we create our experience of life from our own thoughts. Most people find freedom in this realization. It’s what I call understanding our mind over matter existence.

Another thing that seems to create freedom is the understanding that the river of life is going to flow whether we want it to or not. Sometimes the current is gentle and manageable, our intentions and actions result in desired outcomes, and we seem to be in control. Other times, the river is raging and exerts its influence upon us in more obvious ways, some we perceive as good and others we perceive as bad. In any case, make no mistake. Whether the current seems to be working for us or against, we can’t own, manipulate, or control the current.

I have found that when people try to own, manipulate, or fight the current, they become exhausted and feel helpless. As they battle against it, trying to stay in place or desperately fighting to move in a direction against the current’s flow, they seem to lose their independence. And oddly enough, in losing their independence, they lose their connection to the grand order of life.

Others seems to acknowledge the current of life and flow with it more harmoniously. Perhaps they do not necessarily learn to enjoy the feeling of giving into the current’s force, but they seem to learn how to connect to it and embrace it for what it is. They learn how to dance with it no matter how bullish its behavior. They come to see the current as an essential element of their journey, and as they connect to it, they gain freedom.

Unchained from Luck

I recently sought the thoughts of a lifelong friend. This friend had fallen on hard times at one point in high school. He was caught stealing. He spent a week in an inpatient psychiatric facility. A year later, he was caught drunk in school. He was constantly getting into fights.

He changed all that. It didn’t happen in an instant. It took time. But within a few short years he was in graduate school working to become a doctor.

I wanted his thoughts on his change so I might be able to apply them with other people people I know. So I asked him, “What were the keys to your turnaround?” Here is his response (names have been changed):

Man really hard question. I guess I would first thing I would say is if he has any negative influences he needs to get rid of them. Easier said than done sometimes. I guess if I were talking to him I would ask him what he wants out of life and what his goals are. Large and small. Every decision you make has consequences positive and negative. It’s ok to make mistakes, sometimes that’s when you learn the most, just need to make sure you actually learn from them. For me I just wanted more out of life than what I grew up with….. I’m not sure when I realized it exactly, but I realized as I looked around that there is no free lunch, and I had to work for what I wanted. Frank was a good influence on me. Always treated me well and believed in me for some reason. And Jane was a good influence. I wish I had some magic for you. Tell him there is no luck, luck is where opportunity meets preparation. Actually I am lucky as hell 🙂

What I love about his response is the acknowledgement of both the inner and outer aspects of this change process. The outside exists and plays a role, but the internal is what really makes the outside world appear as it does. Immediately after stating there is no luck, he quickly switches when he understands luck is in the eye of the beholder.

Luck is a funny thing. There is an order to the world. Whether one believes this order is built by the hand of God or just the laws of physics (clear, simple laws we may not even understand yet) doesn’t really matter in some ways. No matter what we believe, everything happens for a particular reason, and each reason is made up of countless factors that come together at a single moment in time.

But that’s not what really matters to us in making our way in life. The actual reason and the countless factors that compose it matter very little to us as individuals. What matters is the meaning we attribute to it. When we understand that this meaning is a product of our personal thoughts, we gain some measure of freedom. What we are gaining freedom from is the tendency to blame our luck – or lack thereof – on anything outside of ourselves. The outside plays a role, but luck only happens internally. Luck is a completely personal fabrication. We are completely free to fabricate this luck at any given moment. We may not be capable of doing so (because sometimes our thoughts get stuck momentarily), but we are free to do so if we can. This truth is what sets us free.

That’s What Teams Do

I know a family who has fallen on some hard times. A lot has happen lately. They are the type of family who wouldn’t give most of life’s issues a second thought, wouldn’t consider them problems, just stuff we all have to deal with from time to time. But this is a little different. They’re hard times have been health related, ongoing, and one after another.

This is the thing about this family: They have given so much to others over the years. They’ve enriched us through their deeds, heart, and presence. Those of us who know them and are part their team, their tribe if you will, decided to give back a bit, a small token not nearly commensurate with what they have given others, but enough to make a difference, enough to pick them up just a bit.

In the attached video (click here for video), you can see this unfold. One of my favorite parts of the video is when Coach Mark Bernas says, “We pick each other up. That’s what teams do.”

Isn’t that so true? Isn’t that what teams do? Real teams, the type that make a difference, pick each other up no matter what is at stake. If it matters to one, it matters to all. The scoreboards and trophies are such a small part of what real teams do. The real work is in picking up the people, the individuals and families, who come together to create the team. This is what teamwork is about. This is family is about. This is what community is about. This is what being a connecting, spiritual human is about.

There is strength in numbers, and when we need to be strong, we need to feed our strength, not our weakness. This is why the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” When we are weak, we must fight the urge to feed our weakness for that is when we need to feed our strength the most. We feed our strength by coming together and picking each other up.

If you know someone who needs to be picked up, please do it. It doesn’t matter if they are part of your perceived team or not. Blur the lines that divide teams into separate units. Understand that we all stand on the same sideline in life and make a play to pick up a new teammate in need. Feed our strength. It’s what teams do.

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.