In either 2000 or 2001, the team was at the World Cup, on Sunday, at a ridiculously early hour (we forgot about daylight savings). I remember the morning; the field was deserted except for a police car and small handfull of event staff getting things set up. It was still dark out, and there was a fog over the ground that made everything misty. It was still cool and damp out, and it was quiet and peaceful (made more remarkable by how loud, busy and rushed the venue would be in just a few hours).
Jerry Braun saw me, walked up and shook my hand and said something that really hit me, something that stuck with him at every single tournament we've played since. He said, "Welcome to Sunday at the World Cup. Now the real tournament is about to begin."
I thought about that last weekend after practice. We had been trying some breakouts that we knew probably would not work, but we wanted to figure out if we could make certain bunkers off the break. We started a match with 187 and they clubbed us like baby seals for the first 4 points. So much so that the team backed off the new breakouts until we could get our heads straight. I wasn't in the pit, but I walked over and asked why we changed and I was told, "we were getting killed and now we are winning." And so I explained, in my customary calm and dispassionate way, that we weren't trying to win at a practice, we were trying to lose.
“If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more changes to learn and win.” (John W Holt, Jr). And while I understand that losing sucks, that it can be demoralizing and that demoralizing your team can carry risks greater than the cause of the demoralization (in this case the losing); taking risks & pushing yourself to try new things is the only way to discover your boundaries. You have to be willing to get shot off the break in order to see how far you can break out. And you learn best through losing. Plain and simple.
But the idea that you lose in practice to win in events is pretty easy. Take that to the next level. All professional athletes talk about finding an extra gear for the playoffs.
- "NBA players go 100% all year, but they kill themselves in the playoffs. That's when pride and reputations are on the line, and someone like LeBron James hits an extra gear, and his game goes to a place that we never knew existed."
- "The best way to describe it is we were in first gear early, we went to second gear, third gear, fourth gear all through the season and then we shifted into overdrive in the playoffs and they kept riding," says Don Cooper, the White Sox pitching coach then and now."
- "Right....but now is when teams that are really good start ramping it up to that next level for the playoffs. Can this team take it to the next level, do they have a next level this year? Guess we will see but what I am saying is can Anderson keep bailing our less than average Defense out when teams are cranking it to the next level?"
Ronnie Howell, the captain of the paintball team Nemesis, once said, "I will trade a win today for a win tomorrow every day of the week." His meaning being that he'd take second in D2 if it lead to a first in D1 or second in D1 if it lead to a first in Semi Pro. If you follow that logic to its logical conclusion, there is only ONE tournament that you are trying to win: Pro at the World Cup. Everything else is just practice.
So there you have it. You practice to learn for tournaments. But your tournaments are practices for other, bigger, higher stake tournaments (or are they)?
I guess the bottom line is, when is today the day that you don't trade the win from? When is today the day that you go out not to learn, but to demonstrate what you've learned?