Coach’s Challenge for 11/9/09
Good day, team,
This weekend, the weather outside was cold and damp so I decided to spend a good portion of the day lounging on the couch watching college football.
I’ve been a football fan since I was young. I just happened to be lucky enough to live in Wisconsin when the Packers, under Vince Lombardi, won the Super Bowl. I was also living in Washington, D. C., when the Redskins won, and in New York when the Jets won, and in Miami when the Dolphins won. When I moved to San Francisco, I guess the 49ers caught my luck, because they started an unbelievable winning streak that lasted for years. I often thought I should start betting on football teams based on where I was going to live next!
Since then, I’ve moved to a city where there is no pro football team, and I guess my luck doesn’t apply to professional basketball, given the Blazers’ record. But I’ve become much more enamored of college football over the years, so this weekend I settled in for a long day of watching good games.
During the Oregon State vs. University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”) game, I saw something happen that is the heart of this week’s challenge. One of Cal’s star players, Jahvid Best, vaulted over a player from Oregon State into the end zone and fell hard from five feet in the air onto his neck and head. The entire Memorial Stadium went silent.
In a subsequent news report, Cal’s quarterback, Kevin Riley, said, “I was standing right there. You knew when he landed it was something. His eyes were blank, and he was trying to breathe.”
The report continued, “Best’s teammates went down on their knees and waited, then moved to the end zone as trainers and doctors took him away on a stretcher. The game was delayed 13 minutes. Some of Oregon State’s players who were on the field at the time huddled together in support.”
As I watched all of this play out on TV, I was moved to tears when I saw both teams go down on their knees to pray for Best. I expected the Cal team to do so, but when the Oregon players huddled together in prayer for him, I was inspired.
Just minutes before, the goal of the Oregon State team was to beat its opponents at any cost, and they were doing everything they could to prevent Best from getting into the end zone. But when he went down, everything changed, and what everyone wanted was for him to be all right.
I thought about the teams I’m working with and how combative team members can be with each other. They can get nasty when they feel their territory is threatened, or they’re being blamed for something they did or didn’t do, or someone is trying to sabotage them. This competitiveness plays out in so many destructive ways—not just within the team, but throughout the organization—that it often takes years to heal the rifts between team members.
At the same time, when something terrible or life-threatening happens to one of our teammates, we suddenly realize how important we are to each other and are immediately humbled into that place within us of unconditional love and compassion. In this place, we are truly connected. All the noise and flying fur that occurs when we fight can create one bad story after another that builds on itself and then becomes so large we lose our ability to appreciate each other. I call it the “beastly bundle,” that knot that holds all the bad news and nasty commentary. Sometimes the bundles become so big, we can no longer see over or around them, and when we look at our teammate, all we see is a beast.
I encourage you to examine your thoughts and emotions when a colleague irritates you. Are you telling yourself a story that says, “That person is out to get me. How can they be so disrespectful? Why are they doing this to me? I’ll figure out a way to get back at them. They’ll be sorry they treated me like this.”
If you’re telling yourself such a story, think again. It’s not that these thoughts don’t come up—they do, and along with them come all kinds of sensations that we have to deal with, such as tightness of chest, shortness of breath, fire in the belly, heart racing, etc. But if we don’t grab hold of these negative thoughts, emotions and sensations, if we see that they are just part of a story, then they do not control us. Seeing them is not being them, and the part of us that is able to observe can free us from our negative thoughts and emotions by remembering what’s really important.
This week, try neutralizing your negativity about your teammates. Maybe you do that by looking at the bigger picture. Ask yourself what the whole team is trying to achieve, rather than being solely focused on winning one battle. Perhaps you need to be reminded of what other challenges your teammate is trying to deal with to get a better sense of why he or she is behaving badly. Difficult health or family issues can put any of us in a negative state at work. Try spending some down-time with your teammate, at lunch or over coffee, talking about something other than your jobs. If you don’t get the connection you’re hoping for, try something as simple as forgiving her or him and realizing that as much as you’d like to say, “Get over it!” what’s really needed is kindness.
Why does it require the hard lesson of seeing that we might lose someone to value that person? As I watch my father slowly die of kidney failure, so much of my anger and sadness about him melts away in my heart. At the end of the day, all I really feel for him is love and compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. The stories will all be silenced when he dies, just as they were for the Oregon State player who one moment was trying to defeat his rival and the next was down on his knees silently praying for his recovery.
We are so lucky to have one another and be able to work together toward our common goals. Let’s try this week to appreciate our teammates for who they really are and take responsibility for our own negativity by not always believing the stories we like to tell ourselves. Remember that we’re all trying to do the best we can, and each of us is trying to make a difference. In that way, we are much more alike than we realize.
Have a good week!
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