Saturday, August 4, 2007

The genius

Bill Walsh died this week. Mortality has more gravity when an immortal passes, and Walsh – to me, albeit as an atheist – was a deity. He had an aura and presence that commanded respect. He was an intelligent, thinking-man’s football man: Entrepreneurial and innovative and professorial, the antithesis of wham-bam-slam, huff-puff-gruff, Rockne-esque football coaches. It was cool to be cerebral in professional sports thanks to Bill.

Walsh’s death conjured an epiphany from Peter Drucker: Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Doing things right: Blocking, tackling and execution. Doing the right things: Respectful, thoughtful, cohesive corralling of individual strengths toward the accomplishment of a goal. Walsh got it, and many benefited.

He was an artist, conjuring another relevant quote (this one from Aristotle): Art is a production of what is performed and imposed on matter. One more (Jung): The artist's relative lack of adaptation becomes his real advantage, for it enables him to keep aloof from the main streets the better to follow his own yearning and to find that things which the others unwittingly passed by.

His passing reminded me of a similarly gifted, but virtually unknown, coach, David O’Meara. Dave coaches tennis. And life. Thanks to my brother, James, I spent an hour with him earlier this year in Sarasota. As James and I kicked up clay banging balls to and fro, Dave patiently observed our rallies. Ten humidity-ridden minutes (and several dozen beyond-the-baseline banged balls on my behalf) in, Dave spoke: What are you thinking about when you hit your forehand? Well, um, I think I’m trying to hit it too hard or I’m afraid to reach for the ball or I’m opening up my wrist, I muttered. I looked at and kicked the clay, expecting him to coach me as coaches do: To provide technical feedback about my forehand’s faults. Instead, he focused on my perception – the thoughts, feelings, and actions – of my play, and how I could translate my perception to improve my experience. It was cool.

Dave authored a book, Play Better, Live Better, chastising the command-and-control style of coaching and introducing a thoughtful (but simple) approach. While I do not dig self-help soliloquies, Dave’s quick read is meaningful and valuable – get it, and I assure you will not be disappointed. He conversationally shares a 10-step process to improving as an athlete, coach, person and parent:

  1. Discover aspirations
  2. Observe what is
  3. Look for patterns
  4. Appreciate what is working
  5. Acknowledge what is not working
  6. Create a new perception
  7. Trust the new perception to generate a new experience
  8. Let the experience do the teaching
  9. Develop an awareness of the power of the new perception
  10. Assimilate the new experience
Dave is a great coach and an even better person. From what I’ve gleamed, Bill Walsh was the same. It’s trite to say, but he will be missed.

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