I recently had a conversation with an experienced angler that caused me to revisit a wake-up call that I got back in my decathlon training days.
The fisherman asked me, “Honestly, how are you catching big stripers?” I started giving him my key tips, but he stopped me and told me he was already doing everything I was talking about. It became obvious he wasn’t doing what he thought he was, and I couldn’t help him much until he admitted he wasn’t successful and needed help. Reminded me of myself years ago.
I was training for the 1980 Olympics, had moved to Oregon and just signed with Nike. One of my new teammates was shot put world record-holder Al Feuerbach.
Of the 10 events in the decathlon, shot put was my worst, so I figured Feuerbach could help me. He agreed, but asked me to first bring a written overview of my workouts before we started training.
I vividly remember that meeting, anxious to share my notes and get his feedback. After scanning my small book, he looked at me, crunched it all up into a paper wad and threw it away! I was in shock! “Why did you do that?”
Calmly, said, “Because your plan doesn’t work!” I wasn’t happy. Patiently, he asked, “Did your plan work?” Crestfallen, I agreed it didn’t.
“OK! Here’s the plan!” He jotted down three keys. I couldn’t believe my eyes – each item was a very simple thing. (Or so I thought!)
Still, I argued with Feuerbach about his plan for a good five minutes. I tried to convince him that I was already doing them.
“Not the way I’m talking about,” Feuerbach said. That’s when the sledgehammer came out!
“Roger, I have one question for you: Who’s the shot put world record-holder?”
“So why don’t you just shut up and listen to what I’m trying to tell you!” Long pause … I was arguing and questioning the best ever, trying to tell him something I sincerely believed I was doing. Why is it that we all try to equate raw knowledge with practical verifiable success when they are not the same. I know my ego and pride were covering for my failures.
His lesson continued. I had to change bad habits that had been reinforced for a long time, committing to a tedious process that would guarantee the worst performances of my career as I learned new stuff.
Doing badly is hard on your ego. Can you handle the period where you’re going to be totally uncomfortable learning a new technique, and doing the worst you’ve ever done? Most guys can’t because they don’t have the mental discipline to stay on track when it looks like it’s not working.
Two months later, I was struggling. Those three simple things were incredibly tough to do correctly, both technically and work wise. I was doing my best. Al told me to just keep going.
The breakthrough came after about six months and was as if everything Al had taught and told me came together at one time, improving my all-time best by an unheard-of 5 feet – with a 16-pound shot! No one could believe the transformation. When they asked my secret, I told them I focused on three simple things Al taught me. Blank stares.
Trying to justify my plan and defend it — even when it wasn’t producing good marks — was a barrier of self-defense I put up to protect my ego. I couldn’t learn anything new until I became coachable. Getting humbly put in my place allowed me to finally get the message and learn from the best.
I’ll never forget, “Who’s the world record-holder? ... Shut up and listen!”
And never give up!