Tune in to sports talk

May 1, 2000
I recently took my three kids fishing while on vacation in the Smokey Mountains. Over the course of several hours we caught a few small trees and a couple of rocks

I recently took my three kids fishing while on vacation in the Smokey Mountains. Over the course of several hours we caught a few small trees and a couple of rocks. I was surprised because the Berardinises, even the young ones, are pretty good anglers. I guess the rapid water and steep slippery riverbank psyched us out.

Sports, even a leisure sport like fishing, is not all fun and games. It’s hard work, which is why I admire successful athletes and I’m inclined to listen to what they say.

One sports hero we can all learn from is Wayne Gretzky, the hockey player. Gretzky, in addition to his accomplishments on the ice, is credited with this sobering thought: “Statistically, 100% of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.” If that doesn’t apply to life in general, nothing does.

When asked his secret, what makes him so much better than the rest, the Great One modestly replied, “I don’t skate to the puck, I skate to where it’s going.” Theoretically, anyone can adopt that strategy. You might want to remember it next time you make an investment or business decision.

Another living legend, basketball star Michael Jordan, has also uttered some pretty profound words. Like many athletes with an abundance of natural talent, Jordan says little about the mechanics of the game. Instead, he focuses on the mental aspects such as attitude, confidence, and resolve – qualities necessary to excel in any activity.

Not surprisingly Jordan’s most well known comment is his formula for success. He says simply, “You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.” In one sentence, Jordan conveys the prerequisite to achieving anything big or small.

Though Jordan’s advice would seem obvious, think of how many people you know weighed down by the self-imposed fetters of pessimism and doubt. Imagine what we could accomplish if we just followed Jordan’s advice and believed in ourselves. Imagine the fish we could catch.

While it’s true that folks like Gretzky and Jordan are more physically gifted than the rest of us, genetic advantages don’t account entirely for their success. If you listen to them carefully, you’ll realize that sports phenoms think differently too. When they play, they’re able to separate their emotions (and performance) from all the outside factors beyond their control – including past failures.

It makes for some interesting interviews when reporters assume athletes think and react like everyone else. One naive journalist presented Jordan with the following scenario: “Suppose you’re having an off-night and you miss your first seven shots. As you set up for your eighth shot, are you worried about missing it?” To everyone’s surprise, Jordan replied, “Why should I be worried about a shot I haven’t taken?” The reporter was nearly speechless.

If what Jordan says is true – if it is possible to play (or live) for the moment, without worrying about the past or future – we should be tripping over ourselves to find a way to acquire this mindset. I know if I don’t get it soon, I may never go fishing again.

Not everyone in sports, of course, is as insightful as a Jordan or Gretzky. Some may confuse you by what they say, while others will just make you laugh. Wouldn’t you like to have been there, for example, when football coach Bill Peterson of Florida State told his players to “pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle”? If there had been a math major in the crowd, I imagine he would have made a hasty retreat back to the logical world of his classroom.

Sports humor has become a pastime unto itself. Books, bloopers, and comedy movies are widely available touching on every sport imaginable. If you need a good laugh, they can be just what the doctor ordered.

A classic example is this vignette involving Texas A&M basketball coach Shelby Metcalf and one of his players: Apparently, the two were discussing academics. After reviewing the player’s grades, four Fs and one D, the coach said, “Son, looks to me like you’re spending too much time on one subject.”

My question is which one?

About the Author

Larry Berardinis

For more than two decades, Lawrence (Larry) Berardinis served on Machine Design and Motion System Design magazines as an editor and later as an associate publisher and new-business development manager. He's a member of Eta Kappa Nu, and holds an M.S. in Solid State Electronics. Today, he is the Senior Manager of Content Programs at ASM International, formerly known as the American Society for Metals.

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