This is a re-post of a post I did back in 2016. Ever since writing the original post, I have had numerous incidents that have highlighted the importance of understanding perspective in a variety of aspects in my life, and I have tweaked the post a bit. For the most part, though, it is the same post that I wrote five years ago. The message is one that will always be important to consider.
Last week, when I was working out at the fitness center in my town, an older gentleman (probably in his late-60s or early-70s) said to me, “I wish I was as physically fit as you are.”
Now understand, I am no specimen of physical fitness—far from it. I look in the mirror and see a somewhat overweight, out-of-shape, 55-year-old guy looking back at me wondering where his physical fitness went. I think of when I was 35 and wonder why I am not that guy still.
However, this older gentleman sees me and sees someone who is physically fit. And it hit me right between the eyes (and unfortunately in my too large gut!)—it’s all about perspective.
This man does not know me. He knows his level of fitness. He knows what he is capable of and not capable of. He knows what hurts when he works out. He knows the pain he is in the next day.
But he does not know me.
He does not know that every step I take has pain in it due to years of basketball, running, hiking, etc. that has led to three knee surgeries, two hip surgeries, multiple ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, and a tendon that is coming loose from the bone on the bottom of my right foot.
He does not know that I don’t have full extension or rotation in my shoulders due to three rotator cuff surgeries.
He does not know that, while I can still coach basketball, I can’t play basketball anymore for any sustained length of time, due to these ailments.
All he knows is he is seeing a guy 15-20 years younger than him who looks like he is in reasonable shape, and he thinks, “I wish I was as physically fit as him.”
Ironically, that same day at the gym, as I saw other men younger than me who were working out, I was thinking the same thing about them that this man was thinking about me—“I wish I was still in the kind of shape that guy is in.”
We all do that to some degree in many aspects of our lives. Our perspective skews our reality, but more importantly, it skews what we believe is other people’s realities.
I see a person driving a Mercedes and think, “Must be nice. If I only made the kind of money s/he makes.”
Yet, I have no idea how much s/he makes (or what s/he even does for a living), and I have no idea how hard or easy of a life s/he has. I just have my perception of what I think his/her reality is, and I make all kinds of assumptions about it, just because of the car s/he drives.
This is how stereotypes of people affect our thinking. We put someone into a certain class of people based on a stereotype of our perspective of what we think their life is like.
However, we ultimately have no idea what their life is like. We are not them. We can no more understand all that they are going through than they can understand all that we are going through.
Get to Know Your Athletes as More than Just Players
So what does this have to do with coaches and leaders?
It is critical that they understand this concept of perspective, especially when dealing with the people they lead.
The people we lead come to us from all walks of life, all kinds of circumstances, with all kinds of positives and negatives happening to them.
Some of them are carrying around a lot of heavy baggage, much of which they had no part in creating. They just happened to be born into some tough stuff.
Others are carrying around very little baggage, and life has gone fairly smoothly for them. They are fairly happy with their circumstances and the elements surrounding their lives.
Most people fall somewhere in between, with varying degrees of baggage.
However, no matter where they fall, we ultimately do not know their situation. For us to project our perspective onto their lives and assume things about them is not fair at all.
As coaches, we must be careful not to make judgments about our kids, their parents, fellow staff members, and anyone else with without knowing as much as we can about them and their situation.
This requires us to establish positive, open relationships with our people.
We must get to know the people who we lead and who we work with.
I cannot focus on my players as just players; I must focus on them as people. The more I come to understand them, the better I can serve them.
That must be a leader’s guiding force.
It’s About Our Kids, Not Us
Coaches must also understand perspective in another way. We must keep our job and the role we play in people’s lives in perspective.
We cannot take ourselves too seriously. This is not about us; it is about the young people we lead.
We must also understand that the vehicle by which we work with them is sport. It is young people playing games. When we take ourselves and our importance in the world too seriously, we lose perspective.
This is one of the few times that I consider the phrase, “It’s only a game,” appropriate. The playing of games portion of our jobs is something we need to take less seriously.
I am not saying the games, preparing for them, and competing in them are not important; however, those are not the most important facets of what we do.
At the same time, we must take our jobs and our roles as leaders of young people extremely seriously.
We are trying to help young people learn all kinds of things about life while providing them the opportunity to have a positive experience through sport.
The life lessons that kids learn from us will impact so much of who they become.
That is an extremely important role for coaches, and we must take it very seriously. This is where we cannot accept the idea that “It’s only a game.”
What we are doing for kids is so much more than a game, and we must treat it with the importance that it deserves.
Be a role model.
Be a teacher.
Be someone who keeps his or her perspective on what it is that you are doing as a teacher and coach—instilling in children the life lessons necessary for them to go out into the world and live positive, productive lives.
Oh yeah, and one more thing: stay in shape, so that when you’re 55 and someone older than you thinks you are physically fit, their perspective is not warped.
Believe me – your 55-year-old self will thank you!