Nico, my son turned three recently. For each of those three years, he has seen his old man jump and yelp at the TV when watching rugby.
For the past two years, he has been aware of the sense of occasion when watching rugby with me.
The photo of Nico on the right was taken a week after his first birthday. Before he could talk in June 2017, he chanted “Lions Lions Lions” at the TV. There was no encouragement, he just picked it up from his sister Edie when she copied the fans on TV.
There have been consistent themes throughout those two years supporting Leinster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions, but none more prominent than Johnny Sexton.
He has marshalled the teams and kicked the goals that counted most. Consequently, Nico has been inadvertently programmed to think the sun shines out of Johnny’s rear end. I have a healthy respect for Johnny, but that’s where it begins and ends. Nico has taken this and run with it all by himself.
How Your Behaviours Are Shaped
The goal-kicking captures Nico’s attention the most.
For a moment, the world stops. He can catch up with the excitement as the camera focuses on a single face on the TV. Nico feels the tension in the room, maybe even emanation from the stadium through the TV.
He can see his hero’s face, looking up, looking down, looking deadly serious.
And then, moments later, an outcome. Either raucous applause (most of the time) or ‘never mind, next one’ encouragement.
We have a cone at home that serves as a kicking tee. Nico puts the soft rugby ball on top.
He looks up, looks down, looks up, looks down, then puts on a very serious face as he charges at the ball and kicks the proverbial leather off it.
It’s amazing how we model the behaviour of others from such a young age. If you have children, what have you noticed in them? Which figures of authority in your childhood shaped the behaviours you see prevalent in yourself today?
Nico didn’t realise until recently exactly what he’s supposed to be looking at when he looks up and down. He didn’t realise it was about taking aim in between the posts. He just likes to imitate the head movement. He looks more like a puppet at the end of the strings held by a drunken puppeteer than a placekicker.
It’s funny to watch, but also interesting.
At home, Nico’s goal is to kick the ball over the couch. When he does he cheers like it’s a grand slam-winning conversion. To get the ball over the couch, he needs to get some air on it, as well as distance.
Depending on his mood, his reaction to a few bad kicks in a row can vary enormously.
Again, funny yet interesting.
Your Inner Game Shapes Your Outer Game
Whatever his mood, I reassure him that it’s okay to miss, that he’s learning and to have another go. I might ask him what he thinks happened with the last kick.
If he’s angry, he turns into a disgruntled teenager and shouts, “I can’t do it!!!” as if the question was the most stupid and unobservant one ever asked.
If he’s chilled out, he’ll analyse what’s going on in his own unique way. He’ll get down on the floor, make rocket-like sounds of the ball blasting off the tee. He might carry the ball through the air like a soaring eagle and then show it the couch and tell it something simple like “go there”.
He’s enjoying the process.
When I find him in this chilled out mood, I love asking him more questions. He entertains them all. “Which part of the ball do you like to kick?”, “what makes it go higher?”, or “how much do you like to run up?”
Like you and me, when he’s angry, he learns next to nothing.
When he’s curious and non-judgemental, he has fun and learns more.
Think of occasions when you’ve been critical of yourself and prevented any learning taking place as a result. How can you spot this happening next time? What will you do differently?
Removing judgment from competition can improve performance
Competition can be dangerous if you see it as binary. If it’s about winning and losing only, then you’re bound to judge in the process.
However, if you see competition as a way to improve your focus and your efforts in pursuit of new outcomes, then you’re going to enjoy the process more often and consequently enjoy better results.
That requires awareness. You can’t be aware when you’re cursing yourself for being incompetent. You can’t see what you can build upon when you’re narrowing in on what isn’t there or what you don’t have.
The same goes for the people and teams you lead. If you’re overly judgemental of others, you’re widening, not bridging, the gap between current performance and desired performance. You become part of the problem, not the solution.
How you lead and perform is unique to you. Be careful how you measure your success. Make sure the measurement isn’t impeding your own sense of self-worth, or you’ll only inhibit your growth and that of the people you lead.
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