So as the caption reads, I did not mean that I learned to country dance style two step. This is a blog about taking on the challenge of taking two steps backwards in order to take five steps forward.
During my Pro Racquetball career, I had done a lot on my own. I had to; I didn’t have rich parents to pay for coaches and lessons, travel and all the other things that go along with developing myself as an athlete. I was an eclectic learner, taking information wherever I could get it. Because of this, I did not always get the most effective skills. With some help from others but largely of my own doing, I made it into the top 70 in the world. I also knew that was probably topped out in terms of getting a much higher ranking with the skills I had acquired along the way. My skills were maxed out; I didn’t know WHAT to do differently and I didn’t know what my weak spots were at the time. But I met someone who was benevolent enough to take me under his wing and teach me how to be a better player, how to be a more consummate professional.
I was fortune to get to know the former number 1 player in the world, and perennial top 5 contender Andy Roberts during my time on the Pro Tour. He and I competed against one another a couple of times, and despite sneaking a game off of him in a best-of-five match, he clearly didn’t seem too concerned about me displacing him in the top five. He spent a great deal of time with me, and I even went to his house in Memphis a couple of times to study film, practice and play in effort for me to improve. A very selfless act to say the least.
There were two main things that we worked on during this time together. The first was to add in margin for error into my game, and relieve some of the pressure of competition by making my opponents win the hard way. The second piece of the equation was changing my footwork. And by this I mean that I had to RELEARN how to move to the ball from a defensive position. For all of you who are not racquetball players, I had to learn to step with the foot that is on the same side of the court that the ball is on. (Left side = left foot first, then cross over with the right foot) While this sounds easy, I and every one person on the planet does not do this naturally. What we all do instinctively, regardless of the sport, is to cross over first, and then step with the other foot. It may not sound too difficult to do, but it is VERY difficult to retrain a deeply ingrained habit such as this.
When I was taught this and started to work on this at Andy’s house, it was hilarious, for him anyway. I was literally stumbling around the court trying to learn this. I knew that I was going to take a (proverbial) big step backwards, but I also believed that I would take four or five steps forward if I did learn this. It would make me more efficient, more accurate, have more offensive options, and again transfer the pressure from me to my opponents. But it wasn’t going to be, and Andy made that clear. He knew that this was going to be a major undertaking, and that it would set me back a while before paying dividends. He wasn’t sure I could do it, that I could put in the work and stick to it, take the losses now to get the wins later. To be honest, I wasn’t sure either…
I went to a Pro Tournament two weeks into this major commitment, and it showed. I played a high ranked Pro in the first round, and got smooshed. I was so worried about my feet that I was not focusing on the match itself. Luckily (?) the match only lasted about 30 minutes, so the humiliation was short lived. But in case you missed the real takeaway from this paragraph, I will spell it out for you: I was so committed to learning this new skill that I sacrificed the short term for the long play. I know now, looking back on this and also having spent a bunch of years around athletes and other high performers, this was a unique scenario. Most people do not have the commitment level to endure the transition to a higher level. I spent the rest of that summer practicing this new footwork, doing three practice sessions a week with a training partner as well as lots of time on my own. I wrote out sticky notes and put them everywhere, my bathroom mirror, the dashboard of my car, on my laptop. They all read the same way: Left foot first I made these three words omnipresent in my life, and slowly but surely, the changes took hold.
THE REST OF MY CAREER WAS DIFFERENT because of this commitment to change. Intellectually I understood how it would be better, more efficient, but it took a lot of faith in myself to bear the burden of the transition period. I took losses I did not want to, to people who I loathed the idea of losing to, but I endured. And because of that level of commitment, I never lost to them again. I EARNED the opportunity to be much better, a more complete player.
Through this level of discipline, all things are possible.
I cannot emphasize enough how important full blown commitment is when you want to accomplish something. In this example, I was already in the top 70 in the world, but I thought I could be better. I knew that the impact this change would have could vault me farther up the food chain, the only question that remained was: How Far? I wouldn’t know the answer until later, but the answer was this:
Top 20 in the world for three years
Career high rank of #18
A record of 135-9 in tournaments in my home state
Numerous titles, prize money checks and trophies
A wealth of knowledge and experience from the journey
Looking back on this experience, and many others through during my journey through my sport of choice, I learned many important LIFE skills. I am a much better coach because of all the struggles I had, whether that be in racquetball or now as a business coach and consultant. I understand the pain, the doubts and fears, but I also know how sweet the victories on the other side of that are. They are earned in every sense of that word. If you have a chosen endeavor that you are pursuing, I will leave you with this piece of advice that someone shared with me a long time ago:
“Be willing to sacrifice who you are now for who you may become.”
Truer words have never been spoken…
I wish you luck in your endeavors.