Over the last few years I have become quite fascinated with learning – mostly by how it occurs and how we can become more aware and intentional of the process. I believe that if we can understand how learning occurs most efficiently and effectively, we can leverage that to significantly improve our own attempts at learning.
Every week I spend several mornings training at a soccer field. I’m not training for a tryout or any particular event. In fact, I no longer play on a formal team since moving to NYC from St. Louis. I simply want to get better at the game I love. I watch the pros carefully to see what separates the best ones from the average. Yesterday, I was working on penalty kicks and my goal was to consistently hit powerful shots into either of the upper corners of the goal. The pros that have mastered this approach never get stopped because it is virtually impossible for a goalie to reach that extreme area of the goal given the proximity and velocity of the ball. If they fail to score this way, it’s not because a goalie stopped the shot but because the kicker missed the target.
I have noticed while training that whenever I begin to take shots into the upper corners I hit the ball more softly. So yesterday I asked myself, why I do that? What am I afraid of? The worst thing that can happen is the ball misses so wildly that I have to run a long distance to fetch it. So what, right? Then I borrowed a technique from sports psychology called imagery and imagined myself at a professional team’s practice session with a coach watching me hit the ball too softly. In that imagined scene he asked me what I was afraid of and then told me that if I miss, make it look like I meant to. That is, hit it with all I’ve got. Best that can happen, I score a spectacular goal; worst that can happen, I miss with a spectacular shot. This is what practice is for. So I put every ounce of my effort and power behind the next shot and I missed spectacularly. I hit the upper left corner posts (right where the cross bar and left post meet) and the ball ricocheted all the way to the middle of the field. It sounded spectacular! I could picture the coach saying, “that’s what I want to see! Now try again!” So I did, again, I hit the post – this time brushing the top of the upper crossbar and the ball went up and behind the goal. Truth be told, it looked quite cool. I lined up a third time and I buried it right inside the corner in spectacular fashion. The ball hit the inside net so hard it came right back out of the goal; it felt great to see that.
What I learned from this experience is that I cannot hit the ball softly in life when I want to improve my skills or learn a new one. I need hit it with everything I’ve got. I might fail and that’s ok because it will be spectacular and not for lack of effort (rather, the complete opposite). And when I succeed, it will be just as spectacular!
What shots are you hitting softly in life? Can you put a little more strength behind it today? Go out there and fail spectacularly!