The 4 A’s To Accept Responsibility and Find Opportunities In Sport

Commentary by Jim Lutz

WESTFIELD, Indiana, June 10. FORMER Major League Baseball player Dave Dravecky shared a story in his book, “The Worth of a Man,” about the experiences he had dealing with cancer that ultimately led to losing his pitching arm and ending his career.

While attending a support group for those with cancer, Dravecky would share that he was doing all the right things, saying all the right things, but still keeping his guard up to prevent opening up to the group about his true feelings. One day Dravecky did open up to the group on a very emotional level.

After he shared his feelings and frustrations, a member of the group told Dravecky that he was like a penguin. The member said, “If you ever watch a group of penguins all standing around the hole in the ice, they keep inching closer until one of them eventually falls into the water. The rest of the penguins will wait patiently to see if the penguin comes back up to the surface, letting the rest of the penguins know that it is safe to enter the water and search for food. By you opening up to the group, the rest of us now feel it is safe to share our feelings as well.”

Character is how we handle ourselves when no one is watching. You must display character if you are to handle responsibility. Responsibility is seldom for the faint of heart.

When my son Kyle played golf in junior high school, I told him he always needed to play the ball where it lies. Do not fluff the ball to give a better placement. Golf is known as the gentleman’s game. Etiquette and honesty are vital to the game as well.

I told Kyle that many golfers would tell you to pick up the ball when you have a two- to three-foot putt. The reason they will do that is so you will tell them to pick up as well. Usually they are not very good putters and this is a way to reduce a weakness in their game. Play it down, putt it out.

If you encounter people who are very vocal about a certain issue or situation, they very likely are covering up their own insecurity by deflecting attention away from themselves. To accept responsibility, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable and face potential ridicule.
Responsible decisions are not popular even if the team knows it is the right decision. If you are the person who must make the decision, be ready for criticism and ridicule if you are going against the majority because it is the right thing to do.

These tough decisions will lessen over time as you implement the system that you are building. You need to decide today that you can make a difference. The decisions you are making will make the situation better but will come with challenges and risks.
Eventually, the change will become the norm and the expectations become a daily occurrence. The adversity you face will be viewed simply as a “speed bump in the road of life” in your rearview mirror and you will confidently take the attitude that you no longer have problems, but rather inconveniences.

I have been blessed to deal with people in many walks of life. I can find the leaders and the followers very quickly when I meet a new group of people from my previous experiences.

Some of these people felt they always needed to be in control. If they were not in control, they would subconsciously perceive that others would think less of them.

One particular individual always felt he had to put his stamp on all proposals and ideas. It is one thing to offer suggestions to improve the situation. It is another entirely different situation if you are contributing from an ego-driven mindset.

A given situation might be exactly what he would have presented but he would make some change just to say he thought of it or contributed in some way to bring light to himself. It was not about the team, it was about him.

Pride is the first sin we all encounter and is the downfall of most great leaders over the course of history. Evaluate your strengths, then find competent individuals who can complement your weaknesses and improve these areas.

The great Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would lean against the goalpost while his Crimson Tide players were warming up for every game. A reporter asked him, “Coach, why do you lean against the goalpost during pregame?” Bryant responded, “I hire the best coaches money can buy and by the time we get to the game, all the coaching has been done. I trust them and their ability in practice every day, and I know the players have prepared for the task at hand.” That is allocating responsibility and an outward display of trust. They did what they needed to do ahead of time.

When John Wooden called a time out during his glory days at UCLA, he never talked about “Xs” and “Os.” He would simply say, “Gentlemen, what do we focus on during practice? We just need to play Bruin basketball and we will be successful.”

If what you are doing is not working, and you feel you are always behind the “8” ball, what are you going to do about it? Is your pride so strong, that you will not allow others to alleviate some of what you are doing? Do you find you are trying to do everything and wear the outfit with the big “S” across the chest?

How would you feel if those above you never allocated any additional responsibility for you to complete your task? Find your strengths and then find others who can help you in your weak areas.

I love the phrase, “If you feel dog tired, maybe it is because you’ve been growling at others all day.” What causes this to happen? If you are feeling overwhelmed, maybe you should get someone who can help. Great leaders delegate. They do not try to do everything.

A number of years ago, one of my assistants came into my office and asked if they could talk to me. They had mentioned a conversation they had with a mutual friend. The friend asked my assistant if I was dealing with a health issue like cancer or going through a divorce. The assistance said “No, why?” “Because I have never seen anyone go through such a physical change without dealing with a major stressful event.” While this threw me for a loop, I appreciated the assistant letting me know how I was perceived by others.

It was at this time, I decided that I would never let anyone dictate my emotions. I was trying to handle the responsibilities of my job, deal with mounting issues from another assistant, and keep a team of 35 swimmers moving forward. I realized I was trying to do everything for everyone else and not taking care of myself.

All great leaders lay out their plan, their vision and then get out of the way. They allow their assistant to do the jobs they are capable of doing. They only way this is possible is they have trust. Trust happens when the leader has confidence in themselves and those with whom they work.

Forget the negatives that bring you down. Find the positives that lift you up. As you focus on the positives, you will gladly take on more responsibilities.

When I was coaching senior club swimmers at Viper, I would tell the graduating swimmers, “When you are a senior, you have all the answers. When you become a freshman, they change all the questions.” This can quickly create doubt and sense they are not able to do anything. When they realize that the challenge is a good growth opportunity, hopefully they have the support around them to understand they are qualified to handle the additional responsibilities.

When an assistant shows they are capable of handling what responsibility you have given them, give them more. If they are struggling, diagnose the problem, resolve the issue, and move forward.

I would rather have an assistant handle a few tasks and excel at them rather than cover a broad base of tasks, and only be mediocre at all of them. We just need to use our gifts and talents to their fullest and we will be successful.

Prior to the Michael Phelps era, swimming was on the front page for seven to eight days during the Olympic Games. Americans expect their swimmers to sweep every event, not realizing the limitations of having only two swimmers per event.

Many internationals swimmers stay and train in the U.S. and often teammates from various universities are representing various countries. The lines of loyalty for good or bad can become blurred. If you are happy a college teammate representing their home country performs very well and possibly beats a fellow compatriot, does that make you less patriotic? How will the media and public perceive you expressing your joy for a friend? There are pros and cons of recognition that are tied to athlete responsibility and the public image they project.

While coaching at the university level, some of my swimmers would break school records, win conference or national titles and the highlights were found on page nine next to the start time of the demolition derby at the county fair. What made matters worse, the front page article typically dealt with a football or basketball player who developed a cold or sinus infection and they were tired and had stayed up late studying for a test.

I reminded the swimmers the media loves to build you up and they will be the first to tear you down. Those football or basketball players also showed up on the front page if they had a run-in with the law. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

All of the decisions you make will have an impact on others. The swimmers have teammates, families and friends and each of them can and will be affected by decisions they make. We can never forget that someone will look to us as an example whether we ask for that responsibility or not. Do not fear this responsibility, but rather welcome it with open arms and confidence.

The fear and anxiety that will come your way will only add excitement to your life and heighten your satisfaction of accomplishment in the many successes you will have. Don’t back down, don’t shy away and don’t ever forget that God made you special, unique and different from everyone else on earth.

Live this day as if it were your last,
Live with wisdom as you learn from your past.
Live with conviction directed from your heart,
Live with the knowledge that you are not forgotten as you part.
Live with courage, faith, and drive,
Live with a passion that continues to thrive.
Live with joy, peace, and happiness for all of your days,
Live with understanding for the many different ways.
Live with unbridled emotions and an amount enough for two,
Live with boundless enthusiasm, for the real blessings are you.

See you on the podium,
Coach Jim

Jim Lutz is the Head Age Group Coach for Viper Aquatics in Westfield, Ind. Lutz has coached at the club and college levels for more than 30 years, with stints as head coach at Illinois and Michigan State as well as serving as an assistant at Arizona. He’s also served as a head coach for several club teams. Lutz also is a published author with several books available on Amazon.

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Author: Jeff Commings

Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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