Lobby Coffee, Cold Pizza and Effort

It’s the Effort; Not the Results that Matter” – Various Sources/Unknown

I can remember where I first ran across the quote above, but I am not sure who to give credit to for its original use. I tried researching it a bit this last week and didn’t have any luck. I had heard about it while reading some information related to Penn State University volleyball coach, Russ Rose (who has the highest winning percentage in NCAA history).

And it was shortly after that read, that I knew it fit our cross country team very well.

Last spring, in preparation for the fall cross country season, I was gathering some quotes to add to a few slides for the educational part of our training. My staff and I believe in giving very brief but impactful messages prior to practice a few times a week. The quote above was one of those messages, and I added it to a slide without really thinking about its importance six months later.

Let me fast forward to the season and the day I pulled that quote out for the first time. We were already about a month into our competition and I stood in front of the team at the hotel the night before our regional preview meet.  It was one of those moments you remember because I felt like I was on a stage – the layout of the hotel was the main culprit in this feeling, because the second floor had a balcony and a few athletes stood near the railing in pajamas and listened while they ate a slice of luke-warm pizza (which was ordered because the restaurant we had originally ordered food from forgot half the order).

The message was clear to me – Coach Rose was the head coach of a dominant program that chose to focus more on effort and less on results. If the teams he was coaching gave their best, the results would tilt in their favor every time. I said something like that, told them to go out and give maximum effort and we would see how it would unfold in the morning. I then filled up my paper coffee cup (the complimentary coffee at the Hampton Inn is great). Then circulated the room making sure I said at least one final word to each athlete. I went back to my room to FaceTime my “girls,” brush my teeth and head to bed.

It was a simple moment in time, but a moment that shaped the season for me. In twenty years of coaching, I gave similar talks dozens of times in hotels and soggy fields/tracks all across the northeast US. But something was special about this one; only I wouldn’t realize it until the next morning.

I awoke like usual, around 5 am, and took a small jog around the hotel. That statement stuck in my head…I couldn’t let it go. Our team was very good, but they were focusing too much on the result. I had to find a way to focus on something other than the result. I thought the statement about Coach Rose and the PSU team was perfect, and I needed to use it again that morning. Little did I know, I would not turn back from that quote, and I used it the final 6 weeks of the season.

That statement took on a new role in my life, and it became the statement that drove me personally over the final stretch of the season. I like to think it helped the team over that stretch too. Not only did I say it over and over again at practice and before each race, I actually pulled it out during a staff meeting in late fall. I felt my co-workers needed a boost one day, so it rolled off my tongue without even a pause. It had become something I said without even thinking deeply – it was my life philosophy during the fall of 2016.

Let’s break the statement down quickly. “Effort” is a vigorous and determined attempt (Webster’s dictionary), and something that you can control. “Result” is a consequence, effect, or outcome (also Webster’s dictionary) of something that you can only control a small portion of. To me, our young and talented groups of distance runners were thinking long term, and I thought that could be dangerous.

What I have learned in my time as a coach, and what I share with my teams each season, is that someone out there is better than you. I know, it sounds negative, but we need to realize that we are not going to master everything in life. We will surely fail in our lives and we will not be able to complete every task that is in front of us. That’s the harsh reality. We might not be good enough. But that doesn’t really matter if you focus on your effort each and every day. If you give your very best and fall short, you can still hold your head high.

Carol Dweck, a motivational psychologist and author has investigated this topic and has found that if we praise effort, we set the student or the athlete up to be more productive in many aspects of their lives. By praising effort, we teach the young person to work harder and not rely on natural talent. Ultimately, this helps them succeed.

Dweck conducted academic studies of over 400 fifth graders, between the ages of 10 and 12. She found that those who were encouraged to focus on the effort did better than those who were encouraged because of a talent or a result. She noted, “When children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem.”

As a new father, I use this tactic as much as I can. My wife and I hope our daughter learns that effort is more important than the overall result. We have begun to teach her at this young age to keep trying, never give up and to give her very best. Of course, she isn’t even three years old, so her attention span is the obstacle right now.

To conclude, I urge you to think about talking more about EFFORT with those around you. If you focus on a “vigorous” effort, success will come over time. I know it can be tough, but don’t dwell on the results if they don’t go in your favor – hard work will overcome and brighter days are ahead.  Enjoy your Journey and embrace the challenge that lies before you…

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

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