“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
— Wilma Rudolph
James Altucher recently interviewed Wally Green the self-proclaimed “Dennis Rodman” of professional ping pong, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t think I could learn anything from the episode. I was wrong. Wally has taken his game to a professional level, and I found we share many of the same philosophies.
What in the world could curling and ping pong have in common?
Playing a sport has many facets, and your skill level is just one of them. James asked Wally how much of the game of Ping Pong was mental, and his response was “90 percent”. That’s a high number, and I know curling has got to be close, because I have beaten teams that are better on paper, and then turned around and had a bad game and lost to inferior teams. Curling at a club level means that you will face many opponents with a wide range of skill levels, with one thing in common: they all want to beat you.
There is no corresponding relationship between practice and “the will to win” at the club level.
The Perpetual Winner
There is an old saying that iron sharpens iron.
In 2014, a classic underdog team composed of four players: Jeff Germond, Marc Lupish, Nick Lupish, and Rick Roy used grit, luck, and determination to pull through and win the club championship at St. Catharines Golf and Country Club. If you aren’t from the Niagara Region, then it may not mean much, but the true significance was how it changed them.
They were the club champions now and forever.
Over the course of the next year, the boys leveraged the victory into an impenetrable lasting bond. It’s a shining example of the value of friendship and teamwork in sports. More and more I’m learning that sports at a community level can bring enormous pleasure to the men and women that cannot play their sport professionally. In the club, normal people get a chance to work out their competitive angst in a healthy way.The boys leveraged the victory into an impenetrable lasting bond. #clubchampions Click To Tweet
Trial By Fire
The team didn’t follow-up with a win the next year, the magic on the ice had come and gone. Although they were losing on the ice, they still had fun with each other on and off the ice. That was the real victory. I watched them struggle the next season, and I knew it in my bones that it would be harder to win the second season in a row.
Team Germond had a unique rivalry with notables including the Thin Brothers, and the notorious @TeamDrunks. Between Facebook, Twitter, a website, business cards, and the occasional propaganda poster in the curling lounge, they launched an effective social media campaign that taunted their opponents to the edge of insanity.
By popping their heads above the pack they effectively declared themselves the team to beat!
Harry The Spare
Coincidentally, Jeff asked me to be part of their team the next season. The plan was simple, I would waltz out onto the ice after a long hiatus and restore their floundering team to its former glory. Naturally, I didn’t account for the rust on my tools.
The truth is harder to accept than fantasy.
The guys had formed a bond that couldn’t be duplicated, especially by me. Jeff was their original leader, and although I consider myself a great player, it was clear that it just wasn’t the same without him at the helm.
What the four of them needed was a coach to remind them of how and why they won the first time, and get them back into the right headspace. If they had shifted their focus, practiced a bit more, worked on their game, they may have been able to rebuild and reclaim the crown again.
Hindsight is 20/20. If anything I was a liability.
Live It Live
This subtle aspect, the connection between people, that’s the real secret that keeps members coming back year after year. Wally was clear and pointed this out about Ping Pong. I think it’s the same with curling. It’s the social aspect, not the club house, not the rules, not the ice surface, not the brand of beer, and not the curling.
A team can be the club champions couch surfing in their living rooms.
Sharing a loss or a victory with your tribe, that’s the gold. There’s a primacy to it and only the experience will prove it.
During the Scott Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian Curling Association wanted to inspire in the fans to keep coming back, and they spent a ton of money on Angus McStone. Although the campaign didn’t work as well as was hoped, I understand what they tried to do.
Choose Your Paddle
Wally and James were discussing why there weren’t any good documentaries about ping pong, and Wally’s answer was profound. I’m going to paraphrase, but, he said something along these lines: that there is a balance between comedy and the seriousness of a sport. Nobody knows how serious ping pong is, so a documentary doesn’t work if it portrays it in a silly way.
I felt the same way about the movie “Men with Brooms.” This film was put together by professionals with high-profile actors, unfortunately, the silliness overshadowed the drama, and it lost the true value.
Anyone who knows curling watches the movie and sees that the director had no clue how to play. Men with Brooms is more aptly characterized as a mockumentary. Curling has a rich tradition in Canada, ranking right up there with Hockey, a full medal status at the Olympics, and huge grassroots following across the globe. Clearly, the sport can stand on its own two feet.
The Way Way Back
What did I learn when I took a step back from playing?
I didn’t miss the curling.
When I play and my mind is in the wrong spot, I get annoyed and frustrated. An attitude adjustment was clearly needed and I think I found that.
It’s the interaction with the guys after the game that I missed the most, more than playing the sport itself. Now, I do get an enormous satisfaction from setting up a shot and implementing an end winning victory, but I have learned that the people I curl with keep me grounded. If left to my own thoughts too long, I have a tendency of taking it all too serious and start acting a bit like a donkey out there.
Thanks for the lesson Jeff!