…I have always viewed age group, high school and college athletics as a proxy for real life experiences where the lessons taught and learned may be applied to our daily lives. Of those, the most useful one for me was and is the ability to manage time efficiently. This skill was born as a result of my early coaching years.
As a rookie high school gymnastics coach, I taught and trained in a very small gym which we shared with a host of other sports: boy’s basketball (Varsity, JVs, Bs and Freshmen), girls’ basketball (Varsity, Freshmen), wrestling, volleyball and ‘out of season’ conditioning for all other athletes. And, this was prior Title IX (gender equity in sport) becoming law (1972). Needless to say, the gym was severely overcrowded, and gym time was at a premium. Our team was assigned to a limited space on one side of the facility and we were allocated two hours daily when ‘in season’ and zero hours out of season. We trained at our local community college, Mt. SAC, in the evenings during that time.
Gymnastics is unique in many ways. It is not football, basketball or baseball where you can practice at schools, recreation centers, parks, municipal facilities, streets, etc. These venues do not accommodate our sport due to the expensive equipment necessary to conduct a program in addition to the skilled coaching which is required. Remember, everyone is a baseball, basketball and football ‘maven’…at least in their own minds, but not so in gymnastics. You will never hear anyone second guessing a gymnastics coach’s decision to eliminate that last ‘stalter’ prior to the ‘hop to eagles’ on horizontal bar except emanating from those in our own fraternity. Putting an athlete in competition on any apparatus with only several weeks of training is just asking for serious injury.
At South Hills, our equipment and supplies were housed in a small utility room located on the same side of the gym to which we were assigned. In it, we stored parallel bars, a pommel horse, a vaulting horse, a Ruether board for vaulting, a training pommel horse, a horizontal bar, a portable still rings tower, a large tumbling mat, 28 portable event mats, 8 chalk boxes, sand paper for bars cleaning and three or four cases of chalk (magnesium bicarbonate for hands to prevent slipping). A large wrestling/free exercise mat was rolled up and placed on the east side of the gym floor. Each piece of apparatus had to be properly set on the gym floor, secured and check/tested for safety in addition to the proper placing of all mats. From start to finish, we had exactly two hours to set up that gym, practice, breakdown the gym, properly store the equipment and wet towel the gym floor so that the next occupant could ‘squeak’ sneakers on the hardwood. The first training sessions were the least productive of my career. Little time was left for coaching due to the inordinate amount of time required to set up and breakdown leaving about 30 minutes on the apparatus. This was not conducive to becoming competitive, and competitive is what we wanted to become…at least at the start.
After three practice sessions of this chaos and its resulting inefficiency, it became painfully apparent that something had to be done to alter this state of affairs. I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment and developed a plan over the course of an evening. On our fourth training day, I assigned a highly specific task to each team member… like, “Bill, you take the neck end of the pommel horse while, Harry, you take the croup. Tony, you lower the wheels so that we may set it out on the floor. Gerry…you, Steve, Tim and John are responsible for the pommel horse mats once the horse is properly positioned on the floor”, and so on. Each team member had a highly specific task and we spent the entire fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh training sessions doing nothing but practice setting up and breaking down that gym while being measured by a stop watch. That process came frighteningly close to creating a team mutiny, but we worked through it without losing anyone. Those sessions enabled us to set up in three minutes and breakdown in two and half including the wet towel business. The end result was… we went 82-3 in six seasons with six conference championships, a CIF Championship and a Southern California Championship. That experience influenced the way I would come at ‘time’ for the rest of my life. Watch any NCAA Division I football practice and you will observe the most efficient time management strategies up close and personal. This translates perfectly into successful corporate time management where the stakes are often very high.
All of us have the same 24 hours per day. How we choose to allocate those hours is what separates us and all successful people, regardless of stripe or endeavor, know this. As a young guy, I came to respect and appreciate time… not only mine, but everyone’s. While efficiency is cost effective, punctuality demonstrates professionalism, respect and personal regard for another. This looms large in the business world. My mantra has always been, ’better to be a half hour early and sit in your car rather than two minutes late.’ Have you ever waited way beyond your appointment time in a doctor’s office? How did it make you feel? It just plain angers me. That says the doc has more regard for his/her time than yours and mine… very disrespectful. I’ll give everyone 15 minutes…and, somewhat grudgingly. Beyond that, I’m out if I have not heard from you. You may ask, “a bit harsh?” Maybe! I am the first to admit that patience is not my long suit, but just think, if everyone respected time, what impact do you suppose that might have on the quality of our work and lives? It’s just a question.