FIRST and the sports model – is it getting out of hand?

Dean Kamen’s vision for FIRST is simple to state:

To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.

Simple to state, but not nearly so simple to achieve.

The FIRST organization have chosen to use the sports model as the basis of their programs, as shown in the image to the right. Of course, many of the most celebrated people today are athletes, and much of the K12 experience here in the US revolves around athletics.

If you heard his kickoff speech for this year’s game, though, you know that Dean is becoming frustrated with how this model is working out, with the focus for many individuals and teams becoming the winning, not the competition itself. Or, in the terminology of the folks at TrueCompetition.org, these teams have moved from competition into decompetition.

In some ways, this is an inevitable evolution, the nature of professional sports (which, in my mind, includes college sports) in which the intrinsic motivation of young athletes with a love of the game transforms into the extrinsic motivation of the rewards of victory.

What do you think? Is the sports model getting out of hand and need to be changed? Or does it just need to be “tweaked” a bit.

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Do you have a coach for your team?

In a recent post I asked if you, as an individual, have a coach.  My question for today:  Do you, as a leader of an organization, have a coach for your team(s)?  If you don’t have a separate position for a coach, do you act as the coach for your team?  Or do you just not think your team needs a coach to help them carry out their jobs and missions?

Consider this from a Q&A with Malcolm Gladwell (about his new book Outliers: The Story of Success) on ESPN.com:

More importantly, what do you do with nature? You can’t change your genes. The only thing we can do something about is the nurture part, and that’s why we ought to spend so much more time talking about it. Right now, for instance, like everyone else, I’m fascinated by Mike Leach. He’s created a system so good that it seems like he can plug in virtually any reasonably talented quarterback and get spectacular results. Isn’t that extraordinary? Why don’t pro teams learn that lesson? Doesn’t that mean that a pro franchise ought to spend way more time selecting and developing its coaching talent than it does now?

I always find it incredible that an NFL team will draft a running back in the first round, give him a $10 million signing bonus, and get, maybe, four good years out of him. Suppose you spent $10 million finding and training the equivalent of Mike Leach — someone who could create a system so good that it could make even the most mediocre athletes play like stars. You could get 40 years out of him.

Just like the NFL, and other pro sports leagues, your ‘talent’ will come and go, especially in this age of the cloudworker.  To paraphrase Gladwell above, what if instead of hiring a star individual performer or two to be on your team you hired and trained a coach that could make the team you already have perform like stars?

Do you have a coach? Do you need a coach?

If you ask a competitive athlete if they have / need a coach the answers will likely range from “Yes” to “Of course” to “Are you kidding?”. If you ask a knowledge worker, or concept worker, the same question the answers will likely range from “No” to “Huh?” to “Are you kidding?” Obviously, the “Are you kidding” answer has very different meanings in the two different contexts.

I’ve often wondered why this is: why is it acceptable, expected even, that athletes have and need coaches but considered a luxury if someone has a work/life coach and actually a detriment – a sign of weakness – if someone wants or needs a work/life coach?

The discussion around a recent question on LinkedIn got me thinking about this again:

Q: If you can’t afford a coach, what are you doing to support your professional growth?
A: I love (?) the assumptive nature of this question: that everyone needs a coach;…  Do professionals need coaches? No, certainly not.

The answer I quote above is just part of one response, but nearly all of the answers (so far) seem to dismiss the idea that a professional coach is desirable or needed.  The alternatives range from talk with friends, study the success of others, and read and continue to develop your knowledge on the subject of your job.

Going back to the world of sports, such an approach would be a sure path to the loser’s circle (unless you are Roger Federer, of course).  What is it about our work as professionals in business that makes us different from the work of professionals in sports?

Tramp and Tumbling on the world stage

Last night, NPR aired a rare piece on World Cup and Olympic Trampoline competition.

American trampoline artists say their sport sometimes gets tagged as the kind of spectacle that belongs in circuses, not the Olympics. But the sport combines gymnastics and dance — all while mocking gravity at 30 feet in the air.

Short, but worth a listen.

This story was inspired in part by the Trampoline and Tumbling World Cup going on this week in Lake Placid, NY. A press release from USAG yesterday gives the results, including these highlights:

2006 U.S. tumbling champion Kalon Ludvigson of Cedar Lake, Ind., and 2007 Winter Classic tumbling champion Susannah Johnson of Roanoke, Va., both won their first World Cup medals when they claimed bronze medals in men’s and women’s tumbling, respectively….

Canadian trampolinists set two world records for degree of difficulty at the World Cup. Canada’s Jason Burnett set the mark in men’s trampoline at 17.5, while Rosannagh MacLennan and Karen Cockburn of Canada set a world record at 14.2 in their women’s synchronized trampoline win.

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Champions, present and past

If you would like to see a bit of current World Series Champion history, the World Championship Trophy will be on display at the Missouri Historical Society (Missouri History Museum) in Forest Park here in St. Louis beginning this Saturday. Society members will get a chance to see it Saturday morning before it is open to the general public , so now may be a good time to become a member. The 30 pound, sterling silver trophy will be on view in the museum’s MacDermott Grand Hall 7 April – 13 May 2007 (except for 23-25 April, when the trophy will not be on display).

A bit of interesting trivia, thanks to the folks at wikipedia: The trophy, officially called the Commissioner’s Trophy, was first presented in 1967 to the St. Louis Cardinals (!) following their victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Speaking of baseball, yesterday was a beautiful day for it, and a great day for opening day ceremonies for the reigning World Series Champion Cardinals. In addition to the current champions and new additions to Busch stadium to honor them, the festivities included quite a few champions from the Cardinal’s past.

After the Budweiser Clydesdales got the party started, parading around the field, Cardinals radio voice John Rooney and actor Billy Bob Thornton took over as the official emcees of the evening festivities.

Shortly after each member of the team took a trip around the field in a convertible, past Cardinals greats were introduced, commemorating St. Louis’ last two World Series championships, in 1967 and ’82.

Some of the former players on hand were Keith Hernandez, Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch and Bruce Sutter from the ’82 championship squad. Representing the ’67 championship team were Tim McCarver, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, among others.

OpeningDay07The pregame festivities continued when Adam Wainwright, Gibson and Sutter threw out the ceremonial first pitches. Those were the three pitchers to record the final out for the Cardinals’ last three World Series titles. The three hurlers threw to the managers that led them to the World Series: Tony La Russa, Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog.

Sutter joked before the toss that he didn’t know if he could get it to Herzog, and if he did, he didn’t know if Herzog could catch it. Sutter had no problem delivering a strike to his former manager.

All in all, it was quite a day for Cardinals fans, who waited 24 years in between for their World Series titles. Some fans were so eager for the first game that they went to downtown St. Louis several days early.

Pretty much a perfect opening day. Except, of course, that the Cardinals lost to the Mets.

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The new gamer generation: Not who you think

The New York Times today writes about the new gamer generation in Retirees Discover Video Games. Yep, retirees. They are making up a larger and larger part of the market for “casual” games, and game developers and distributors are taking notice. The Nintendo Wii, with its simple controls for many games, is making a splash of its own.

My favorite part of the article is that told by semi-retired businessman Dick Norwood:

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

Regular readers here know my fondness for the Wii, and I’m not the only one. My wife, my brothers, even my mom love to play games on the Wii, especially Wii Sports. The appeal of the Wii, especially in a sports game, is captured by Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You, in 5 Thoughts on the Nintendo Wii:

What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports — and particularly Tennis — is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body’s motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I’ve half-perfected that’s unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain what I’m doing with my killer topspin shot.

In a traditional game, I’d know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that’s ultimately what’s so amazing about the device.

Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules — as well as the imagery — of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we’d ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.

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Update:  For every silver lining, there is apparently a cloud, including for the Nintendo Wii.  The physical exertion that makes the Wii so fun seems to be leading to an increased risk of physical injuries, as described in Virtual video games cause real injuries.  Just like all games, people need to learn to play in moderation.

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