Monday, September 9, 2013

How "Idiot Work" Makes You Successful

Back to back championships are one of the greatest achievements any team can accomplish. Recently, Southlake, Texas’ Carroll Independent School District did just that when it took home the prestigious UIL ‘Lone Star Cup’ in back to back years.  The UIL Lone Star Cup recognizes the top school in Texas based on their overall team achievements in a variety of sanctioned athletic and academic championships.
Gold Medal Varsity A Teammates
Kyle, Eli, Eric, Coach, Connor

A tremendous part of Southlake - Carroll’s achievement goes to head coach Justin Leonard who led the both the girls and boys nationally ranked cross country teams to back to back state championships.  Talk about bringing home the bacon - that’s four state championships in two years!

Last Saturday Southlake hosted its only home cross country meet of the season.  The meet featured more than 1,750 runners from over 50 Texas school districts, some traveling from as far away as El Paso to try to beat the defending state champions.

If you are not familiar with cross country meets, they are basically 5k courses which are set-up in local parks.  Designing and constructing such a course is is a huge task requiring dozens of volunteers to create a safe and fair course for the runners.  Making a long story short, since this will be the last year my son Kyle will run on the varsity cross country team I wanted to help with the meet.  Little did I know I would be thrust into the position of “Course Captain” when Rick, the father who normally takes care of the course, had the privilege of watching his son run for team USA in an international race in Poland.

This is the first time coach Leonard didn’t have Rick’s help in setting up the course… and this was my first time EVER setting up a course, let alone being held accountable for it.  Rick did his homework prior to leaving and laid everything out for us making our jobs that much easier.

Of all of the things we needed to worry about in setting up the course for the meet, coach insisted on personally seeing to one particular item.  All day he kept focusing on this task like it was the most import aspect of the course preparation.  Finally after four hours of running to pick up the course materials, ATVs, water coolers, etc, coach set out on his task.

For several hours, with minimal interruption, coach focused his undivided attention to the task at hand.  As you would expect from a 4-time state championship coach, he painstakingly make sure no detail was overlooked.  Back and forth, over and over, he analyzed every angle.  He was on a mission - with a purpose - to dispatch his most important task of the day.

Watching coach Leonard on the riding lawn mower cutting the grass on the eve of one of the biggest meets of the season reminded me of a lesson I learned on my grandfather’s farm when I was barely a teenager.  My grandpa was a bona fide NASA rocket scientist during the Mercury and Apollo years.  His engineering designs resulted in accomplishments such as airplane de-icing, the slope of the space shuttle’s wing, and the birth of anti-lock brakes.  His leadership at NASA helped put a man on the moon and get him back safely.

Grandpa talking w/ President Nixon
regarding Apollo 13 (1970)
While staying with my grandpa one summer I noticed him sitting on a bucket on the half-mile long driveway picking out little pieces of broken glass from the gravel.  The glass had been there for years and didn’t pose any real threat to puncturing a tire, so I asked him why he was wasting his time picking up glass.  Surely he had to have better things to do with his time.

Boy was I wrong.  He told me that this was the most important thing he could be doing right now.  He was working on a new design and couldn’t get passed a particular fault in the data.  He told me he needed to turn his brain off and stop thinking in order to clear his head.  He called the task of shutting down his overactive thoughts “idiot work,” because any idiot could do it.  And at that moment, he was feeling like a big idiot because he could not solve his design problem. Grandpa finally had his eureka moment allowing him to go back to the drafting board and finish his design.

After a long, hot day of setting up the cross country course I knew we had to be back to the course before 5am for race day.  So I interrupted coach Leonard from his task and convinced him to get off the lawn mower as he have done all we could do for the day.

Coach explained how much clearer his head was after a few hours on the lawn mower.  For a brief time he didn’t have to answer emails nor did he have to deal with difficult parents or administrators.  Now he could focus on the meet… then his phone rang.  The call had to do with which bus numbers were going to be assigned the next day to transport the kids to the meet… and just like that coach was back to reality.

In case you were curious, both the girls and boys varsity teams took first place at the meet.  So the next time you are at a loss for solutions, think about coach Leonard and break out the lawn mower and go cut some grass.

So what’s your “idiot work?”

1 comment:

  1. good lesson, Brady. My idiot work is bagging, boxing and inventorying the silly things I collect.