How to balance your priorities like a student athlete.

Even 22 years after graduation I have not found a school I would rather have attended than the University of Wisconsin. There is no other town like Madison. And no other culture like the University and its work-hard, play-hard, jump-around-hard students and alumni.

Student

In college I double majored in Psychology and Journalism. I think I also set some sort of school record for most bars and parties attended without drinking alcohol.

Athlete

When I wasn’t studenting I was a proud member of Wisconsin’s Men’s Track & Field team. I threw the discus, the hammer, the 35-pound weight, and the occasional hissy fit. 

The Kickoff Meeting 

Every fall, the track year would kick off with a mandatory team meeting in an auditorium in the athletic center. We had to fill out various forms in order to be cleared to participate. It was more businessy than athleticy. But it signaled the start of the season, and it was the first time the team assembled each school year.

Coach Nuttycombe

My favorite part of the meeting was when our head coach, Ed Nuttycombe, addressed the team. When I joined the program, Nutty had already won several Big Ten championships. By the time he retired in 2013, he had amassed 26 Big Ten titles, more than any other coach, in any sport in Big Ten history. I was proud to be part of that history, as our team swept the Big Ten Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor track titles both my junior and senior years.

Nutty’s Accolades

  • 26 Big Ten Titles
  • 2007 NCAA Indoor National Team Championship
  • 165 Big Ten Individual Champions
  • 11 NCAA Individual Champions
  • 6 Olympians

Priorities

There was one part of this annual meeting I will never forget. Nutty always made a strong point about his expectations of our priorities. He said:

‘Gentlemen, as a member of this team, always remember that academics come first. You are a student at the University of Wisconsin first. Track & Field comes second. Let me be absolutely clear about that. But if you want to be on this team, track better be so close behind your school work that you can barely tell a difference. Academics are priority 1. Track and Field is priority 1A.’     -Ed Nuttycombe

Oh Snap!

I remember being surprised the first time I heard this speech. I thought he was going to say academics are always the priority. Athletics come second. But that’s not the Nutty way. In his world, if you can’t fully dedicate yourself to both high academic and athletic achievement, then you don’t belong on his team. That was a badass statement. And we all felt badass for living up to his standards.

Hall of Fame

Last Friday, Nutty was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. And with great reason. But I would also induct Nutty into the Prioritizing Hall of Fame for the way he pushed us to achieve great things in multiple areas of our lives. My teammates were impressive on the track, in the field and in the classroom. But I am just as proud of all the successes my teammates are having today in their careers, and as husbands and fathers.  

Takeaway

I carry on Nutty’s dual commitment today to my family and my work. I don’t think about balancing the two. I think about prioritizing them both. I must succeed at both. There is no way around it. There are no shortcuts to take. There are no excuses. That’s what Nutty taught me. And just look at his track record. #PunIntended

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A lesson from the most overlooked event in track and field.

I love track and field. I first got involved in the sport as a freshman in high school, mostly because I was terrible at baseball. But also because it was co-ed. And, I thought the fact that it was a no-cut sport significantly improved my chances of actually making the team.

Trying Everything

I have competed in a wide variety of track and field events. My resume includes the 100 meters, 400 meters, 1600 meters, high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin, hammer, 35-pound weight, 110 meter hurdles, 4×100 meter relay, 4×400 meter relay, and, yes, even the pole vault (which I approached more like the high jump with a stick).

I liked every event I ever competed in. I love the energy and atmosphere at track meets. But you know when track and field becomes really fun?

The Second Meet.

The second meet is the most important and impactful event in a track athlete’s career. In your first meet you are just setting a baseline. But once you get to your second meet you walk in with a time, distance or height to beat. And most of the time, the results in the second meet are a rewarding step forward from the first meet.

In track and field, every result is measured in minutes and seconds, or feet and inches. Which means that your linear progression is clear and quantifiable. Your undeniable improvement in the second meet gets you thinking about the third meet. It makes you think about practicing more, training harder, lifting weights, warming up smarter and getting some better hype music. You start wondering just how much better you can get. The seeds of self-improvement are planted, fertilized and watered in that second meet.

The Broader Lesson

This is not just a track and field thing. This is a life thing. The same principle applies to our careers, our relationships, our responsibilities and our hobbies. Our first attempts simply set a baseline. The second time we do anything we start the improvement process. We recognize that as we pour more energy, time and focus into any activity we get better and better. This is true of presenting a closing argument in court, hiring good employees and folding fitted sheets (although my wife, Dawn is so good at the fitted sheet thing that I focus on the closing arguments in court instead).

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try something new because you think you will be bad at it. You will be bad at it. Or at least you will be the worst you will ever be. But that first attempt creates a starting point. The climb from there is both exciting and rewarding. As you improve, remember that first attempt. Recognize how far you have come since you first started. It is one of the most rewarding reflections in life.

*To see if these posts improve over time, please consider subscribing to this blog. Like the measurements of my track and field days, I now track follows, likes and comments to see if I am getting better. And like track and field, I am happy blogging is a no-cut sport.