By Ken Reed
Chicago Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, is constantly talking about focusing on the process and staying in the present moment. He spends his energy on the controllables and in doing so he remains relatively calm under pressure.
Maddon’s Cubs scored four runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday to eliminate the San Francisco Giants in the divisional series. They now move on to the National League Championship Series in their quest to win the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908.
A few hours before the Cubs-Giants game, I was working on themes and messages for the upcoming youth basketball season. I am a long-time youth sports coach and this year I’m coaching an 8th grade basketball team. Before every season, I like to talk to the team about some big ideas that I will refer back to during the season.
So, as a result of reflecting on Maddon’s philosophy, the Cubs’ dramatic win, and my upcoming chat with my basketball team, I wrote the following short essay about focusing on controlling the controllables — in sports and in life.
Controlling the Controllables: The Two Circles
In order to be the best we can be, we must use our energy on that which is within our control. Realize that ultimately we only have control of ourselves. External factors are beyond our control.
However, we can control how we respond to the things beyond our control, as this quote points out:
“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
When you focus on what you can control and surrender what you can’t, you have greater control over your emotions (anxiety, fears, anger, etc.), and you feel more calm and confident.
There are three steps to excellence (being the best you can be):
Draw a circle. Ask yourself, “What can I control?” Place those things inside the circle. This is the Circle of Control. (E.g., attitude, effort, preparation, diet, response to things beyond your control, the process, perspective on things).
a. For example, you can’t control rush-hour traffic but you can control how you respond. You can control whether you allow it to ruin the rest of your day or not. You can also control leaving earlier or later, when there’s less traffic. In addition, you can control how you spend time in traffic. For example, listening to books on tape.
Now, ask yourself, “What is beyond my control?” Place those things outside the circle. (E.g., weather, other people: competitors, teammates, friends/family, judges/bosses, etc.)
Finally, draw one more circle. Ask yourself, “What things beyond my control can I influence?” Place those things in the second circle.. This is the Circle of Influence.
a. For example, how you communicate with someone might influence how he or she responds to you.
Personal Excellence is about using our energy to “control the controllables” by staying inside the Circles of Control and Influence. “Controlling the controllables” is the process and the process is more important than the goal or outcome because you can control the process. You can’t control the outcome or whether or not you reach your goal. The process is what you can do in the present, on a day-to-day basis (e.g., training), to increase your chances of success, however you define that.
The ultimate illusion of the human experience is trying to control the uncontrollables. It’s trying to control outcomes. When you surrender the outcome, you are freed up to be at your best, to be in the moment, and to trust your process. It is the person who has surrendered the outcome who ironically has the greatest chance of success. It is the person who has surrendered to the fact that he/she could fail, lose, and make mistakes, who has the greatest likelihood of not failing, losing, and making mistakes.
Until you surrender the outcome, you will always be your greatest enemy.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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