The Perils of Early Success

If one were to research the history of those that have achieved early success, one would find more often than not, long standing success typically doesn’t follow. Whether the success has been in music, sports, or business. Who’s heard back from the Knack, “My Sharona”? Or the Baha Men after “Who let the Dogs out”? Anyone remember the Dream Cast gaming system? How about Vanilla Ice “Ice Ice Baby”? Hence the conjuring of the term, “One Hit Wonder” is derived.

This by no means is limited to music…. Let’s look at Professional Sports! I hate to do this, but my guy Ickey Woods, with his contagious “Ickey Shuffle”! Some of my teammates in 1988 were wearing their Jeri Curls with a head band on (For publicly protecting my guys, I will not put you on blasts, but WE know who they are). How about Tyreke Evans? Anybody ever heard of him? How about Mr. Harvard himself? The man that made two nations insane at the same time, Jeremy “Lin Sanity” Lin! He did put two good back to back seasons together, but still early success. This list could go on and on and on. For the sake of time, and not to be too mundane, I will end the examples for now.

As a football coach, one of the things that I feared the most was early success, especially with a group of young guys or guys that had never really experienced winning. I can recall arriving in my first Head Coaching / Offensive Coordinator job in France. I was bringing a true “No Huddle” Offense, that I had previous success running in the US. In our first game playing a team from Vienna, that had their Import Players, Americans, and we didn’t have any. We savagely had knocked out ALL of their QB’s and scored on every offensive possession. Going into the 1st minute of the 3rd quarter, we had 71 points! My guys were excited, but I was petrified! The league had started christening me as a Football ‘Savant’. No matter how flattering it was, in the midst of that very game, which happened to be called, watching and listening to my team, I knew that we were in HUGE trouble!

Having to reel the guys in after 3 consecutive victories compiled the “Early Success” Syndrome. My coaches approach to practice had noticeably changed. My players began to find every excuse on why not to practice, especially considering our American players had yet to arrive. To my team, I became a lunatic. Basically, my reminding them, that we had not accomplished anything. My demands for more intense practices was insane to them. They were used to having .500 seasons at best and not dominating other teams to this point. We finally lost a game, against a team, that we should have beat, but due to a multitude of external things, that loss really didn’t impact the team the way it should have impacted them. There were some legit reasons for that loss.

THEN it HAPPENED! We beat a team that was considered the top team in Europe. Our team had lost 10 consecutive games to this team in their division over the course of 5 years. We were, for a lack of a better term, SCREWED! If anyone knows the story of Adam and Eve. The first sin wasn’t eating the forbidden fruit. It was actually PRIDE! Listen to me for a second…

According to the Bible in Genesis 3:1-4

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Once the press clippings, chat rooms, tv broadcast, and magazine articles started to appear, now all of the sudden Coach was trippin’. The discipline that they asked for, was now became annoying. I no longer knew what I was talking about. They could do it on their own. Man did we get it wrong!

This type of mindset happens often, especially in sports. You will often hear parents, coaches, and players talk about what a player did in Pop Warner or Freshman year. When I hear this, simultaneously, I also hear Ms. Jackson, singing “What have you done for me lately?”

In order to achieve lasting success, one cannot continue to hang their hat on past successes. We know Belicheck will never allow that to happen to the Patriots. One of my all time favorites, John Wooden, and his UCLA Bruins knew that the consistent commitment for excellence was the only way. JJ Watt continuously says he knows that he has to “Pay the Rent” everyday to be successful. Our responsibility as Coaches/Parents are to allow our athletes to “Be in the moment” after a victory or a loss, but then it is time to move on, learn, correct and work! Just because your kid has developed early and dominated in the past, doesn’t mean he will dominate in the future. That slow, chubby, still hasn’t reached puberty kid (team) across the way, is feeding their hunger for when it counts!

Nobody ever talks about the 1st ten meters in the 100m dash, legends are made at the completion of the race (career). The moment when we are satisfied with previous success, then one should remain in the spot, because that is were you could very well remain.

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