On Topic: Head in the game

Michael Chevy Castranova
Published: October 7 2012 | 4:59 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 1:36 am in
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“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” — Dan Gable

Back when I worked for that giant insurance company in Ohio, editing and writing for its numerous internal and external publications, we were required to attend the frequent gatherings of agents and field managers from across the country.

These revival-style meetings featured big-name speakers, and mostly from the world of sports. And, as memory serves, mostly Terry Bradshaw.

His presentations generally began this way (and I’m paraphrasing here): They invited me here tonight to talk about insurance. I don’t know anything about insurance. But I know a lot about football ….

And the hall would erupt in massive applause and hoots of laughter. Bradshaw would proceed to entertain them with spirited tales of gridiron adventures.

I admit that I wondered, well, yeah — why don’t they bring in someone who knows about insurance, or selling in general, to offer some polished tricks of the trade?

What is it that business folk hope to find in sports?

Goodness knows the bricks-and-mortar and online bookshops alike are packed with jock-related editions that desire to inspire — books about, by or “as told to” the likes of athletes and coaches new and old, from Drew Brees and the Williams sisters, Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi, Michael Jordan, Monica Seles and Amanda Beard, Lance Armstrong, the Mannings, Wayne Rooney and Carlo Ancelotti, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan ….

Just this spring Des Moines’s own Shawn Johnson came out with her chirpy “Winning Balance,” in which she converses about “living your dreams” and “dancing through life.”

Almost as a counterbalance, Hope Solo’s memoir was published in August. In it, the World Cup-winning, highly re-tweeted goal keeper presents views from the other end of rainbow.

It seems that anyone who has propelled a ball, gripped a piece of wood or advised someone else the best way to do so has a message we certainly need to hear. If not about how to win every game, at least how not to get crushed into little bits on the playing field.

On the other hand, their challenges generally last only a few hours at most, once or twice or maybe three times a week, then they get to go home and take a nap.

And some of them make an extraordinary amount of cash.

So I turned to the oracle I often consult when confronted with this alternate universe known as sports: J.R. Ogden, The Gazette’s community sports editor and a lifetime participant in and observer of such things in Iowa.

He brought up Dan Gable, University of Iowa wrestling head coach for more than 20 years and loser of only a single match in all his tussles as an ISU wrestler.

As head coach, Ogden said, Gable left guidance on wrestlers’ technique to his assistants. Gable himself took care of their heads.

His messages were about determination.

And, I guess, that’s why we look to sports as metaphors for making business decisions. Not for technique, but for getting our head in the game.

Hey, did I ever tell you about this high school soccer game when I ran far out on the right and …?

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