“I don’t think it’s possible but because it is you, we have a chance.”

If you haven’t worked out by now, I am sorry but my pet theme, call it my ‘life message’ if you like, is always this:

Never, Ever Give Up!

Overcoming enormous obstacles, outrageous odds, seemingly insurmountable mountains is the stuff that makes us uniquely human.

One thing you will definitely have worked out by now is that I simply love stories in sport where a team or an individual overcomes all expectations to triumph in their chosen field.

Normally, I would be happy to devote this illustration to the extraordinary exploits of Liverpool football club alone, who overcame a 3-0 deficit on Tuesday night to beat the red-hot favourites, Barcelona and win 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-final of the Uefa Champions’ League.

But that would be somewhat unfair.

The following night, another team, who I have always enjoyed watching – Tottenham Hotspur – performed their own amazing comeback to earn their place in the final.

The headlines read after the ‘Miracle on Merseyside’, this is ‘Amazement in Amsterdam’ as Spurs also reversed a 3-0 deficit and won on the away goals rule that count for double in the event of a draw.

For only the third time ever, a major European football competition will be contested in the final by two English teams.

In some ways, I don’t know where to start for the obvious lessons for us mere mortals but here’s what I love the most and I humbly offer it to you…

After the game was over, and everyone who had witnessed the enormity of what Liverpool had achieved, my real hero, Jurgen Klopp said this, “I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you, we have a chance.'”

They were without two of their first choice three strikers. Their captain, Jordan Henderson was hobbling on an injured leg for half the match, and one of their very best players, Andy Robertson, had to withdraw at halftime, after effectively being kicked out of the game by that well-known, gifted street-fighter (sorry, ‘cheat’) Luis Suarez.

But before I get carried away with endless words of adoration for my team, let us return to those magical, prophetic words of Klopp’s.

“I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you, we have a chance.'”

That my friend, is all you need to remember from this blog, that night of football (regardless of who you support or level of love for football).

Because it is you, we have a chance.

Take the ‘we’ out if you prefer and meditate on this…

Because it is You, You have a chance.

Whatever your circumstance. Whatever you are facing right now.

You may feel a bit battered and bruised from time to time. So close to defeat that you’ve almost forgotten there could be any other outcome.

I remember someone using Rocky 3 as a great illustration and it goes like this:

Rocky and his opponent are both on the floor inside the ring – utterly depleted of energy – having given all they had and so much more. Rocky’s coach is screaming at him, “Get up! Get up!”

Sometimes, even when we feel like we have nothing left to give, all we have to do is get up and stand.

And after that, stand. You don’t even have to walk after such a battle.

Because the enemy, the opponent of your life – however that manifests itself – is down and out.

Or at the very least, complacent. Even asleep.

Just like some of those Barcelona players were near the end of match on Tuesday night.

A fourteen year old ball boy – who had been encouraged before the match to feed the ball as fast as possible to the players – so that every single second would count. He did just that when Liverpool won a corner.

Then another local, young man of just twenty – Trent Alexander-Arnold – came up with a ruse that fooled his far more experienced opposition and stunned the world with his ingenuity and cheekiness. It led to a winning goal – the likes of which no one has ever seen before.

A little bit like when David used his slingshot to defeat the seemingly undefeatable Goliath and became the icon for all underdog victories ever since.

Now it’s your turn…

 

 

The Blessing is in the Detail…

Claudio Ranieri is an Italian football manager who will never, ever be forgotten. For anyone who has no idea who he is, I am sure you will have heard about Leicester City winning the football Premier League at the end of the 2015/16 season.

It is widely acknowledged as the most shocking sporting team result in the history of sport. At the start of the season, they were 5000-1 rank outsiders to win the league but by the end of it, most people like me who had been following them with increasing amazement as the season progressed, as well as those who have been supporting them their entire lives were awestruck by what they had achieved.

All that to say, Claudio Ranieri is starting low all over again – this time with south-west London club Fulham. Now I’m not saying they will win the league this season or even next season but my attention was captured by a simple story about the wise Italian’s instant impact at the club who currently sit at the bottom of the Premier League.

With their previous manager in control (or not as the case may be) the Fulham players would eat their lunch in the club canteen and then get up and leave.

Not with Ranieri around they don’t. He has insisted that no one leaves until the last person has finished their lunch.

It may sound simplistic. It may even sound legalistic.

It is neither of these.

Even their warm up routines have been subtly but dramatically changed to increase the cohesion and harmony in the team. If the player leading their warm-ups leads with his right leg for the first move, everyone has to move with their right leg.

This is what is known as ‘cognitive cohesion’. (Actually I just made that up but it sounds quite good I think!)

Whatever you may want to call it, whenever and wherever you encourage, or even dare I say it, force people in a team to come together to build a greater sense of unity and togetherness, great things can potentially happen.

In Fulham’s case, that will mean simply staying in the Premier League for next season, Beyond that, who knows but I’m not sure I would bet against Claudio Ranieri doing something extraordinary again.

And while the headlines are what we tend to remember, for the players and those closest to the real work behind the scenes, the blessing is in the detail.

 

How Much Time Do You Have?

“How much time do you have?” When you hear someone say this to you it usually indicates they may have quite a lot to say.

What about if you ask yourself the same question?

There is no accurate answer of course.

Not if you’re thinking about how much time you have until you die.

I find myself coming back to this question more often than perhaps I care to consciously admit. The work I find myself doing is rich and varied but it all comes down to the same thing in the end…

What are you going to do with the time you have in your possession?

Many people’s lives are dictated by the extreme time constraints they have become accustomed to as part of their work or simply, their expectations of life in general.

“I don’t have time for that…”

“It takes too much time…”

“If I only had the time to do…”

You and I all have our own version of this familiar, almost daily script.

A little which ago, I heard a story about Ed Sheeran and Paul McCartney. Apparently, Ed Sheeran heard about something that his hero, Paul McCartney had said about his obsession with guitar playing.

Many people have heard about the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ which stipulates that in any given area of expertise but especially in the area of performance of any kind – you need to have practised for 10,000 hours to get into that revered space of ‘expert’ or ‘world class’.

Anyway, Ed Sheeran heard that Paul McCartney reckoned he had chalked up over 100,000 hours – simply because throughout his life at any opportunity, he keeps picking up his guitar and plays.

Ed Sheeran was so blown away by this accomplishment that he apparently decided to get rid of his XBox and any other form of ‘gaming distraction’ and instead, use the time he would have spent playing on these things to apply to his own guitar-playing. In addition to his presumably regular practise sessions.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Sheeran maintains this high level of commitment to his craft but I thought it was yet another reminder about how we choose to spend our time.

In my own life, I am developing a passion for helping others find creative ways to use their time – especially while they’re at work – in order to become more productive, more effective and hopefully, more satisfied with how they spend their daily allotment of time.

Here I am delivering a workshop about just that and hopefully, all of the attendees will put into practise even one change that will enable them to feel more fulfilled by what they do every day.

 

 

 

Be More Snail

I’ve unashamedly stolen the title of this blog – based on a charity piece of art I walked past in Brighton this week.

I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch when I suddenly saw a giant snail…

To be honest, I didn’t have time to stop and read the blurb about the local charity that was being represented but it did give me a reminder about something I am interested in.

Namely, we do well to take a minute, assess the speed we tend to live at, and see if we can at least try and slow down.

Even if it’s only for an hour.

Or a day.

You may have heard of the ‘Slow Movement’ – which was spawned by the book by Carl Honoré called In Praise of Slow.

I read the book a few years ago and many of the ideas contained within it fascinated me.

Did it radically change me?

Probably not.

Do I still walk fast more often than slow?

Yes.

Do I like to take time out and slow down whenever I can?

Absolutely.

With the passing of time, I like to think there are at least some areas where I am practising being slow…

Slow to anger…

Slow to taking offence…

Slow to interrupt…

Slow to being irritated…

Conversely, there are one or two things I would actually like to speed up from time to time…

Speaking to relative strangers…

and falling asleep at night (although I suspect I’m often out for the count faster than I think!)

 

More Beautiful to Look Through

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to visit Chartwell, in Kent – Winston Churchill’s famous country home.

I am a huge Churchill fan, so this was an occasion I had been looking forward to for some time.

It did not disappoint.

Among many things that I was fascinated by and thoroughly enjoyed gazing at was a beautiful window etched into a wall outside the house. In fact, the whole patio area where it was situated was one of my favourite parts of the property.

It simply made me realise once again, how many different perspectives there always are when it comes to anything. It also made me realise that if you ever get the opportunity to see more than one perspective, you should grasp it eagerly, simply because it will present to you something that is far closer to the truth than you can ever muster on your own.

It is also invariably more beautiful to look through.

Road Trip Playlist

There are certain times in life I have found, when someone else makes you feel incredibly worthwhile.

Or cool.

Or just plain good.

It is lovely when the compliment comes from a relative stranger – probably because they are blissfully ignorant of your not so obvious flaws.

It is far, far better however, when it comes from someone who has known you for a considerable amount of time and are probably related to you – if not by blood – by some other, virtual umbilical cord of connection.

When it is one of your children and the compliment comes in an area of life that you thought had long since been surrendered to them and their corresponding generation, it is a truly satisfying moment and you had better savour it because the chances are, it will almost certainly be pretty rare.

One such moment came for me on a road trip back to Brighton recently.

We had spent the entire day driving up the M1 to Leeds, moving her furniture and seemingly endless other bits and pieces into her new flat, ahead of her permanent move in a few weeks, for her university course.

In the end, by my reckoning, I had clocked up around eleven hours of driving a long wheel base Mercedes van and by the end of it, I was truly exhausted.

But it was so worth it, just to listen to my daughter saying on more than one occasion that based on what she was currently listening to, she would need to look up my Spotify playlist – aptly entitled Road Trip.

Which songs had impressed her so much you may well wonder?

Well, I could lie and pretend that I remember which ones she loved so much but the truth is, I cannot remember now.

Besides, it doesn’t matter to me which ones she loved.

The fact that she loved songs I loved meant a great deal to me and reminded me of the beautiful cycle that never stops evolving between parent and child.

Parent teaches, child learns.

Child teaches, parent learns.

Or as my Dad announced recently after we had conversed about something (I remember not again!)

“Dad teaches son, son teaches Dad.”

Simple Lessons From a Bit of Watching & Listening

Yesterday morning, I went for a two hour hike, or rather, a bit less than a two hour hike with a good half hour sat on a concrete platform. Where would that be you might ask? I live very near to Ditchling Beacon, a beautiful vantage point where all kinds of people go – some more regularly than others. Joggers, mountain-bikers, dog-walkers, and people like me, who simply like to go for a good walk, clear their head and have a good think about things coming up in the not-too-distant future.

As I’ve written before, there’s nothing quite like a beautiful blue sky to get you thinking creatively and yesterday, I felt the need to get some mental preparation in for a couple of important work projects that are coming up.

I knew I would see a lovely blue sky and the panoramic view across the South Downs but while I sat down on the incongruous piece of concrete (that had some water running underneath it by the sound of it) I was surprised by how much I really saw and heard.

Simple things…

Like two men walking and talking, enjoying the countryside…

A flying spider (I have no idea what it is really called!) that I was absolutely captivated by as it advanced towards me and then leapt into the air and landed on a different piece of grass…

I listened to the buzz of the ubiquitous flies, the distant murmour of conversations between walking as well as cycling couples, the gentle ‘pat, pat, pat’ of the jogger’s trainers on the dirt track. It felt to me like life had slowed right down and allowed me to absorb some really simple things.

Eventually, after having scribbled down a few possible ideas, I began walking back the way I had come and took in even more of the not-so-obvious sights.

Like the view beyond a section of barbed wire. We can all be restricted by the wire, the fence, the wall, whatever it is in front of us but most of us are able to look beyond that potential hindrance and begin to get a vision for what could be…

It’s a pretty subtle difference on this occasion but then that’s the point.

Some stuff mars our view, our perspective and much of the time, we don’t even know it’s there.

Invariably, all you have to do is take a few steps forward and look at the thing but this time without the subtle hindrance…

Isn’t that so much better?

I watched an old man playing with a model aeroplane. He had a unique way of throwing it up in to the air and then it would fly for a few seconds. It didn’t even look like he had a remote control box. I was heartened to see someone so relatively old playing like an innocent young boy. (He was however, a bit far away for a candid photo!)

I saw a sign for the South Downs Way and thought about the signposts I have tried to follow during my own life and how amazingly blessed I am to see all three of my children follow their own road map as well as get paid to help others do the same.

I came across another sign shortly afterwards but this time there was a racing cyclist hurtling down towards me. I remembered how I used to take photographs of a pub football team and sell the best ones to those who were excited to see themselves scoring a goal or heading the ball. I wondered if I still had it in me to capture the cyclist as he flew past…

 

As I came to the end of my return to the car, I saw three friends – older men again, enjoying their retirement by the sound of it – and was reminded once again, of our desperate need to do this journey we call life, with our friends and other loved ones. Anyone who thinks they can do it all on their own is deluded…

Finally, as I came through the gate, I saw another racing cyclist who appeared to have just finished riding up to the top of a ridiculously steep section of road that runs from Ditchling village all the way up to the Beacon. He was taking a well-earned rest, refuelling with some food and drink. If I ever needed reminding again…the journey can be extremely tough, it can take a lot longer than we imagined and cost us more than we planned but in the end, it is definitely worth it.

 

The Road Looked Narrower Than the Car!

Occasionally, as a driver, I come across roads that look ridiculously narrow or steep. Very occasionally, I have come across a combination of the two but I have never, in all my thirty-four years of driving, come across a road that is both narrow and incredibly steep, and is littered with genuine hairpin bends!

I was away last week with my family in Italy, where we stayed at a truly beautiful Airbnb in Tuscany. I hesitate to reveal too much about the location as I would almost prefer we keep this little bit of heaven to ourselves.

What I will say is I am so glad we arrived during the daylight hours, as the drive up to Andrea and Laura’s place was truly terrifying (and I don’t scare easily when driving). On one side of the car, I had passengers pleading with me to create more distance from the sheer drop down the mountain, and on the other side, I was acutely aware how close I was driving to the wall. We came onto one stretch of road where it literally looked like the road was narrower than the car! I promise you, I was hugging the left hand side as much as I could but from the dashboard, it looked like we were about to go off the other side of the road…

Just in case you’re wondering, my wife took the photo from the passenger seat on the right.

But it was worth the risk. The view is always worth the risk. I trust you will agree…

So what? You may say; lovely view from a Tuscan kitchen window. And indeed it is.

My point is this: Many times, it takes a huge effort on our part to secure the view we now enjoy. That may be a financial view, a relational view or something even higher – that gives us the necessary vantage point to be able to offer something back to those who could do with a hand up, or a word of encouragement to keep moving along that narrow, steep, terrifying road that keeps throwing blind bends at them when they least expect it.

Someone has to have gone before them in order to tell them it will be okay, even when it doesn’t look okay. Someone has to have bothered to have made the ascent themselves and then offer the unique encouragement that comes with having had the experience.

That can make all the difference between someone giving up or pushing through and then seeing the view for themselves, and perhaps deciding that they too, can offer some perspective or encouragement.

Flash it Forward

You will have heard of ‘Pay it Forward’ I’m sure.

Well, ‘Flash it Forward’ is all about paying it forward whenever you are on the road.

I have been cycling around my local city of Brighton & Hove recently, and in this seemingly never-ending and glorious sunshine, it is a pure delight.

It always encourages me when a driver who could quite easily pull out to make a right or left turn actually waits in order for me to go by on my bike.

I try my best to acknowledge this with a little wave and then go merrily on my way. Sadly, there are not many occasions you can reciprocate when you are the cyclist.

In a car it is easier of course.

And this is the beauty of ‘Flash it Forward’.

Next time you are in a queue of slow-moving traffic (or even merely normal traffic!) take the earliest opportunity to let someone out of their junction and then wait to see what happens.

Typically, they will soon be presented with an opportunity themselves to ‘Flash it Forward’ and you will have the pleasure of knowing that your small piece of generosity or kindness in letting them in front of you has probably inspired and motivated them to do the same thing for someone else.

I say ‘Flash it Forward’ (as in flash your headlights of course!) but I am acutely aware that the Highway Code disapproves of this action, as it can easily be misinterpreted and cause confusion, even an accident.

So, if you prefer to ‘Wave it Forward’ please do so.

Flash or Wave – it all helps!

Finally, this pro-active way of helping others doesn’t have to be restricted to the road. You can do this in any way, shape or form you like.

Where would you like to start today? And then think about the potential ripple effect…

Safe is Risky

So Wimbledon is upon us once again. One of my favourite times of the year. Also, undoubtedly one of my least productive times! As I look back over the years I have watched this wonderful tournament, it has got me thinking about some of the greatest showmen in this beautiful sport. 

My favourite player ever was the super cool Swede, Bjorn Borg, who won the Men’s Singles title five times in a row in the late seventies. Of all the players of that era, Borg arguably solicited more cries of “Oh I say!” from the equally legendary commentator Dan Maskell than any other. I was almost in tears when he finally lost in the 1981 final to John McEnroe. 

Bjorn-Borg-Trophy

Borg was a completely unique player. I can barely recall ever hearing him speak (he must have done press conferences I guess but perhaps I wasn’t interested in what he had to say as a kid) but the focus was always on his amazing ability to buck the serve and volley trend which was still dominant back then. He had a mystique about him that was almost mythical and his utter brilliance on the court and relative silence under pressure was his show if you like. I remember he had a tradition that from the first day of Wimbledon every year, he stopped shaving and so by the time, he lifted the trophy year in, year out, he would sport a classic blond beard alongside his long, rock star-like hair. It was a long time before anyone captured my heartfelt support again, until finally, the ultimate showman from Las Vegas itself, Andre Agassi blazed his way onto the scene.

Andre Agassi

So what is it about the showman? They say the public loves an underdog and yes, I guess we do. But we also adore a showman who displays scintillating skills – however inconsistently – that mesmerise us. In short, they are the sporting equivalent of our favourite TV and movie heroes who take us away to a world where anything is possible. Most of all, we love a showman who has learnt how to be consistent in the midst of their almost supernatural brilliance, because they provide us with even more occasions to celebrate than we imagined possible. People like Ronnie O’Sullivan in snooker, Andre Agassi, Rafa Nadal. Contrast these guys with others who won even more trophies but who somehow, relatively soon after their initial burst on to the scene, appeared to win repeatedly with almost robotic precision. So much so, that for many of us, there was very little to love. People like Steve Davis and Pete Sampras, or Michael Schumacher from Formula 1 racing.

The best tennis players in the world almost invariably practise what is known as “percentage tennis”. That is, a wide variety of shots that they know will serve them well overall, so long as they play their normal game. The very best players of today’s game like Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray aka The Big Four consistently play their percentage tennis but are good enough to take it up a level if they are losing or in a very close struggle against each other, and they can do so with some extraordinary shot-making and still win the crucial points they need to clinch victory.

What is fascinating however, is when a showman (let’s call them a “showplayer”) finds himself playing against one of the The Big Four for example. The only way they can have a chance of winning is if they play to their strengths. That is, non-percentage tennis. Shots that most players wouldn’t dream of attempting, unless forced to do so. This of course, is the complete opposite strategy to the top player. The French currently have these showplayers in spades and have always had one or two around at the same time. Henri Leconte was a fabulous example in the eighties. Yannick Noah was another, and the last Frenchman to win the French Open in 1983. Today they have Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Gael Monfils. They are like musketeers with a tennis racket and on their day, can beat anyone in the world. But this is where sadly, they fall down. Their brilliance is exquisite to watch but their inconsistency forbids them from achieving what their potential promised when they began their careers.

Jo-Wilfried-Tsonga-007In a match last month at the French Open, Andy Murray found himself up against yet another flamboyant Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy. The commentator, a former champion himself, Jim Courier, began to explain the dynamics of what this is all about, “Murray is the house and Chardy is the gambler. Chardy has to throw the dice because that is the only way he can win. They don’t keep building casinos because they think the gamblers are going to come out on top, but some of them do get the roll of the dice.”

So what of the Samprases and Davises of the sporting world? They knew how to focus on their work and perhaps that was the crucial difference when it came to total achievement by the time they retired from their chosen field. They saw it as their work, not merely a fun way to earn tons of cash and lap up the adulations of endless females. Sure they were not as entertaining as the other guys. But then they were not there to entertain primarily. They were there to win. And win they did. A lot. So much so that you could argue it even became a bit boring. This was one of the reasons why Steve Davis earned the nickname Steve “Interesting” Davis. During the nineties, when Pete Sampras dominated for much of that decade, I actually got bored of watching him win yet another consecutive Wimbledon Men’s Singles title. Three stroke rallies or less with the same guy lifting the trophy was not my idea of good sport, let alone entertainment.

For us mere mortals who have to carve out other, less glamorous, yet equally creative ways of earning a living, being entertained (when we’re not watching our afore-mentioned heroes!) and simply making a life for ourselves, we have to make a decision. Do we choose style or substance? Safe or risky? To win or to simply enjoy? Can we not have both? I think we can, if we choose wisely. As one of my favourite authors Seth Godin says, “Safe is risky.” Just ask or rather, watch the showplayers at Wimbledon.