Highest Five

We’ve all had potential opportunities squashed, near successes turned to near misses, and easy buckets blocked out of nowhere.

The best example I can think of, athletically, is known by many in Detroit as “The Block”.  Not to use one of the professional degrees to compare against, but I couldn’t resist this delicious athletic moment.  To better set the scene: NBA, 2004, Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2, Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers, in Indianapolis, Detroit winning the series 1-0 and the game 69-67, about 30 seconds left.  Jermaine O’Neal (the lovable Pacers big man who later played for the Raptors) blocked Rasheed Wallace (the not-so-lovable Pistons big man who used to play for the Jail Blazers) and the ball pops out passed center.  Chauncey Billups (Pistons’ wily veteran guard drafted by Toronto) brings the ball back in, but it gets knocked loose.  The ball relays up through two Pacers before getting to the accelerating Reggie Miller (the smack-talking, title character of the best ESPN 30for30), who takes 6 steps – and a bounce somewhere in between – on his way to an easy lay-up.  This basket would tie the game and likely alter the series.  Instead, Tayshaun Prince (the 3rd-year Piston and lankiest man in the NBA), sprints across the court and at the last minute and blocks away the tying marker.  The Pistons went on to win the series 4-2 and the championship against the Lakers.  Out of nowhere!

That being said, I could have easily used a number of amateur sports stories to relay the same point.  Like an Ontario golfer missing a gimme to birdie a hole, or an Edmonton hockey team missing an empty-netter only to have the other team come back and tie the game, or a BC alpine skier getting edged out of third spot in a giant slalom event by a mere 1/100th of a second…  I just knew the story of “The Block” better.

Anyways, what I’m getting at, is that even when you think that you’re going to succeed in a pivotal moment in your life, it might just fall through the cracks for any number of reasons.  In fact, most of our successes and failures – close-calls or blowouts – have a similar formula that can be applied:

Hard work + Connections + Qualifications + Timing + Luck

It seems fairly straight forward, but I think anyone who receives a result (whether successful or not) usually attributes it to only a couple of the following.  These are my highest five, and I believe that these key contributors all have a role in any of my results.  Yes, sometimes luck plays less of a part, or my connections were highest, or it was just the right timing.  Either way, with anything that I have achieved or been rejected from, these five compadres play integral roles.

So when you’re going for that job in the amateur sports industry, and you think you have it in the bag, think again.  You may have done all the right work.  You may have the right connections.  Hell, you may be over-qualified.  But the timing might be a bit off, and the sun decides to shine on somebody else’s behind that day.  Think about, we’ve all been there.

Here are my highest five lessons for all of you would-be Olympians, amateur sports bloggers, and funemployed job miners:

  • Hard Work.  In my last career, I was a management consultant at a company that had this book of 52 maxims.  Incredibly corny, I know, but there was one saying that stuck with me: Work smarter, not harder.  I think that applies in this particular scenario.  When it comes to training, studying, prepping for interviews, writing essays, dating, cooking, etc, working smarter is the way to go.  But hard work doesn’t always pay off.  In fact, in this day and age, it usually doesn’t… by itself at least.
  • Connections.  “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.  Really?  Well, sometimes I think you should add a sub-clause in there: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (and how well you know them, and whether they’ll vouch for you, and how often you’ve name-dropped them).  That should round it out.  Because you might meet a Dick Pound or a Marcel Aubut through some sort of networking event.  And you might even hit it off.  And you might even hit it off so well, that you ask her/him whether you can use them as a reference.  And you might even (see how luck plays in?) get a positive response.  So now you have a Catriona Le May Doan in your Rolodex (or email contacts, for those of us living in 2015).  What do you do with that name?  Well, I’ll tell you what you don’t do: Drop it to anyone and everyone that’ll listen.  You need to first foster that relationship, THEN drop it.  And not just for any old job or academic application.  You drop it for the one, you want all pistons pumping for you.  So for now, keep that name in your back pocket.  All that being said, you still need other pistons firing too.
  • Qualifications.  Everybody’s qualified for everything nowadays.  In fact, people are normally overqualified, because there aren’t enough jobs in the fields we want to work in (like amateur sports).  A few years back, I had just finished logging a year in MLSE‘s sales department and wanted to expand my horizons.  I had learned a lot about sales, and was leading the team, so figured it would be a good decision to keep moving.  There was a Team Coordinator job over with Toronto FC that intrigued me.  This job involved helping international players acclimatize to the city.  Hell, yes I can do that.  Not because it would be cool to be a player handler (industry term), but because it was a good fit with the kind of person I was: international (I’m Hungarian and have had the opportunity to travel), personable, knows Toronto (I grew up there), and available (I was single and eager).  Wouldn’t this be a good job for a hungry, young pup working his way up the corporate ladder?  You’d think, but they gave it to a guy that had worked at NBA Canada for five years, just finished his MBA in Melbourne, was a professional acrobat, and harvested soybeans in the summers (the last two may be exaggerations).  Are you kidding me?  For a coordinator gig?  Either way, what I’m getting at is your BA and two years of work experience don’t sell it anymore.  On the flip side though, I’ve heard of issues with overqualified individuals “not fitting well” with a certain work environment.  You can’t win!  Well, you can – you just need to cater your qualifications and believe in the highest five!
  • Timing.  People tell me this ropes into luck too much, but I disagree.  Timing is everything, as they say.  And people think it has a lot to do with luck, because you don’t always have control over timing.  But you can follow it.  What I mean is you can observe the trends to see when to jump in.  Free agents do this all the time when choosing which team they’d like to sign with – are they going to win?  Or take a look at how Sport Alliance Ontario (SAO) just went under.  [Spoiler: Blog post to follow].  Do you think it’s a good time to apply to jobs with Ontario PSOs?  Nope, they ain’t got no money.  To conclude, timing is a tricky thing, but can be managed in your favour.
  • Luck.  To me, luck includes things like raw talent, your Dad being Thomas Bach, or the girl being drafted ahead of you deciding to quit the sport.  Here’s a fun story I heard from a Toronto high school track coach:  One day a phys ed teacher tells him a kid wearing basketball shoes just ran a 4-minute mile in his class.  The coach laughed it off thinking there’s no way; that he probably just cut the course.  Turns out the grade 10 student just had raw talent.  He ended up joining the track team, won OFSAA, is now on the Canadian National Team, and got a full-ride to Syracuse.  Now look where Justyn Knight is… 

Justyn Knight may be a prodigy (luck), but if it wasn’t for that phys ed class (timing), or his coach pushing him (connections), or him pushing himself (hard work), or him getting into the right races and programs (qualifications), we might not soon witness Canada’s next medal hope.  But as Reggie knows, these same factors combine in very different proportions to just as easily sway the currents the other way.  Just my opinion.

O Canada.

Note: This is an opinion piece (of which I plan to write few), which enables me to give my insight on non-sports related topics.

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