[Updated] Tigers vs. Beavers: The Power of Heart

Cover of "Peggy Sue Got Married"

Cover of Peggy Sue Got Married

[Please See Update Below] There are things that come along in life that will come around again; for other chances, it’s one and done. The problem? You may not know the difference between what repeats and what doesn’t until it’s gone.

We all know the experience. The opportunity surfaces – the start-up that has a chance to close its first important deal, the job interview for the “perfect” role, the chance to do something that you’ve dreamed about for years – and it never closes. You don’t get the job, the deal doesn’t happen, and you think that you’ll get another opportunity along the way.

Well, sometimes you do. And sometimes you don’t.

I’m in Portland this week (where I grew up) with my 8 year old during his President’s Week vacation break. With a decent career of accomplishments behind me – and perhaps even a better career ahead of me – the one regret I have in life lives here from my senior year at Tigard High School in the southwest suburbs  (I can hear my high school friend Susan Spezza saying something like “Only one regret? No way!” – yes, just one regret.)

My senior year our highly regarded boys basketball team failed to qualify for the Oregon “big school” state basketball tournament. Many of us has had played together from the 7th grade and the unspoken expectation was that we’d make it to the state tournament, and likely do well. It haver happened, and the chance for the tourney fell short by one, critical loss late in the season to a team from Oregon City.

We may have been the best 16-6 team to never go to the tourney; big enough, skillful enough, smart enough to beat any team on any night in the tournament. We just lacked enough heart.

The research around mid-to-long term performance from people like Carol Dweck, Anders Ericsson, and Angela Duckworth is compellingly clear; lots of hours of applied, focused practice, the learned skill of applying different strategies rather than sticking with one that does not work, and lots of grit.

Heart comes from grit, and when one or two members of your team dial it in and check out, you’re deficient in the grit (and heart) department.

The late season loss to Oregon City torpedoed the chance to go to the state tourney, and it’s the one regret (yes Sue, just one) that has lingered with me for 40 years.

Helen Keller noted “When one door closes, another door opens” though it’s unclear what door opened; it may be in a life that seems easier rather than harder that it was a lesson that needed learning – and sticking – for the decades.

What I know is that I’d love to have the chance to take it back – sort of a Peggy Sue Got Married chance to “right” an old regret. Unlike Peggy Sue, who gets to go back into time to relive events, I suspect most of us don’t get that opportunity. No “do overs” for some things in life.

Given the chance, I’d play harder, and get in the face of a teammate or two who seemed to have more passion for a week of vacation break than a week of tournament play.

One of Richard Stine’s card reads “The irony is this –  If you don’t go in, you can’t find out.” This Friday Tigard High has a play-in game against the Beaverton Beavers, with the winner going to the state tourney. The advice to coach Shawn Alexander (who has coached a team to the state tourney crown and showed me around the school a year ago) is tell the team to play with heart. I saw his team play Tuesday – the game they needed to win to advance to a play-in game – and while they aren’t very big, or very fast, or the best of shooters, they have lots of heart.

It’s this power of heart that is sometimes the difference between winning and losing, and whether you win or lose, one of having no regrets and one that lasts a lifetime.


[Updated Friday, February 25th] The Tigers beat the Beavers 69-54 Friday and are state tourney bound. Heart trumps again.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy ofKnowledgeCrush.





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