This summer I’m playing in an ultimate frisbee league. If you don’t know, ultimate frisbee is a sport that combines the running of soccer with the pivoting rules of basketball with the scoring rules of football. This year I’m on a team with a pair of sixteen year-olds, making it the first time I’ve ever played with someone half my age. Of all things it actually makes me feel young.
Having played ultimate frisbee in college, I’ve devoted a lot of thought to the strategy and complexity of it and as I get older I rely on those ideas more each year. Nearly all the college aged kids that play are better athletes than me but I can sometimes be wily enough to make a successful play. In ultimate frisbee I face two kinds of choices:
- I know the right thing and do it.
- I know the right thing but don’t do it.
Whenever I don’t immediately succeed with the catching of the disc or defending my opponent I think about which kind of choice I made. Did I know and do the right thing but fail because of randomness or did I know the right thing but not do it?
As I’ve gotten older and less physically fit in a game that requires a lot of running and jumping I find myself asking that question a lot. When I was younger failure was more binary, yes or no. Now I think in terms of two inputs; knowing what to do and doing my best to do it. Because of my experience the first is almost always correct, the second depends on my effort.
Frisbee is a good analogy for this because frisbees have this propensity to float which leaves a lot of room for players to make unique plays. I’ve thrown many passes that didn’t go where I intended but were still caught by my teammates. I’ve also bee on the other end of these where I knew and did exactly what I should have but still didn’t succeed.
Megan McArdle writes about this in The Up Side of Down, using a different sport analogy, baseball, to make her point. She writes that baseball players need to focus on the inputs rather than outputs. Baseball players will mess up 70% of their at-bats but they have a system – a batting lineup – that forces them to think about the input – their at bat. Sales people have the tick sheet and rehearsed pitch. Systems help us shift from looking at inputs rather than outputs.
In frisbee I don’t need a system because my experience informs me what will likely happen but also that randomness occurs. This example was presented many times in reporting on this year’s NBA finals when people talked about the 2013 finals. In game 6 the San Antonio Spurs formed what would be considered a perfect defense when the Miami Heat took a shot but because of an odd bounce the Heat got an offensive rebound that led to another chance and ultimately the NBA championship.
The key is taking this idea, thinking about the right thing and right action, and applying it to other areas in my life.
- With kids I need to be more patient and give them more time.
- With marriage I need to listen more with my eyes and ears.
- With writing I need to have a writing plan each day.
In what ways do you make mistakes in life – or any decision regardless of the outcome – and what are you learning? Let me know, @MikeDariano.