Lessons from the Trenches: Adjust Your Focus

On a patch of dirt roughly 45 yards wide and 50 yards long, not a blade of grass in sight. Nestled on a city street next to an old junkyard piled high and deep with car parts and pieces of rusted metal machinery…a blistering 95-degrees with 90% humidity on balmy August mornings transformed into 35-degrees with a 20-mph wind on weeknights at the end of October.  The Manhattan skyline so close across the Hudson River you could touch it, pride tattooed on your chest for the whole world to see…

An economically and ethnically diverse lot of 50 freshman traveled six days a week to this infamous, dreaded practice field from 30 towns across Northern NJ, some with a commute more than an hour long each way.  Every player was a gridiron star in their hometown now embarking on a journey to see if they could endure the daily grind on the field and in the classroom at one of the state’s most challenging athletic and academic high schools – St. Peter’s Prep.

There were good days and bad days just like anywhere else.  However, at the corner of Grand and Warren in Jersey City, it seemed like every day was gameday – commute to school, six or seven classes, practice 3-6 PM, commute home, 2-3 hours of homework, repeat – for FOUR years. Everyone learned quickly and it wasn’t a secret, this lifestyle and level of commitment for 48 months was simply a battle of attrition.

So the 50 freshman players stood in alignment with the traditional “silver dome” helmets next to them forming perfect rows ready to stretch out before another grueling practice.  A million things going on in the mind of a teenager, and though geared up and ready run around and hit and get rocked, football was often the furthest from top of mind.  Fast-forward to the mid-point of the season and the combination of pure physical exhaustion and perplexing exams made the toughest kid feel like crap.

From the deep in the belly of a boisterous, big guy who worked as a police officer by morning and life coach moonlighting as a football coach in the afternoons, Ed Roselle bellowed loud and proud every day across the stretching lines, “How do you feel?!” The team replied in unison, “Good.” He repeated, “How do you feel feeeeel?!” 50 strong replied, “Good good.” And last in escalating tone and pitch, “I said how do you feel feel feeeeeel?!!” The freshman squad yelled, “Good good goooood!” Then practice began.

No one ever actually felt good. But thanks to Coach Roselle, suddenly no one cared. No one cared about their parents being upset about a bad test grade or their girl friend breaking up with them. At that moment in time 50 minds became focused on the task at hand – playing football. The lesson? It’s what you focus on that matters. Focus is what separates top performers from everyone else. There’s always going to be good and bad; focusing on the right thing at the right time is what gets you through the bad and leads to more good.

Do you have that feel good focus? Does your team?

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Lessons from the Trenches is a series about leadership and success from experiences in athletics and the corporate world.  Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.