It’s common for us to play over our heads against superior opposition, because this foreknowledge that winning is not an essential part of the experience is what brings out our best performances… If you are not intimidated by the idea of losing… or “looking bad,” you can simply concentrate on playing and sometimes go beyond yourself. —Thomas Tutko and Umberto Tosi, Sports Psyching

Most of my coaching/teaching experience has been in the martial arts (Judo and Tae Kwon Do) and strength and conditioning. I noticed early on that kids between the ages of 4 to about 14, at the eldest, will generally learn physical skills, and athletic movement exponential faster than young men and women from 15 on into even older adulthood. The older adults will blame their slow progress on the young persons “youth” and the teens will just get pissed off, pout, or verbalize their frustration with a snappy comeback like, “whatever!”

The fact is that these kids learn, progress and enjoy the process because they don’t mind “looking stupid,” while they’re training! Not only is this thinking not part of their psyche, but they often enjoy “looking stupid.”

I had a Grand Mother-In-Law, Carmen Beltran, who I loved dearly. Carmen was from Chihuahua Mexico originally, and she lived in Glendale Arizona. She taught me that the “looking stupid” lesson applies to language as well. I was told Carmen didn’t speak English well. The truth was she didn’t speak English at all, if she could avoid it, around English speakers! She was afraid of “sounding stupid” yet when she tried, she spoke English well by any standard! At the time I was trying desperately to learn the Spanish language. I had the whole City of Los Angeles to teach me. I had opportunities to learn every night as I policed, talking to victims, witnesses and suspects who spoke Spanish. Thanks to Abuelita Carmen, I stopped worrying about “sounding stupid,” and began to enjoy the laughter when my grammar was less than perfect. I went from proficient to fluent in months and had fun doing it!

Bottom line: go out there, look stupid, sound stupid, lose a game, match, competition or two, have fun doing it and expect to get better! The alternative is a much slower, agonizing journey toward mastery in your chosen endeavor, or worse being discouraged and not trying at all! To lead by example, I’ve included a photo of myself doing what I do best: NO not just looking stupid, I’m getting better! Joe H

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