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IN THIS ISSUE: The wonderful world of EXPECTATIONS and GOALS. It’s the start of a new year and with that, along with their New Year’s resolutions, many athletes begin to set goals for the upcoming season: “I’m going to finally make the varsity.” “I’m going to nail down that college scholarship.” I’m going to score double figures every game.” “I’m going to break 5:00 in the mile.” “I’m going to bat at least .350.” “I’m going to set the pool and Conference records!” Expectations, dreams, goals, call them what you may. They are another one of the athlete’s double-edged swords. When you know how to properly use your goals and expectations, they can help you cut through obstacles, overcome blocks, motivate yourself to get back up after falling and, ultimately, carve your athletic dream into a wonderful reality. However, when you misuse goals and expectations, when you bring them out at the wrong time, they can physically and mentally tie you so tightly in knots that you will consistently choke under pressure and perform way below your potential. Athletes who misuse their goals continually experience frustration when they compete because they just can’t seem to execute the way that they’re capable. Furthermore, the pressure that they experience right before and during competition makes it impossible for them to relax and have fun. Without the ability to feel loose and enjoy themselves, these athletes are more prone to performance slumps, fears, blocks and failure. If reaching your dream as an athlete is vitally important to you, if you want your son or daughter to really enjoy their sports experience and be as successful as possible, if you, as a coach want your athletes to come through in the clutch and consistently perform like champions, then it is critically important for you to understand the “A, B, C’s” of goals and expectations. In this issue of The Mental Toughness Newsletter we will explore how to use your expectations to motivate you to take your training to the next level without it interfering with your performance in competition.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Goals (and expectations) are for practice, NOT competition!”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Stay young with an open mind.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Communicate your expectations clearly to your athletes”
DR G’S TEACHING TALES – “When being right is very wrong”
“Goals (and expectations) are for practice NOT competition!”
One of the more difficult juggling acts that you have to learn to pull off as an athlete if you want to most consistently be a peak performer is how to effectively use and balance your goals and expectations. Before I explain, let’s start with some simple definitions: Goals & Expectations: What are they? Even though these have slightly different meanings, I’m going to be using them interchangeably for this article. Goals and expectations are related to the OUTCOME. They are always FUTURE oriented. They reflect what you WANT out of your sport, from a particular season or from this immediate performance. Goals and expectations reflect what you hope to accomplish and what would make you feel successful as an athlete.
Having goals or expectations for yourself is absolutely critical if you want to go anywhere in your sport. Your goals/expectations serve as a TARGET to aim for. They give all your training efforts a MEANING and a DIRECTION. They also provide the FUEL and ENEGRY that you’ll need to consistently move forward towards success and turning your athletic dream into a present day reality. Without well-defined goals, your overall training will be haphazard, misdirected and disorganized. Without clearly defined goals your efforts will be inconsistent at best. Some days you’ll train hard, others you’ll just go through the motions. Goals serve as a source of motivation to keep you keeping on, especially when the going gets rough and discouragement sets in.
When you have goals and expectations for yourself, you are setting a higher standard of performance. You are internally demanding more of yourself. You are challenging yourself. Such high standards and challenges are necessary for you to take your training to the next level. It’s these inner demands that you place on yourself that will ultimately propel you forward towards your dream. In the end, the hope is that the demands that you place on yourself will make you a much better person and athlete as they move you towards personal excellence. In this way, your goals and expectations help you “push your envelope” and step outside of your comfort zone.
Your goals and expectations tend to function in your brain much like a guided missile system does in a rocket. The system programs the rocket engine towards the target and keeps it on track. If the missile gets blown a few degrees off its’ course by strong winds, the inner tracking system automatically corrects and reorients the missile so it gets back on target. Without this inner guidance system, the missile would just fly aimlessly around and around until it crashes, runs out of fuel or the engines break down. Your goals and expectations function in much the same way. They will organize and direct your training efforts. They will keep you moving in the targeted direction. If you get knocked off track, distracted or temporarily sidelined, your goals and expectations will help you find the strength and discipline to get back onto the proper path.
But more than this, as I mentioned, your goals and expectations also serve as an all-important fuel for that guided missile system. It’s your goals and expectations that keep you motivated to train. Your goals provide you with an important answer to the often-asked questions: “Why bother?” “What’s the point of all this hard work?” “Why am I making all these sacrifices for anyway?” “The coach isn’t looking now, why should I keep going hard?” “After such a devastating failure, why should I continue to try?” Having goals and expectations for yourself helps you get through the sometimes very rough patches of your athletic career and the oftentimes tough, daily grind of training. They are your answer to all of these “why” questions. Simply put, your goals and expectations, if they truly belong to YOU and are genuinely important to YOU, will provide you with a compelling enough reason to sacrifice, work hard and discipline yourself. If your goals don’t really belong to you, if your parents or coaches force them on you, if you’re just doing this to make others happy, then when the going gets rough, your reaction will be to want to pack it up, hit the road and bail out.
One of the key points that I want to make here is that taking your goals and expectations with you when you go to practice is critical to your ultimate success as an athlete. In practice they represent an extremely valuable piece of training equipment. If you can ask yourself, “How is what I’m doing today going to help me get to my goals?” whenever you train, then the quality and intensity of your training will always be high. As a result you will be more focused, your practices will have more meaning to you and therefore, you’ll accomplish far more than those who don’t have a clear purpose in mind whenever they train. Asking yourself this one simple question in practice, over and over again on a daily basis, throughout the course of the season can easily make the difference between success and failure, winning and losing, successfully reaching your goals or not. But this is only one part of the championship formula when using goals and expectations.
The other just as critical part is to know when it’s time to mentally set your goals and expectations aside. Perhaps one of the more common and costly mental mistakes made by athletes at every level is to take their goals and expectations with them into the competitive playing arena. It’s this mental mistake that leads to choking, tight, tentative performances and bitter disappointment. Walk on the basketball court, as an example, for a big game with your expectations under your arm (“I’ve got to score at least 12 points!”) and you’ll be sure to leave an unhappy and frustrated underachiever. This is one of the cardinal rules in sports psychology and peak performance. Take your goals with you whenever you practice and train, but NEVER, EVER when you compete and it counts. Let me repeat this because it is so important. DO NOT BRING YOUR GOALS AND EXPECATIONS WITH YOU WHEN YOU COMPETE. Why?
While your goals and expectations may motivate and focus you in practice, they rarely work that kind of positive way in competition. Concentrating on your goals when you compete, focusing on how important this game, match or race may be, thinking about the outcome of the contest and how you really need to beat this opponent or that one will distract you from what you need to focus on in order to perform to your potential and make you nervous at the same time. At competition time, your goals and expectations will weigh you down and sink you. They will tighten your muscles, kill your nerve and fill your heart with dread. It’s this outcome focus on goals and expectations that is so poisonous to the athlete’s performance.
An emphasis on outcome, (goals & expectations), right before you compete will always crank up the level of seriousness of the performance and what’s at stake, while simultaneously killing your fun and enjoyment. This is a deadly one-two combination that will KO your performance! If you’re not having fun going into and during a performance, then you will be physically and mentally tight and it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to play to your potential. Regular readers of this newsletter know that THE secret to playing your best is being loose and relaxed while you’re performing.
So take your goals with you when you train. Think about why you’re training and what’s at stake. Try to connect what you’re doing right now in practice with your ultimate goal. However, understand that when you go to compete you must leave your goals back home. Do not bring your goals and expectations into the competition. Forget about what’s at stake, who your opponent is, how important this competition may be or who’s in the stands watching you. If you get it into your head that you “have to,” “got to,” “need to,” “must,” in relation to your performance in this game or match, then you are overly focused on outcome and, as a result, will be much more likely to choke your guts out.
Keep in mind that the way to get that all-important victory is a paradox. If you really want to win then winning must be the farthest thing from your mind at game time. If you really want to kick your rival’s butt, then you must banish thoughts of him/her from your mind and instead concentrate on yourself. If you desperately want to impress the coaches or a scout watching, then your focus must be on YOU and NOT on THEM! You will get what you WANT when you DON’T focus on it during competition. Similarly, you will get exactly what you DON’T want during competition when you focus on what you WANT too much. When I work with athletes and teams I will frequently suggest to them the following simple exercise a few days before a big competition: “Write down everything that you want to have happen, all your outcome goals and expectations. Put them all down on paper and take one last good look at them. When you’re done examining them, take all those outcome goals and lock them in a drawer, out of sight. Do NOT take them out and look at them until AFTER the competition is over!” This is the best way to insure that you have the best chance to perform at your best. Goals and expectations are part of your practice “equipment.” Like Sammy Sosa’s corked bat, they are only to be used in practice and NEVER when it really counts!
“Stay young with an open mind.”
Want to stay young forever? Want the secret to a happy, vital life? Then dial 1- 800 – ASK ALAN! Seriously, I may be good, but I’m not that good! However, while I may not be able to provide you with the actual secret to keeping your body biologically in its’ youth, I can provide you with a little mental secret that will not only keep your mind and attitude forever young and vibrant, but will keep your relationship with your children in good health. What’s this mental Fountain Of Youth? Simple! KEEP A BEGINNER’S MIND.
Continually keep yourself open to change and possibility. Continually question the status quo in your mind. Examine other, possibly conflicting perspectives. Just because one way of doing something works, don’t think that there aren’t other, even more effective ways out there. There’s nothing that will age you faster and potentially alienate you from your kids than having a rigid, closed mind. Thinking that your way is not only the right way, but the only way will get you into more hot water performance and relationship-wise than you can imagine, not to mention the fact that it will turn you into an out-of-touch dinosaur. Let me explain.
As we grow and mature, we have all kinds of valuable life experiences that teach us various lessons. In these lessons we have the opportunity to expand and get smarter about the world and ourselves within it, or to do just the opposite, to contract and get dumber. Unfortunately, sometimes the experiences that we have in life traumatize us and we end up taking with us the wrong lessons about people and situations. We may learn that the world is a very dangerous, uncaring place or that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. Sometimes we learn that you can’t trust anyone or that good things always end badly. Or maybe we learn that whatever we do, it’s just not good enough. Certain bad experiences tend to generalize inside of us and so we close our minds to the possibility that things could ever be different. As a result, we go into new experiences expecting the same old, familiar, negative outcomes. Because we look for the negative, we close ourselves off to the positive and, as a result, usually find exactly what we don’t want.
The same can hold true for all of our interactions with people. We see our kids, the coaching staff or other parents in a narrow, overly rigid way. Our expectations and perceptions of others color and distort our ability to actually see who is in front of us and what they are really like. Instead, we see a projection of them that comes from our imagination and inner distortions. We reflexively interpret our children’s behaviors without taking the time to carefully listen to what they are really saying. We think we know what they’re thinking and feeling, we think we know their intentions for behaving a certain way, but many times we are flat out wrong or off base, and don’t even know it! Part of the problem is that as parents, we sometimes have difficulty seeing and accepting that our son or daughter is a distinctly different being from us. Our goals may not be her goals. What we may do in a certain situation may not be at all what he may do. He/she is not an extension of our psyche, but instead, a person in his or her own right. How quickly we have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager with parents who never took the time to listen to us and who always made assumptions about who they thought we were!
Consider this: It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into hot water with your kids or those around you. It’s what you do “know,” that you think is true, that in actuality is not! Not knowing is rarely the problem. Knowing false facts is! Where does all this false knowledge of yours come from? It has its’ roots in believing that your model and experience of the world, above everyone else’s, is the “right” one. Understand that your view of the world is only just that, your view! It is NOT necessarily the real world and it certainly does not always accurately represent others’ experiences of the world. When you adopt the belief that your perspective is the only one that counts, then you immediately close yourself off to conflicting or different worldviews, and in doing so you really age yourself, reduce your intelligence and decrease your level of interpersonal effectiveness. This kind of rigidity in relation to others will always hold you back and will ultimately alienate you from your children.
This really causes parent-child problems when the parent tries to impose his expectations upon the child-athlete’s. I know of no other factor that will cause so much harm to a child than having a parent’s expectations imposed upon him/her. You know the drill. You want your child to be successful. You think he has tremendous potential. You don’t want him to waste this great potential so you let your expectations do the parenting. As a consequence, your child’s work ethic, training and performances become more important to you than your child as a person. How many points she scored and her turnover-to-assist ratio becomes more important than her feelings and happiness. In these ways parental expectations become cruelly depersonalizing to the child, and this is where serious psychological damage gets done.
Thinking that you know where others are coming from, that your child shares your goals and expectations, based on your internal map of the world without taking the time to honestly check out the validity of your perspective in relation to others is a sign of ignorance. What compounds this ignorance is when you take those “facts” that you know and use them to make decisions that affect your behavior and how you interact with others. Let me give you a brief example.
I was sitting in the stands last week watching my daughter and her high school basketball team get completely blown out by the opposition at an away game. It was a rather ugly, one-sided contest and my daughter’s team was completely outmatched. There was very little for us parents to cheer about other than the great play of our opponents. At one point towards the very end of the game my daughter was bringing the ball up court. She had been tentative and rather intimidated the entire game but for some reason with the game almost over, she did a spin move around her opponent, got free and then passed the ball off from inside the key. I didn’t quite see what happened next because I was so completely blinded by the utter brilliance of her move, but apparently there was a collision under the basket and someone from the other team was bumped by one of my daughter’s teammates. No one went flying and no one was seriously hurt. Having spent the entire game too closely connected with my daughter’s frustration at her tentative play, I called out to her “Great move!” A mother of an opposing player who was sitting nearby turned towards me and gave me a vile, penetrating, flat-out ugly look. If this were back in biblical times, that look would have turned me into a pillar of salt. It just so happened that I actually didn’t catch the initial power of her evil eye and when I finally turned to look, I saw her mumbling to the other people that she was with about what a sick, psycho parent I must be that I would cheer when one of their players was hurt.
All right! I confess! I’m guilty! I’m embarrassed to admit that she nailed me right on the head! Yes, I am a psycho, live-through-my-kids parent masquerading as a sports psychologist. Not only that, but I spend my evenings wishing for nothing more than to watch all the other adolescents that my daughter has to compete against getting banged up and deliberately injured. In fact, I’ll even admit that I have hired Tonya Harding as a consultant for helping me deal with my daughter’s opponents. Yup! That’s me all right! I’m going to sit there and cheer for overly aggressive play, especially if it’s properly directed towards the opposing team. My motto is, “if you can’t beat them, then BEAT them!” “Sprain their ankles, kick’ em in the shins, we’ll do anything to insure a win!” Now it’s obvious that this woman was jumping to some pretty fast conclusions about me based on some very limited information. All she had heard was my cheering, which she immediately connected to the collision, not the play before. Perhaps in her model of the world, this was how basketball parents acted. Truth be told, she was just a tad off base and what she thought was true and right about me was just flat out wrong.
So how often do you respond this way with your kids or those around you? How often do you too quickly jump to conclusions about other’s behavior, intentions or feelings? (How often do you act as if your goals for your child in her sport are the same as your child’s?) In the heat of our emotions it is always much easier not to feel burdened by deep waves of thought. It is a fact that when we emotionally see red, we don’t end up seeing much of anything else. When we’re angry, scared or hurt we tend to say and do rather unhelpful, ill-timed and off-base things. As a matter of fact, in these situations we tend to react in a knee-jerk type way. Unfortunately when you respond reflexively like this, you tend to act like a jerk and, as a consequence, will later end up feeling like a jerk. So how do you step outside of yourself and respond to situations involving your kids and their sports less emotionally and more elegantly?
Tough question with no easy answer but let me be bold and take a stab at it! The best response that I can come up with is for you as a parent to spend more time being silent inside while your kids or others are talking. Most parents don’t really listen to their kids to the point where they actually hear what’s being said. Instead, while the child is speaking they are chattering in their own head, disagreeing with what’s being said while simultaneously rehearsing what they will say next in response. When you do this, you don’t ever really get a sense of where your son or daughter is coming from. As a result, you fail miserably in communicating with them. Furthermore, you leave them feeling alienated and misunderstood, which only makes whatever situation you were dealing with much less resolved. When your children speak you have to step outside of your model of the world and try to listen to them from their model. What are they feeling? What are they really saying to you? Can you understand what is bothering them? You can only connect with your kids by quiet, active listening, not by lecturing or talking at them, or imposing your will on theirs.
As parents you actually have a wonderfully built in Fountain of Youth in your kids. If you can be flexible enough to take the time to examine the world through their eyes, they will keep you young and alive. Of course, I am not even remotely suggesting that you should completely abandon your good reason, maturity or responsibility. What I am suggesting is that you practice keeping an open mind with your kids. Listen to what they are saying. Listen to their hopes and dreams. Pay attention to their goals. The benefits of this will be happy, emotionally strong kids and a healthy, happy parent-child relationship.
“Communicate your expectations clearly to your athletes.”
Just how clear are you with your athletes? Do they know where you really stand? Do they know exactly what you want from them? Are you an effective communicator?
These are important questions for you to ponder if you want to be successful in reaching and positively affecting your athletes. Without the ability to clearly communicate, what you know and want your athletes to learn will not get across. Communication is such a basic, commonsensical issue that most coaches pay it little direct attention. Everyone seems to take it for granted and would agree that you have to be a great communicator to be a great coach and teacher. This is so obvious a statement that it’s almost embarrassing. However, listening to the hundreds and hundreds of athletes that I come in contact with every year, you’d get the impression that coach-to-athlete communication was as complex and difficult to grasp as advanced rocket science and that very few coaches did it well. Let’s listen in:
“My coach hates me! He like doesn’t pay attention to me in practice unless he’s yelling at me for something I did wrong! The really frustrating thing for me in practice is that all he does is tell me what I’m doing wrong. He never once tells me what I need to do to change it! I mean, what’s with that! And the thing that really gets me is that the minute I make a mistake in a game he just yanks me! I know I’m not supposed to screw up, but how the heck am I going to learn to correct what I’m doing wrong if I get taken out every time I mess up? What really bugs me more than being taken out is that when I come to the bench he doesn’t even look at me and doesn’t say a word to me. I feel totally invisible and worthless. He must hate me. Why else would he just ignore me like that? You know, sometimes when he pulls me out I don’t even know why and to me it seems like I was doing fine. When he won’t talk to me it leaves me completely confused and like REALLY pissed off at him! For Pete’s sake at least talk to me! Say something!”
“I’ll tell you what I really can’t stand! If I have a bad race, he does one or two things. He either totally ignores me or gives me this look that just makes me feel awful. I ask him how he thinks I did and this is all I get. He’s so disappointed in me and I know he’s angry but he won’t ever say anything. It makes me feel like crap and I know it affects my other races. Why can’t he just tell me what he thinks? Why can’t he be normal and at least let me know what I did wrong? He never does that. Oh, sorry! I forgot. He does sometimes yell at me after a bad swim and tell me that I swam like a snail. I always find that most useful! You know the funny thing. I know it’s not just me. He does the same stuff with Jenny and Abby. I’ve even seen him do it with some of the guys. They think he’s just a jerk but still, I can’t get away from feeling terrible about myself.”
I think the real problem arises because many coaches are not aware of how and what they are communicating with their athletes. For example, the coach will have it in his head what he wants from his athletes in terms of effort, attitude, attendance, the compliance with team rules, etc. but will not make his expectations explicitly clear with the players. Before, during and after competitions the coach will not communicate enough with his players. He won’t be clear enough with his during and after-performance feedback and will therefore leave the athlete guessing as to what’s really going on in the coach’s head and what the coach really thinks and feels about him.
In this, many coaches fail to grasp one of the underlying principles in communications: YOU CAN’T NOT COMMUNICATE. That is, in everything you say or don’t say, in your voice tone, volume and speech tempo, in your body language and posture, you are always communicating. When you deliberately or accidentally ignore a player you are communicating. When you casually make a joke you are communicating, and in all of this you are communicating most powerfully. In fact, the words that you use in your messages convey only ten percent of the real meaning of your actual communication. Thirty percent of your message is conveyed in voice volume, tone and tempo and the remaining sixty percent, by far the bulk of your message is conveyed in unconscious, non-verbal factors like facial expression, posture, and eye movement. When we communicate with anyone, it’s always the non-verbal component and unconscious factors that really convey the true meaning. This lends more meaning to why the expression, “talk is cheap” is so true.
It’s because of this communication axiom, “YOU CAN’T NOT COMMUNICATE” and the power of non-verbal expression to convey meaning that coaches really need to develop an acute awareness of how and what they communicate. Having such an awareness will make you a better, more effective communicator. Being a more effective communicator will make you a better teacher and ultimately, a far more successful coach. This is really the heart of your job as a coach. It is NOT your knowledge of the game or vast experience. It is not the brilliance of your X’s and O’s that will ultimately make you successful. It is NOT your grasp of motivational techniques. Coaching is all about successfully conveying what you know to the athlete. If you do not have an effective vehicle for this conveyance, what you know and all your experience is virtually worthless.
Along with this, it’s important for you to keep in mind a second principle of effective communication: THE TRUE MEANING OF ANY COMMUNICATION IS THE RESPONSE IT GETS. In other words, it’s not your intentions or meaning that is important when you are interacting with an athlete. It is instead how that athlete hears what you’re saying and then responds. In this way, your words and non-verbals are like a foreign language to the athlete. You say something to him and then he automatically interprets your message through his own emotional and psychological filters to arrive at the “true” meaning that he experiences. Your intention may be a constructive, positive and noble one. However, he may walk away feeling demeaned and put-down by you. In communication terms, which one is the “real” message? Simple! His! The true meaning of any communication is the response it gets. This puts the total responsibility for communication on your shoulders in a way that goes beyond the obvious.
Yes, of course you are the coach and it’s your job to teach and communicate with the athlete. However, what this really entails is not only that you pay very close attention to what you say and how you say it, but also and much more important, that you take the time and energy to notice the response that your communication elicits. This means that communication is not just a one shot deal. You say what you have to say and everyone lives happily ever after. This only happens in fairy tales. In the real world you have to continuously check out and verify if your message was received in the exact way that you intended it to be. This means that you have to not only ask the athlete to tell you what she heard you say, but you have to then carefully watch her behavior afterwards to be sure that she has truly gotten your message. Making this extra effort to be sure that what you said was heard as intended is absolutely critical to effective communication, especially with adolescents! Without doing this your message will rarely get across and you’ll feel continually misunderstood and confused by your athletes’ responses to you.
Speaking of adolescents and communication: How often do you stop to think that almost each and every one of your athletes is continually looking to you for your approval, respect and acceptance? They are hypersensitive to your moods and will frequently be self-referential in trying to explain these moods to themselves. That is, if midway through practice they begin to experience you as angry or disappointed, many will begin to feel responsible, as if they have had a direct role that led you to your bad mood. If they don’t feel directly responsible, they will certainly begin to use their imaginations to try to figure out what’s going on for you.
In this way you are in a position of unbelievable power with your athletes. What you say and do, and how you say and do it can make or break an athlete’s day or week, not to mention dramatically affect her performances on and off the playing field. In fact, saying absolutely nothing to an athlete during practice or competition will have the same powerful effect. Obviously this is truer if you’re working with high school aged athletes and younger than if you’re coaching in the college ranks. However, even the vast majority of college athletes are just as sensitive to and similarly affected by your communication style and moods.
Sometimes coaches forget that most of the young athletes they work with are just that, young and immature. Even college-aged athletes are not neurologically, psychologically and emotionally adults yet, despite the fact that they may be inside an adult body and look like an adult. As a consequence of their immaturity, the athletes you work with are quite impressionable and sensitive. Harsh words from you need to be chosen and timed wisely for the proper effect. The very best thing that you can do for your athletes is to be clear and direct with them. Take the time to explain yourself. Make your expectations of them crystal clear. Be patient and willing to repeat your message over and over because this is what coaching really is anyway, repetition. Treat your athletes with compassion and respect. Be honest with them. Take the time to be sure that the message that they received is the one that you intended. Finally, be aware of all the different ways that you are always communicating with your athletes. Don’t make the mistake that far too many coaches do. Don’t be an unconscious communicator. Be aware of the many different ways that you “speak” to your athletes and be sure that what you are saying both verbally and non-verbally is exactly what you intended. Taking the time and energy to insure that you communicate clearly with your athletes will pay off both in practice and competition. Making a sincere effort to reach your athletes will not be lost on them and will have a significant positive impact on their life.
DR G’S TEACHING TALES
“When Being RIGHT is very WRONG!”
Two battleships assigned to a training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in very stormy weather for several days. The visibility was extremely poor with patches of pea soup thick fog that concerned the captain so much that he remained on the bridge keeping a watchful eye on the ship and the smooth running of the training exercise.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge nervously reported, “Light bearing on the starboard bow!”
The captain called out, “Is it steady or moving astern?”
The lookout replied, “It’s holding steady course captain,” which meant if nothing changed it would be on a dangerous collision course with their ship.
The captain then shouted to the signalman, “Signal the ship: We are on a collision course. Advise you to change course 20 degrees.”
The signalman quickly complied and within seconds the signal came back. “Correct. You are on a collision course. It is advisable that you change your course 20 degrees.”
When he heard it the captain experienced a bit of outrage that another ship would have the gall to not adhere to his commands and he asked the signalman to again repeat the same message. Once again the message, “We are on a collision course. Advise you to change course 20 degrees.”
Once more and just as quickly the response came back. “Correct. You are on a direct collision course. It is both urgent and advisable that you change course 20 degrees now!”
When the captain heard this response his outrage bubbled over and he yelled at the signalman to send the following: “Sir. I am a ship’s captain in the US Navy. You change course now!”
The reply came back quickly: “Sir. I am a seaman second class. I repeat. You had better change course 20degrees now!
The man’s insolence was far too much for the captain. He was livid and furious. He spit out the command: “Young man. I am the captain of a US Navy battleship bearing down on your ship. This is the last time that I will tell you and consider this a direct order. Change your course immediately!”
By now, a number of officers were on deck and gathered in the bridge as this tense exchange continued. There was a brief period of nervous silence while the entire bridge waited for the response from this insolent sailor. And then it came: “That would be most difficult for me to do sir. I am sitting on thousands of tons of coastline rock sir. I am in a lighthouse and they don’t change course very easily!”
It’s NOT what you DON’T know that will get you into trouble. It’s what you DO know that you think is true.