When Yoda Taught Swim Lessons

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As a coach, I was always looking for ways to motivate and encourage the players I was working with. I’ve written before about my colossal failures in this area, to the point that I’ve probably painted a pretty awful picture of who I am as a coach.

To further degrade my coaching legacy, I’d like to share another story:

I was coaching at a small private school in rural Georgia, where most of the kids came from blue collar families who had instilled great work ethic and values in their children.

One of the players who I had grown close with was one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached, and she would do absolutely anything she was asked to help the team. One day while I was addressing the team, I quoted one of the greatest coaches of all time….


“Do or do not, there is no try.”

Brilliant, right? The problem was, no body listened except for Cory, and it wasn’t something she needed to hear. For a large part of the remainder of the season, until I was able to undo my failed Yoda impersonation, she felt like every loss, every missed box out, every mistake, was a failure. Because, you know, according to her brilliant and trusted coach, simply trying was not enough.

I understand that Yoda was teaching Luke that he needed to commit fully to what he was doing, rather than just attempting it. His mindset needed to be that of someone who was going to do whatever he was committing to, and if he failed, he was going to fail doing. (Probably should’ve included this little nugget in my original speech).

Another quote along the same line of thinking…

“Almost only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes”

This one’s pretty clever. I haven’t played enough horseshoes to know the value of the almost in that game, but I fully understand the grenade reference.

As leaders, of both ourselves and of others, it seems to me that there are many times when we fail to appreciate the almost, and in doing so, we find ourselves constantly disappointed in both our circumstances and our performances.

Appreciate the almost

For some reason, as adults, we often fail to grant ourselves the same grace that we longed for as kids. And the very grace that we offer up freely to our own children (hopefully), as they are learning, is nowhere to be found when we seek it for ourselves.

And that’s nobody’s fault but our own.

Think about when your child was learning to ride their bike. Did you strap a helmet on, take off the training wheels, and wish them the best? But, not before reminding them, “Do or do not, there is no try”. And then, look on un-approvingly  as they fell off of their bike over and over again?

Almost only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes Sally! Get your #** back on that bike and ride. 

Absolute nonsense, right?

At each incremental step, we encourage our children about their progress, we remind them of the things we’ve learned so far, we say things like,

You are getting close. 

Keep trying. 

You’ve almost got it. 

And what happens? Eventually, they do get it. They go from almost riding, to almost falling, to almost being able to turn around at the end of the street, to almost going too fast for their own good as they ride down the street all on their own.

But I wonder if they would ever get there if we didn’t appreciate the almost. This summer, our son has been learning how to swim. Now, I’ve heard of teaching techniques where people take their two year old, throw them into the pool, and say things like,

He’ll figure it out, watch. Survival of the fittest. 

Really, I have heard of a more immersive (submerge-ive) approach to teaching, and I guess that works. But at some point in that method, the child is stopped before they drown, and then needs to be reminded to move their arms, or kick their legs, or swim for their very young life.

With Harper, we constantly reminded him to kick, or use his arms, or put his head under. I don’t remember my own experience, but I can only imagine that swimming is a very unnatural experience when you are first getting started.

“I know you are not very coordinated just yet, and you’ve just learned to walk on land, but let’s get into this water, and move in a way completely different than what we’ve been teaching you for the first few years of your life. Also, occasionally, I’d like for you not to just be in the water, but to go under. No, no, you won’t be able to breathe under there, but don’t sweat it. Also, it might burn if you open your eyes. Yes, that’s right, you won’t be able to see, or breathe, and you are supposed to move your arms and your legs at the same time if you don’t want to sink to the bottom. I’m pulling for you son.”

Because of that, we have to encourage him to try. And when he does, as he progresses, we continue to encourage him that he’s almost there. He almost has it.

That was so close, let’s try it again!

People like to know they are close, or at least progressing.

We freely give this grace to our children, that allows them a place to grow, and try, and be almost there.

But as we work towards things that are important to us, as we work through challenges, as we do things that are unnatural and outside of our comfort zones, sometimes we forget this. Almost is no longer good enough. Progress is no longer worth praising.

We need to remember to keep moving forward, to keep trying, and to pause, on occasion, and appreciate the progress that we’ve made.

“Quit now, and you’ll soon be back where you started. When you started, you desperately wanted to be where you are now”

Appreciate the almost. Praise the progress. Inch by Inch.

Much Love,




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