Back to Fundamentals by Terry Schroeder

Terry Schroeder
US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 4 Number 9December 15, 2012
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

The Ten Most Valuable Lessons Terry Has Learned from Water Polo

In many ways this has been an amazing year. Lori (my wife) and I celebrated 25 years of marriage in March.  My daughter Leanna turned 18! And of course, we had this small thing called the Olympic Games that went down in London in July and August.  While the Games did not go the way that we had planned or hoped for it was still an incredible chapter in my life. I feel like I gained 13 sons in this process and I am very proud of each and every one of the guys on that team.  It is easy to sit back and look at our result as a failure, however, there is so much more to it than the competition itself.  These young men dedicated their lives to each other and to the team.  Many are married and a few have kids of their own.  Each one of them committed a large part of their life to this Olympic quest.  Many of these players have been playing together for the past 15 years.  We learned a great deal about each other and we became family - connected to each other for the rest of our lives.  I am very proud of each one of these men and I would like to dedicate this month’s article to them.  I am grateful that I had the opportunity to coach this team and I have learned a great deal from each one of them. 

This month, I would like to write about the ten most valuable lessons that I have learned from water polo.  These lessons carry over into every aspect of my life.  They truly are life lessons!  I am happy to share them with you.

1.  Can you see it? First and foremost, you must have a vision as to where you are going in life.  I can tell you this for a fact.  Each and every one of the Olympians that I have been honored to coach has had a great vision.  Making it to the Olympic Games and competing for a gold medal was a driving factor in each of their lives. You absolutely have to have a clear picture of what you want before you are ever going to get it.  Purpose does not just come about randomly in life.  You don’t get in your car without having some idea of what your destination is.  If you are going to succeed in anything you do, you need to have a clear and absolute picture in your mind of your destination (what it is you are going after).  If you can not see it you will never achieve it! My dream as an 8 year old boy was to make it to the Olympic Games.  This vision guided me in so many decisions I would make.  I would constantly ask myself - Is this going to help me make it to the Olympics?  If it (no mater what it was) was not going to help me make my dream come true than I would not do it.  After you can see it in your own mind than write it out and tell others about it.  This will make your dream more real and you will become more accountable to make it happen.  

2. Habits:  Your best friend or your worst enemy.  It all begins here.  One of my favorite poems says it all.

The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread.
Every time you repeat the act you strengthen the strand.
You add to it another filament with each repetition,
until it becomes a great cable
and binds you irrevocably to each thought and act.
First you make your habits
and then they make you.
Your thoughts lead you to your purpose.
Your purpose always manifests into action.
Your actions form your habits.
Your habits determine your character,
and your character fixes your destiny.
Your habits are either the best of servants or the worst of masters.

The thing about habits that you have to remember is this.  Habits change one “thread” at a time.  Change can be very subtle.  It takes great self discipline to keep your habits healthy. In the end, your habits will either help you to become a champion in life or will be a huge ball and chain that keeps you from being successful in anything that you do.

3. This moment!  One of my favorite athletes of all time is Karch Kiraly. He is perhaps the best volleyball (beach and indoor) player that ever lived.  He was once asked – How did you prepare for the Olympic Gold medal?  Karch responded, “I never prepared for the gold medal, I prepared only for the next play.”  This is what it is all about.  Our Olympic water polo sport psychologist, Peter Haberl spent hours and hours with our team, talking to us about present time consciousness - being and staying in the moment.  It is critical to success at all levels.  There are many distractions in life and it is easy to get caught up in what is going on around you.  However, the best of the best in all professions are able to stay in the moment and be present.  This simple concept will also help you in every relationship that you are in – whether it is with team mates or with a spouse.  You must be there 100% with those that you are with.  In our sport the action is fast and furious. It is easy to get caught up in a play that happened in the past.  I have often found myself stuck on the last play - how the pass I was thrown could have been better or what a terrible call the official made.  That is wasted time and energy.  My focus needs to be on the play that is happening right now.  The present moment is the only moment that I can really have an impact on.  There is time to reflect on the game (good and bad) and learn from it after it is over.  During the game I must stay in the moment. 

4. Opportunities surround us all.  Why is it that some people seem to be so lucky and things seem to fall into their laps while others never seem to be so lucky?  I believe that the opportunities are there for us all.  Some people go after opportunities (there is not much “luck” involved).  They are not afraid to take the risk.  They seek out things that will make their life better while others cower because they are afraid of what might happen.  The most successful people I know are good at being at the right place at the right time.  That is not a coincidence.  These successful people have figured out how to go after the opportunities that present themselves. You can look at the game of water polo and look at the parallels in this concept that exist.  There are opportunities to win the game all around us.  Some players find these opportunities and rise to the occasion while others seem to hide from them. The best players rise to the top based on what they do with the opportunities around them.  Be ready to find those opportunities in your life.  Go after them with confidence and of course the common sense to know what will truly help you reach your goals and what may just waste your time.  Don’t be afraid to take the risk and perhaps to fail while striving valiantly.   

5. Winning when you lose… learning and growing.  No one wins all the time.  One of the biggest keys in life is how you react when you lose.  I will be the first to tell you that the Olympic Games this summer challenged me personally.  We all put so much into the Olympics and we felt going in that we had a great chance to win a gold medal.  When things went south and we lost our last five games, I struggled to find any positives.  I felt like I had failed to do my job.  I still wake up in the middle of the night with my mind racing and trying to make sense out of what happened.  I know this fact though.  We will all learn from this.  I will be better in some way because of what I learned from our experience.  Look at some of the greatest people in our history.  Abraham Lincoln failed miserably many times before he became one of the greatest Presidents in our history. Bill Gates was a Harvard drop out.  Albert Einstein was told by one teacher “you will never amount to anything”.  He also failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Polytechnic Institute. There are millions of examples of people that have lost or failed in one endeavor but have come back to find great success in their lives.  We have to learn from losing.  This is how we “win” when we lose.  Losing is not fun however every set back is an opportunity to get better.  This is a part of life. 

6. The balancing act… One of the most difficult concepts in life is keeping everything in a healthy balance.  Personally, I have struggled with this a great deal.  When you have that big dream and you want something bad enough it is easy to get so focused on that goal that it takes over your life.  From 1978 to 1992, a period of fourteen years, I was a part of our USA Olympic water polo team.  I had the opportunity to be a part of four Olympic Games and win two silvers medals (1984 and 1988).  It was a wonderful time in my life but I did not realize how much it consumed me.  I was out of balance!  I would venture to say that this happens to most Olympians.  It takes so much focus and energy to make this dream a reality that you often sacrifice in other areas of your life.  After I retired in 1992, I was lost.  I felt like I had lost my identity. I struggled to find happiness and peace in my life.  It almost cost me my marriage.  It took a couple of years and some good people (especially my wife) to sort it out and find some sense of balance.  Last year at a US Olympic Committee conference I was able to share my thoughts about this and talk from the perspective of an Olympian and an Olympic coach. In short this is the message that I passed on.  What we do as an Olympian is not who we are but only a part of what we do.  It is all about keeping it in perspective.  In my Chiropractic practice, I have trademarked the saying “Live in Alignment”.  Obviously, this works well for the chiropractic profession and keeping healthy spinal alignment but for me these words mean much more.  Living in alignment is all about keeping all areas of your life in a healthy balance.  While difficult to do it is definitely one of the big keys to success in life. 

7. No deposit, No return.  You will get out of life what you put into it.  In sports we become successful by working hard in practice. How you practice will determine how you play and how successful you become.  In life it is all about the day to day grind.  Successful people don’t just happen.  They work hard day in and day out to constantly make themselves better.  Learning and growing with each test whether they pass or fail.  I believe that this concept “no deposit, no return” is vital in all areas of life.  People often give up too soon because the cost is too great or the task is too difficult. In the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, he describes the idea that it takes over 10,000 hours to master a skill and become “successful”.  Are you willing to put in this type of deposit?  The return can be great.  This is why I am so proud of the guys on our team.  I know first hand what they put into this Olympic journey.  The deposit was huge… and in my opinion the return (rewards) will show up in many areas of their lives for years to come.

8. The greatest secret – TEAM.   Water polo is perhaps the greatest team sport that exists.  This is why I love our sport so much.  You have to work together to be successful.  Weaknesses in the team are exposed quickly and make success difficult.  The most important concept about team that I take with me in life is this – If I help someone on my team to get what they want then I will increase my chances of getting what I want.  Basically, by helping others to become successful, I become successful in the process.  You have to give to get! A successful team does not have a bunch of people that are takers…on the contrary; a successful team is loaded with givers.  A team works best when the individuals are willing to sacrifice a part of themselves for the greater good of the team.  As Coach John Wooden said, “It is amazing how much can be accomplished, when no one cares who gets the credit.” I know because of my experiences with water polo, I look for opportunities to work as a team.  Whether that is with my family (the greatest team we all have) or at work.  The greatest and most meaningful successes in life are not what we can accomplish individually but what we can accomplish together with a team. 

9. Enjoy the ride.  It has been said in many ways but it really is all about the journey.  If you are not enjoying what you are doing than you probably should be doing something else.  This is where passion comes in. The joy that drives us to want to be the best thrives in the environment when we love what we do.  Now you may say – I really don’t enjoy the pain of those killer workouts that my coach makes me do but the reality is we need to appreciate the process and that daily grind that makes you better and find a way to enjoy it. I remember going to Disneyland as a kid.  It used to be that the rides were classified into A, B, C, D or E rides.  The E ticket rides were the best rides.  You had to pay extra for the “E” tickets because those were the rides that everyone wanted.  In my opinion, we should strive to make every day an “E” ticket ride.  Get the best out of every day and enjoy the ride.

10. The master key is LOVE.  When it comes down to it, life is really about the relationships we have.  Relationships are what last and give meaning to our lives. All the other successes are pretty temporary.  If you don’t understand this than you probably are out of balance or out of alignment (see #6).  Love does make the world go around and it will usually fix what is broken or not working in your life or for that matter on your team.  Love unlocks all doors.  We all need to be loved to flourish and be successful.  And once again if you want to be loved, you need to give love! Much of the success that I have experienced in my life I would attribute to the love that I was given by my parents, family, friends, coaches and especially my wife. 

I hope you enjoyed this month’s article.  As always feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any questions or comments about this article.  Merry Christmas!

Coach Schroeder


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