The Extraordinariness of the Ordinary…Saturday Football Zen

11.28.15 | Category: Sports Zen

Tonight’s game between Stanford and Notre Dame had 8 changes in lead. The outcome was determined in the last second by a field goal.

But for me the satori moment came at the end of the game during two interviews on ABC, one with kicker Conrad Ukropina and the other with Coach David Shaw. The takeaway lesson? It’s the Ordinary that is the most Extraordinary.

“Were you nervous, did you have any doubt at all?” asked the reporter.

Conrad responded, struggling to catch his breath, “Oh no not at all, we practice every week in high pressure situations. It was just another kick, just another kick.”

In other words, what made his kick so successful was its ordinariness. For Conrad, this super high-pressure, game-hanging-in-the-balance kick, was literally “just another kick” i.e. one of thousands.

So why is this so shocking? Because it is in great contrast to the many things around us that are constantly screaming at us to be extraordinary. In Silicon Valley, everything has to the best, the top, the winner, the most, the uber ….or forget it.

This distorts our view and we ultimately end up undervaluing the so-called “ordinary.” In many cases people want to run for the hills when they see or perceive something ordinary coming their way. In this case “just another kick” is ordinary from a technique perspective because it is indistinguishable from the many, and not standing out in any way. In other words it is consistent. Ironically, calmly delivering the ordinary is what creates the extraordinary.

Similarly, the reporter asks Coach Shaw “You must be feeling pretty good right now Coach?” It is in all respects, a leading question. As the viewers we expect something elated or at least very upbeat. Coach Shaw’s response is the opposite. It’s deadpan, it’s almost catatonic. “I’m doing all right,” he says cooly. As if someone was describing the experience of waiting at a Greyhound bus stop for 3 hours.

In other words, his response is “ordinary.” It’s “nothing special.” But that’s just what makes it extraordinary in my view.

Coach Shaw adds, “I’ve got another game next week, I can’t do highs and lows.”

The influence of the legendary former head Stanford Head Coach Bill Walsh, on Shaw is clear. Shaw was a wide receiver for the Cardinal in 1993 under Walsh. I had the great pleasure of meeting with Coach Walsh on multiple occasions for Stanford Athletics projects and for a portrait I completed of him, the year before he passed away. Like Shaw, Coach Walsh was incredibly calm under pressure. He would practice the extraordinary over and over again until it became “ordinary.”

Leave a Comment