Eeyore Learns from Tigger… Eventually

 

When I was younger, I was a very serious athlete. Meaning, I took athletics very seriously. And I was pretty good at it. I’m in my high school’s athletic hall of fame for football and track, I still hold some records in Ohio for track even 35 years later, and I was a collegiate athlete as well. I was a good natural athlete, but I also worked really, really hard at it. When people asked what motivated me to work so hard, I always said that I just wanted to win. But even then, as an idiot jock teenager, I knew that wasn’t quite true. I enjoyed winning of course, but not that much, honestly. I expected to win, so when I won, I wasn’t overjoyed. I was more relieved, actually.

But I absolutely hated losing. Losing was a devastating event to me. I worked hard to avoid losing, because I just couldn’t stand it. If I was losing motivation in one of my endless solo workouts, sometimes I would imagine somebody beating me, and I would literally get nauseated, and I would work out harder. I’m not suggesting this is healthy, and I don’t recommend this approach to anyone. But I didn’t choose this approach. That’s just how I’m wired. It can’t be turned off. I’ve tried – I really have.

Anyway, one of my coaches in high school (Chet Pifer) was pretty much the opposite. He probably understood me, but I didn’t understand him. He didn’t care about losing, but he loved, loved, loved winning. We’d win a meaningless scrimmage against a nobody school, and he’d just be over the moon with joy. If we lost, he’d be excited about all the things we could work on in our next practice. So after a loss, I’d be sitting on the bus wishing I was dead, and Coach Pifer would be chattering excitedly about how things were really looking up, and if we’d just work on footwork and pursuit angles, we’d win the next one. My worst death glare wouldn’t shut him up. He was irrepressible. As you might imagine, Coach Pifer drove me crazy sometimes. But when he died some years ago, it hurt, because I felt like part of me had died. Or at least, a part of my personality that I wish I had.

What’s beautiful about Coach Pifer’s approach, is that it always works. When I was great, he wanted me to be greater. When I sucked, he wanted me to suck less. Either one was fine. He was equally excited about either possibility.

I could always be better. So from my perspective, I was never good enough, no matter how hard I worked. So I was miserable.

I could always be better. So Coach Pifer was always excited, just thrilled by the seemingly limitless potential.

Both approaches led to success. But my approach made me miserable, and Coach Pifer’s approach made him happy.

He loved people and he loved kids. We had a dominant track team, and he would never stop recruiting from our student body. My high school had about 1,300 students, and we’d have over 200 kids on the track team. Talent and work habits didn’t matter. He saw potential. In everyone. I mean, freakin’ everyone.

Pifer: “Hey Bastiat, I got Johnny Smith to come out for the team! He’s gonna be great! Help him out, kind of take him under your wing, you know?”

Me: “No.”

Pifer: “Aw, c’mon! Why not? He’s gonna be great. I’m thinking 2:05 in the 800.”

Me: “He’s a worthless dopehead. Don’t waste my time. He’ll wash out in 3 days. I’ve got work to do.”

Pifer: “You never know.”

Me: “Yes, I do know. He’s a dopehead.”

Pifer: “No. You don’t know. You never know. He could be great!” * Enthusiastic manic smile *

Me: “Look, Coach, I … uhhh … ok fine. I’ll show him around. Whatever.”

Pifer: “Great! You’ll see!”

So I show him around. After a few days, Johnny doesn’t show up to practice. I of course go to Coach Pifer to point out that his boy quit. Before I can say anything, he’s got another loser for me to ‘take under my wing.’

Drove me nuts. He really did.

But we won. And we won a lot. So we got along. He made me better, and I knew it. Even though he drove me absolutely nuts sometimes.

To be fair, every once in a while, one of those losers would end up helping the team. Maybe pick up a sixth in the mile or something. Every point helps. Every once in a while. Every once in a great while. But whatever. He didn’t care. He never stopped recruiting kids. He never stopped believing in kids. Which drove me crazy, until I realized that he never stopped believing in me, either.

Which didn’t help at the time, because I didn’t figure that out until after he was dead. But it helps now. We became great friends later in life, which I’m eternally grateful for.

Despite our differences, I think Coach Pifer and I both went into athletics because we had no other choice. We both felt a visceral need to compete. At something. And we didn’t feel whole unless we were competing. It almost didn’t matter what it was. We’d both compete at anything. Whatever. But we needed it, like a drug.

But I’m fascinated by our different viewpoints. He loved winning. I hated losing.

I prefer his approach. I would choose it, given the choice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the choice. At least, I don’t think I was. But for what it’s worth, I’m a great admirer of Coach Pifer and his view of the world. Now I have extremely athletic kids, who are scholarship athletes at major Division I schools, and I’ve tried to teach them Coach Pifer’s way, and steer them away from mine. With mixed results. But I hope they learn his way, eventually.

I never got to tell him that. He died young. After helping countless kids in countless different ways, he died young. It’s not fair.

I learned a lot from him. Eventually. But I was a thick-skulled, arrogant teenager. Which made me a slow learner.

But I think we all have a lot to learn from Coach Pifer. Always try to get better. Enjoy the good times. Ignore the bad times. Believe in one another, even if there’s no reason to do so. Welcome anyone and everyone into your family, even if there’s no reason to do so. Find joy in the process. In every little step along the way. Ignore losses. Enjoy wins. Rejoice in the competition itself. And always try to get better. Always, always, always try to get better.

It’s beautiful, really.

My way was miserable. His way was beautiful. I chose my way.

Or, perhaps, I had no choice. That’s just how I’m wired, I guess. But I was blessed to learn from his way. Or, try to learn, at least. Eventually.

Thanks, Coach. Thanks for putting up with me, even when I was at my worst. And thanks for teaching me about joy. Even if I didn’t listen at the time. I was busy. I’m sorry for being such a twit at times. I’m sure I drove you nuts sometimes, too. But you believed in me. Just like you believed in everybody else. It’s beautiful, really.

I learned a lot from you. Eventually.

Rest in peace, my friend.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Excellent piece, Doc.

    • #1
  2. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    I had a sensei (well, Hanshi, but too much typing involved to explain that), who would constantly state:  If you lose, you are by definition a “loser.”  But here’s the beautiful thing: that designation is not permanent.  You can train through it.  You can compete through it.  You can work through it.

    • #2
  3. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    Very, very good epitaph. Most thought provoking,

    The question it begs:  How has his philosphy affected your own career?

    And at a lesser level – what about your Ricochet posts?

    • #3
  4. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    This is getting closer to the questions that matter. You get to them from who you were in high school, and I approach them from where I was in high school. But it is the same truth.

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    I had a sensei (well, Hanshi, but too much typing involved to explain that), who would constantly state: If you lose, you are by definition a “loser.” But here’s the beautiful thing: that designation is not permanent. You can train through it. You can compete through it. You can work through it.

    Sounds not completely different from Coach Pifer, who sounds ideally suited to have been a high school athletic coach.

    By the way, @bossmongo, today I was working on putting together a video of a ride to Mongo, Indiana last summer, when all of a sudden you came to mind as I looked at that word Mongo. Your name isn’t short for Mongoquinong, is it?  The name might mean bear-something-or-other in Potawatomi, though I’m not sure about that. The word for bear in Ojibwe is makwa and in Potawatomi is more like m’kwa.  I have sometimes wondered if the old Michigan place name Monguago meant bear, too, and I recently learned that others have assumed it does.  Many years ago I mentioned the possibility in a backhanded way to a local descendant of John Moguago. She seemed intrigued but non-committal, Indian fashion.  The stories about John Moguago have him being agreeably determined and persistent in sticking to his people’s rights and prerogatives, as is fitting for anyone from the Bear Clan. 

    • #5
  6. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    I had a sensei (well, Hanshi, but too much typing involved to explain that), who would constantly state: If you lose, you are by definition a “loser.” But here’s the beautiful thing: that designation is not permanent. You can train through it. You can compete through it. You can work through it.

    Sounds not completely different from Coach Pifer, who sounds ideally suited to have been a high school athletic coach.

    By the way, @ bossmongo, today I was working on putting together a video of a ride to Mongo, Indiana last summer, when all of a sudden you came to mind as I looked at that word Mongo. Your name isn’t short for Mongoquinong, is it? The name might mean bear-something-or-other in Potawatomi, though I’m not sure about that. The word for bear in Ojibwe is makwa and in Potawatomi is more like m’kwa. I have sometimes wondered if the old Michigan place name Monguago meant bear, too, and I recently learned that others have assumed it does. Many years ago I mentioned the possibility in a backhanded way to a local descendant of John Moguago. She seemed intrigued but non-committal, Indian fashion. The stories about John Moguago have him being agreeably determined and persistent in sticking to his people’s rights and prerogatives, as is fitting for anyone from the Bear Clan.

    Uh, some interesting intersections, here.

    “Boss Mongo” comes from “Mungadai 6.”  Back in the day (circa 1300’s)  the Mungadai were Ghengis  Khan’s special operators, My team chose “Mungadai” during train-up before we inserted into Iraq, 08-09.  Because the kids working the War Horse brigade Tactical Operations Center didn’t know doodly from squat when it came to “Mungadai,” my team became known as the “Mongo’s.”  As the Commander of my team and subordinate teams, I wound up being “Boss Mongo.” (Oft times “Mongo 6,” as 6 is always the comms designator for a commander.)

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    “Boss Mongo” comes from “Mungadai 6.” Back in the day (circa 1300’s) the Mungadai were Ghengis Khan’s special operators, My team chose “Mungadai” during train-up before we inserted into Iraq, 08-09. Because the kids working the War Horse brigade Tactical Operations Center didn’t know doodly from squat when it came to “Mungadai,” my team became known as the “Mongo’s.” As the Commander of my team and subordinate teams, I wound up being “Boss Mongo.” (Oft times “Mongo 6,” as 6 is always the comms designator for a commander.)

    Interesting. I didn’t know Ghengis Khan had special operators. If there was anything about that at the big Ghengis Khan exhibit we visited when it was at Kansas City a year ago, I didn’t catch it.  But that exhibit was where you go to learn about the woke edition of Ghengis Khan, so maybe it didn’t fit.

    Is there also a backstory behind 6 being the designation for commander?

    • #7
  8. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    I’m sure Boss Mongo has explained the above in a post before, and I have forgotten it entirely, but I always thought he was named for this fella, who is extremely strong, and once decked a horse:

     

    See the source image

    • #8
  9. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Gazpacho Grande' (View Comment):

    I’m sure Boss Mongo has explained the above in a post before, and I have forgotten it entirely, but I always thought he was named for this fella, who is extremely strong, and once decked a horse:

     

    See the source image

     

    That is not the picture that I was expecting on the eighth comment on this thread…

    • #9
  10. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Coach Pifer, who sounds ideally suited to have been a high school athletic coach.

    You are exactly right.  He was doing what he was born to do.  I couldn’t do that job.  He was just fantastic at it.

    There’s a lot of kids who just light up when somebody believes in them, and is excited about what they can do.  For a lot of these kids, he believed in them more than they believed in themselves.  He never ran out of that enthusiasm.  I don’t know how he did it.  

    • #10
  11. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Chuck (View Comment):

    Very, very good epitaph. Most thought provoking,

    The question it begs: How has his philosphy affected your own career?

    And at a lesser level – what about your Ricochet posts?

    Thanks much.

    I’m not sure how much it’s changed my approach to life.  I think I’m hard-wired into the ‘relentless intensity’ approach.  Which, again, I don’t recommend to anybody.

    Coach Pifer’s approach did have a big impact on how I coached my kids when they were young.  I kept reminding them that they were there to PLAY basketball, not WORK basketball.  I tried to point out that you’re going to lose sometimes, and that’s ok.  Enjoy the wins when they come.

    My oldest daughter was on an incredible basketball team from grades 6-12.  She was undefeated in junior high, and was 128-5 during high school.  When she signed with a top-20 college program, ESPN had her ranked in the top 50 prospects in the world.  Her team was loaded.  Her AAU team lost once when she was about 14 years old.  She hadn’t lost in 2 years.  I called to cheer her up, and she wouldn’t even speak to me.  I chattered to her about footwork etc, and I got the death glare, which I could feel over the phone.

    When they got home, I got the death glare from my wife while she muttered something about bad breeding.  I pointed out that she knew exactly what she was getting when she married me, and this was not my fault.

    So I hope that my kids will learn from Coach Pifer.  Eventually.

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    I kept reminding them that they were there to PLAY basketball, not WORK basketball.

    Or as Tom Kelly said when Jack Morris insisted on staying in to pitch the 10th inning of game 7 of the 1991 World Series: “What the hell. It’s just a game.” 

    • #12
  13. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    So I hope that my kids will learn from Coach Pifer. Eventually.

    I absolutely loved this post. It speaks directly to how the very same data can be explained with opposite story lines.

    When I was younger, I was intensely, deeply competitive. I could not handle anyone being better than me at something I cared about doing (from chess to violin to singing to academics). I hated, hated, hated art class because I could not handle being not-great (and I was worse than that). I was green with jealousy that others could create beautiful things and my very best work was only mediocre. 

    In short: I was not a very nice person. But I was driven, and that counts for something. Lacking a sunny disposition, I worked hard at the things I decided to prioritize. 

    And eventually, I came to learn to delight in the accomplishments and capabilities and talents of other people. Most importantly, I, like your coach, believe in what kids can do. With kids, setting high expectations helps them break out.

    Again: great, great post. Thank you.

    • #13
  14. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    A good coach, especially at the high school level, can be really important. If they do it right, you learn lessons that will go way beyond your chosen sport.

    Dr. Bastiat:

    Me: “He’s a worthless dopehead. Don’t waste my time. He’ll wash out in 3 days. I’ve got work to do.”

    Pifer: “You never know.”

    Me: “Yes, I do know. He’s a dopehead.”

    I like to see coaches recruit kids like that. Yeah, it doesn’t always work out but I have been surprised by a few guys who certainly didn’t fit the “jock” stereotype but thrived when they found the right sport for them.

    • #14
  15. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Dr. Bastiat:

    My way was miserable. His way was beautiful. I chose my way.

    Or, perhaps, I had no choice. That’s just how I’m wired, I guess.

    I agree.  The more I’m around children, the more I realize that in the question of nature versus nurture, almost everything about us is nature.  We can make decisions and choices, but our most basic tendencies are with us when we are born.  

    • #15
  16. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Dr. Bastiat: To be fair, every once in a while, one of those losers would end up helping the team. Maybe pick up a sixth in the mile or something. Every point helps.

    That’s how our sabre team won a first place trophy.  I wasn’t the best sabre fencer in our club, but I was the best one available that could travel.  All I had to do was hold my ground when my turn came up, but I rose to the occasion and went 4-1.

    • #16
  17. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Interesting. I didn’t know Ghengis Khan had special operators. If there was anything about that at the big Ghengis Khan exhibit we visited when it was at Kansas City a year ago, I didn’t catch it. But that exhibit was where you go to learn about the woke edition of Ghengis Khan, so maybe it didn’t fit.

    Genghis Khan’s Mungadai were started by one of his main fighters, Yasotai (there are numerous different spellings for Mungadai and Yasotai).

    Yasotai was pretty much the opposite of Coach Pifer.  He had noticed, as a lad shepherding goats as a kid, the patterns of wolves.  In the summer, when the wolves could easily live off of the fat of the land, the pack was in “every wolf for himself” mode.  At the onset of winter, the pack came together and worked as a team.  Instead of jockeying for pack status, each wolf fulfilled the role he could best play for the success of the pack.

    Yasotai told the Khan, “If you give me forty men, I will give you the world.”   The Khan let Yasotai pick his men.

    Upon being selected for service in the Mungadai, every man took a vow that he was already dead.  No family, personal possessions, or awards or accolades.  They considered themselves already dead, so being handed a “suicide mission” or a ridiculously dangerous tasking was no big deal.

    When they knew they were going into battle, the Mungadai would fast for four days beforehand.  Supposedly, the mental state achieved on the fourth day were “sublime.”  I have not been able to replicate this experience. 

    • #17
  18. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Interesting. I didn’t know Ghengis Khan had special operators. If there was anything about that at the big Ghengis Khan exhibit we visited when it was at Kansas City a year ago, I didn’t catch it. But that exhibit was where you go to learn about the woke edition of Ghengis Khan, so maybe it didn’t fit.

    Genghis Khan’s Mungadai were started by one of his main fighters, Yasotai (there are numerous different spellings for Mungadai and Yasotai).

    Yasotai was pretty much the opposite of Coach Pifer. He had noticed, as a lad shepherding goats as a kid, the patterns of wolves. In the summer, when the wolves could easily live off of the fat of the land, the pack was in “every wolf for himself” mode. At the onset of winter, the pack came together and worked as a team. Instead of jockeying for pack status, each wolf fulfilled the role he could best play for the success of the pack.

    Yasotai told the Khan, “If you give me forty men, I will give you the world.” The Khan let Yasotai pick his men.

    Upon being selected for service in the Mungadai, every man took a vow that he was already dead. No family, personal possessions, or awards or accolades. They considered themselves already dead, so being handed a “suicide mission” or a ridiculously dangerous tasking was no big deal.

    When they knew they were going into battle, the Mungadai would fast for four days beforehand. Supposedly, the mental state achieved on the fourth day were “sublime.” I have not been able to replicate this experience.

    You think El Dorado might help?

    • #18
  19. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Is there also a backstory behind 6 being the designation for commander?

    The admin officer is 1, S-1, G-1, etc., it’s the regular staff number

    Intel is 2

    Operations is 3

    Logistics is 4

    The executive officer is often 5

    The commanding officer is 6

    On the radio, the communications officer, who is normally the S-6, is called 10.  It gets confusing because as the communications officer everyone called me “Six” but on the radio the CO is the 6, and few knew that the comm officer is supposed to be Ten, that is, when I was with first battalion, 23rd Marines, I was Lonestar 10, and the commanding officer was Lonestar 6.  But my staff position was as the S-6 officer.  Few people know the communications officer is 10 because surprisingly, the communications officer is very rarely on the radio.

    I have no idea when all this originated, but probably before they created a staff position for communications.  Staff 1, 2, 3, and 4 never change, the CO is always 6 on the radio.  The rest is fluid.

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Skyler (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Is there also a backstory behind 6 being the designation for commander?

    The admin officer is 1, S-1, G-1, etc., it’s the regular staff number

    Intel is 2

    Operations is 3

    Logistics is 4

    The executive officer is often 5

    The commanding officer is 6

    On the radio, the communications officer, who is normally the S-6, is called 10. It gets confusing because as the communications officer everyone called me “Six” but on the radio the CO is the 6, and few knew that the comm officer is supposed to be Ten, that is, when I was with first battalion, 23rd Marines, I was Lonestar 10, and the commanding officer was Lonestar 6. But my staff position was as the S-6 officer. Few people know the communications officer is 10 because surprisingly, the communications officer is very rarely on the radio.

    I have no idea when all this originated, but probably before they created a staff position for communications. Staff 1, 2, 3, and 4 never change, the CO is always 6 on the radio. The rest is fluid.

    Thx. There are advantages to keep it confusing for outsiders, I suppose. 

    But what will be the designation for the political commissar?  I presume it’s a new position under Biden/Pelosi in order to ensure ideological conformity.  And it will need a number.  According to some recent Russian movies I’ve seen, during WWII they were generally recognizable by their blue hats. There could be occasional mutterings about blue-hatted officers.  But for us, maybe a number would be more appropriate. 

    • #20
  21. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Thx. There are advantages to keep it confusing for outsiders, I suppose.

    Nah, it’s all very public.

    • #21
  22. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    “Boss Mongo” comes from “Mungadai 6.” Back in the day (circa 1300’s) the Mungadai were Ghengis Khan’s special operators, My team chose “Mungadai” during train-up before we inserted into Iraq, 08-09. Because the kids working the War Horse brigade Tactical Operations Center didn’t know doodly from squat when it came to “Mungadai,” my team became known as the “Mongo’s.” As the Commander of my team and subordinate teams, I wound up being “Boss Mongo.” (Oft times “Mongo 6,” as 6 is always the comms designator for a commander.)

    Interesting. I didn’t know Ghengis Khan had special operators. If there was anything about that at the big Ghengis Khan exhibit we visited when it was at Kansas City a year ago, I didn’t catch it. But that exhibit was where you go to learn about the woke edition of Ghengis Khan, so maybe it didn’t fit.

    Is there also a backstory behind 6 being the designation for commander?

    “Khan was enormously popular helped many countries to unionize.” 

    • #22
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Gazpacho Grande’ (View Comment):

    I’m sure Boss Mongo has explained the above in a post before, and I have forgotten it entirely, but I always thought he was named for this fella, who is extremely strong, and once decked a horse:

     

    See the source image

     

    That is not the picture that I was expecting on the eighth comment on this thread…

    A simple ‘thank you’ will do. 

    • #23
  24. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I hope this post was shared with the Coach’s family. It is so very beautiful.

    • #24
  25. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I realize that in the question of nature versus nurture, almost everything about us is nature. We can make decisions and choices, but our most basic tendencies are with us when we are born.

    That’s the excuse I’m using.

    That and that ‘effin Tigger bugs the crap outta me…

    • #25
  26. WalterWatchpocket Coolidge
    WalterWatchpocket
    @WalterWatchpocket

    I knew Coach Pifer very well over a long period of time in many different ways, in fact, I was an assistant football coach under him for a period of time.  Dr Bastiat has summarized Coach Pifer very well and I confirm his views.

    I remember him saying, “Some kids are good for the team, and sometimes , the team is good for the kid.  The problem is you don’t ahead of time, which kid is which, and sometimes you don’t know afterwards either.”

    Another time, I remember, walking into a locker room at halftime of a football game.  We were losing something on the order of 35-0.  All I could think of were the mistakes we were making and tried to sort our problems in my mind.  Coach Pifer put on a show that I still remember.  He did not acknowledge the score or our mistakes.  His half time speech was all positive.  He listed many positive aspects of the first half, that I had not noticed.  All I saw were mistakes; all Coach Pifer saw were successes to build on.

    What a great attitude, and one that is contagious, as well.  And, he maintained that attitude though a lengthy illness.

    God Bless him and the legacy he left behind.

     

    • #26