Sometimes, when I am hitting a string of lousy shots in racquetball—skipping them to the floor or hitting them so high on the wall that even my opponents who are just as middle-aged as I am can easily return them—I will throw my hand up in the air, call a time-out, and have a conference with myself. I usually turn around, face the back wall, and ask myself how in the world I could possibly keep hitting the ball as if I’d never picked up a racquet. You don’t want to know the exact words or tone of voice I use, especially at the beginning of these conferences. Eventually, I tell myself a few basic things—keep your eyes on the ball, bend your knees, follow through, hustle, have fun. Those are the essentials, but it’s easy to forget them in the heat of a game, or when fatigue crawls up on my back, or when I am distracted by whatever I was doing before the game began or what I have to do when it’s over.
The fabled Green Bay Packers’ football coach Vince Lombardi would begin every season with a team meeting. At the start of the meeting, while grizzled veterans and hungry rookies looked on, Lombardi would hold a football above his head and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Back to basics is sometimes the best way forward.
Harvard Business School professor Ronald Heifetz has said suggested that effective leaders practice a discipline he calls “getting on the balcony.” (Leadership Without Easy Answers; see pages 250f). “Leadership,” he writes
is both active and reflective. One has to alternate between participating and observing. Walt Whitman described it as being “both in and out of the game.” For example, Magic Johnson’s greatness in leading his basketball team came in part from his ability to play hard while keeping in mind the whole game situation, as if he stood in the stands. . . .
[Or] Consider the experience of dancing on a dance floor in contrast with standing on a balcony and watching other people dance. Engaged in the dance, it is nearly impossible to get a sense of the patterns made by everyone on the floor. . . To discern the larger patterns on the dance floor—to see who is dancing with whom, in what groups, in what location, and who is sitting out what kind of dance—we have to stop moving and get to the balcony (252-253).
To appreciate what’s happening on the floor, we need to see how the dance looks from the balcony. To see how the a fast break fires or misfires, or how why a pass defense keeps breaking down, a coach needs a view from above the action.
In the same way, you and I need, from time to time, to pause, to reflect, and to get the big picture back in view. It’s so easy to forget what life is all about. We hurry through our days, deal with high pressure, face unrelenting demands, and feel the inner pull of our own dreams and needs. We lose track of what matters to us; we forget the basic, essential truths.
Is it time to call a timeout? To pause and ponder? To rest and reflect? If so, don’t waste your time by staying busy. Stop. Look. Listen to your life and to God. Have a conference with yourself.