“Man”-ning Up by Staying At It

Peyton Manning quoted Johnny Unitas when retiring on Monday saying, “he told me to ‘stay at it.’”  What a great message for Good-Bad Dads and kids alike.

There is much to learn from his career – most of which has nothing to do with the wobbly football he threw or the “OMAHA” calls he famously yelled at the line of scrimmage.

Lesson 1: Manning was the Anti-Iverson practice savant.

I was never a fan or detractor of #18.  Like most sports fans, I couldn’t help but respect his professionalism.  I admired the tales of his relentless preparation.  Manning has been credited with forever changing the back-office time required to be the best.

Whether it be studying for the next math test or practicing free-throws until their arms ache, my kids should understand that success is not a coincidence.  Practice is the place where separation happens and confidence is developed.  All practice is helpful but perfect practice is without equal.

Lesson 2: Sportsmanship is more than saying, “Good game.”

Manning provided a great model of sportsmanship.  By all accounts, he was an intense competitor but always took the time to acknowledge his opponent.  #18 was as gracious in losses as gregarious in victory – a combination in short supply.

I see the value of sportsmanship being diminished in youth sports today.  This is, in part, due to the fact that “Sportsmanship Awards” have become synonymous with losing.  Too often players and fans seem to find more value in winning-at-all-costs.

My kids should know that clapping hands with the other team after the game is the bare minimum.  Sportsmanship happens during the heat of the game by helping up a fallen opponent or nodding at the referee for making a courageous call – even if the call goes against your team.

Lesson 3: Innovation starts with understanding.

Peyton Manning was an innovator.  He worked shoulder-to-shoulder with coaches as an extension of their staff on the field.  Manning was coach-able but assertive when he understood that he could help.

To take a page out of Manning’s book, my kids should learn that the first step in leading is listening.  The next step is absorbing without judgement; then helping others understand before, finally, tweaking the system.  To suggest a new way to look at something not show dissent to a superior but rather a mastery of the topic and a willingness to innovate.  Real leadership recognizes this.

Lesson 4: Rejection is fuel.

Manning continued to evolve, displaying an uncanny self-awareness that was never trumped by ego.  He had reached the top as a Colt before being toppled by injury and a hot rookie prospect.  It would have been easy to fold up the tent.

Manning could have dealt with the rejection by reading his stuffed stat sheet and waiting for the assured call from Canton.  #18 took the much harder route – swallowing his pride, honorably thanking those that shunned him and figuring out a way to maximize his new opportunity in Denver.

Adversity will come for my kids in school, in sports or in their workplace.  This will require them to choose between folding up and buckling up.  Manning did the latter and I hope my children will too.

My children can learn that rejection should hurt for a while, but not forever.  Taking a dismissal personally is okay because that means you put your heart into the mission.  The hurt shouldn’t linger.  The pain can be the crutch used to get back up and do better.

The truth is there may be little immediate impact of these lessons on my kids right away.  It is unlikely that kids will be imitating Peyton Manning as they do Odell Beckham, Jr. anytime soon.  After all, one-handed catches are sexier than a short dump-off to a tight end in the flat for a first down.

I find the lack of kiddie-sport-street-cred for Manning particularly apropos.

I want my kids to imitate #18 everywhere other than on the gridiron – while preparing for their next spelling test, when they collaborate with their friends on a school project, after being knocked down by rejection and at the time when the skills they take for granted vanish and there is a need to develop others.

Thank you to Peyton Manning for grinding.  Thank you for helping my kids understand the value of Unitas’ advice to always “stay at it.”


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