To My Amazing Daughter - Performance IS Variable

By John Kessel | Sept. 30, 2011, 1:54 p.m. (ET)

Last night was one of those powerful times where parenting and sports collide. I am going to get a bit personal here, as the impact moment happened to my daughter’s team and my daughter, who I am also writing to in this specific blog.

A bit of background, so my readers who do not know of my daughter, do know a bit more. McKenzie, or Mac to most friends, is my only daughter. I have been raising her and her only brother, Cody, since 1996 as a single father. She was cut from her club volleyball team in the next season, several years back, for being too short (as she stood there in her size 11 shoes) and her selected teammates rose up against the cut and she was added back. She has played middle, outside, serving specialist and libero – and would be second tallest on that former team now. She also is a 4 year varsity player in lacrosse, tied for the #1 rank in her class, and was voted by her peers Junior Class princess at last year’s spring prom and to homecoming court this senior year. She is the best sibling any brother could have (tho in our family we would also note she is the worst, being the only…), and is missing her bro, who is second tallest on his team too – playing D1 at Princeton for the wonderful Sam Shweisky. Thank gosh for Skype and Apple FaceTime. This week she missed school and practice struggling with a bad eye condition, but spoke yesterday at a luncheon to the city Rotary Club as one of the top kids at her high school. Oh yeah, she is VP of the Interact club, is taking 5 AP classes in her senior year, and is head of the Peer Counseling program on campus. Her school volleyball team is currently 12-0 and working hard to win their fourth straight state title in volleyball.  

So that said, last nite her school dropped their first set in about 2 years, to a 4A team. Not match, just a game. Sure, the starting setter, a great player headed to a Division 1 college up the road, was out with a concussion that happened at the very end of practice the day before. The fact is, the team played poorly in game one, including Mac. 9-25. So the coach, the very experienced David Barkley, changed the line up, changing to a third setter, and younger players from the bench. They played well, the team won 3-1, and the winning streak remained intact, as she and a fellow senior sat on the bench. Versions of this story are repeated millions of time in sport, and I just wanted to share my thoughts shared with her since then in the hopes it might help other parents and players.

Remember to focus on what you can control

That remains after each match, the next practice, not the fact that you were benched; the next point – not that you were aced, or hit out. Those errors are part of learning this crazy, non-stop ball flying, no chance to hold onto the darn ball sport.   This is a game, to be PLAYED, so enjoy and learn from it from the bench, or on the court, as points go for or against you. Remember recess, and after school, when you played, and did not worry about riding the pines. Play without fear, play with the joy of the game.  Your spirit when you play is in your control, no one else’s. A bad game does not define you, it simply reminds you that there is more work to be done as you keep raising your average and return to practice.

Reread my Article Splinter Siblings

Every one of those points about how to stay on the bench, you have worked hard to never do, something to be very proud of.

Stay the Course of Process Over Outcome

Read and read again, Rob Browning’s great piece on this important principle

  - For I believe in you, far more than you may sometimes realize. .  Peter Vint, our USOC Director of High Peformance, sent me this response….

Damn you, Kessel. I'm trying to get "real work" done and you keep sending me all these exceptionally exceptional pieces to read. This is a quick, easy and powerful read. So timely too for me as I've been encountering this scenario on both personal and professional levels. I want to take this opportunity to point out how deeply this "bad night" concept ties to our ongoing discussions of skill acquisition, performance variability, and random outcomes.  

 Rob writes, "We still aren't sure exactly why we played so poorly...". 

Let's not forget that sometimes, the very real answer to such an outcome (or the converse) is "because performance IS variable". 

We can all work to make the average better. We can all work to be more consistent and therefore less variable in our best and/or mean performances. But sometimes, once in a while, we will have right tail or left tail performances due to nothing other than performance variability and the laws of probability. Love it or hate it, it's the reality in which we all work and play.

I loved reading the way Rob and his team dealt with this and resumed their focus on the PROCESS OF EXCELLENCE. "…we are staying the course. We are as invested in the process of excellence now as we were before…". And, just between you and me, I'll admit that after reading the last line I gave a hearty fist pump and a "Hell yeah!!" 

Go get em, Rob! I BELIEVE TOO!!! 

This it too good to keep to yourself. Pass it on!


Re-read my Blogs on Stats for Parents and Players and Stuff Happens

Remember that the whole concept of an average means about half the time you are going to be playing below your average is covered in detail -  and   Last nite, as part of my role as a parent, you and I watched a short piece on the collapse of both the Red Sox and the Braves in baseball this same week. Those guys are paid millions and still had below average performances at the season’s end, at a historic level.  Performance is variable and caca occurs.

Keep Your Exuberance…Let Your Spirit Shine.

Remember when you used to say – He/She made me mad, and I worked hard to get you to understand that, no she/he did not, you let yourself become angry. It is in your control.  You are way more resilient than you might realize, for you are much, much more than just a volleyball player.  Reread this blog (dang dad, do I HAVE to read so much?...yes, for we are learning still…)

Learn From the Great Ones

Last week I got to host a webinar on 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Aldis Berzins as part of our USA Volleyball Great Player Webinar series. Aldis spoke wonderfully about his favorite quote by Theodore Roosevelt given in Paris in 1910. You can watch the whole webinar at  and listen to Aldis read this, along with his outlook on when he made errors, thinking that the server got lucky, and it would not happen again.  One of my favorite parts was where he spoke about playing in Brazil, and who knows how many thousands were chanting  “BRA–SIL…BRA-SIL” and that Aldis simply changed their chant he was hearing  to “BER-ZINS…BER-ZINS”  --- There is a lesson there, and in his favorite quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

And when time allows, revisit all the other helpful thoughts and ideas for players at:  

So my dear child, know that...

I love to watch you play….

You are developing into an amazing leader…

You are putting in the effort and work to be the best player you can be…and

I believe in you…no matter whether you play below your average or above it, win, lose or even draw…

Love Dad


PostScript….the next match, four days later, was against a larger school, cross town rival who is listed as #1 in the city in 5A, state semifinalists the last two years.  Mac passed 25 of 27 successes on target, and her team won 3-0, leading the local paper to note, who is #1 in the city is no longer in doubt.  Ah the randomness of sport and playing this challenging game…

Postscript #2. Since this was written, Team Cheyenne has continued its run....leading wonderfully to a League championship showdown of two undefeated teams, 18-O Plains division champion Coronado vs. 18-0 Mountain Division champion Cheyenne.  The atmosphere was the best of high school sports - and you can see the result in this fun and spirited 2 minute clip (after the obligatory advert)....