Monday, March 18, 2019

Learn to Overcome Obstacles to Help in Practice

March is a great time for sports.  College Basketball brackets are out, and the tournament will start soon.  Baseball spring training is finishing up, and golf just had its first huge event of the year.  So many lessons to learn that we can apply to our everyday lives.

I couldn’t help but think of law students last weekend during the golf tournament.  During the second round on Friday, Tiger Woods played really well, except for 1 hole.  The famous island green at TPC Sawgrass.  He hit a reasonable shot onto the island that trickled off the back and into the water.  His next shot included a little adrenaline from frustration, and it too went into the water.  He was 5 under par the rest of the round, but with 2 shots in the water, he was 4 over par on that hole alone.  However, Tiger went on to play reasonably well in the 3rd and 4th round to place 30th out of over 120 players.  He could have given up on Friday, but didn’t.

The eventual winner, Rory McIlroy, went through a similar mental struggle.  He was at or near the lead most of the 4 days, and on Sunday, he started 1 shot back of the leader.  He proceeded to play the front 9 terrible.  He could have let frustration boil over, but he regrouped and played the last 9 holes with 4 birdies and 1 bogey to win.  His resolve led to his success.  John Rahm, the leader going into the 4th round did the opposite.  He had a few bad holes and let his frustration affect numerous subsequent shots.  His emotions probably cost him the tournament.

As law students, you all will face similar difficulties.  Nearly everyone receives at least 1 bad grade in law school.   The grade may be on a final exam or just a mid-term.  The grade isn’t what matters though.  The response to the grade is what determines success.  Take the feedback and determine how to get better.  The goal should always be how to get better.

Unfortunately, I see too many students alter focus from learning to other activities when grades don’t meet expectations.  I encounter students who feel his/her grades aren’t what they have always been, so they lose focus on studying.  They start paying more attention to extracurricular activities instead of what will prepare them for practice and the bar.  Tiger wasn’t going to win, so why not focus on something else.  30th place (and the thousands of dollars that came with it) still provided great mental practice for when he is closer to the lead.  30th place prepared him for future difficulties and shots.  His reactions lay the foundation for acting exactly like Rory going into the back 9.  Every response to unmet expectations has an impact on future responses.

Bob Rotella wrote a book titled Golf is not a Game of Perfect.  I believe the practice of law is the same.  Legal practice is an exercise of mental toughness because litigators fail nearly daily.  Losing motions, failing at trial, and making mistakes happens routinely.  Practice now how to handle the mistakes when the stakes don’t include client’s livelihood.  You can build the ability to overcome obstacles.  Now is that time.

(Steven Foster)

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