A little better every day

I just got done coaching my son’s baseball practice. It has been amazing to watch this group of 7 and 8 year olds improve over the course of the season – learning the fundamentals and now starting to make some pretty great plays.

I had a great baseball coach as a kid.  I’ll never forget the feeling of having the coach show us the right way to throw, and how weird it felt at first, and then how normal it felt eventually. He said: “practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect”, and that has always stuck with me.

It is the idea in Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, that sustained, directed effort is the thing that gets people from good to great. Making little steps every day, targeted to improve the weaknesses you want to work on.

At the USV CEO summit a few weeks ago, the CEO of a very large, successful and fast growing company said something to the effect of “we have always reminded ourselves to have a big vision, but to take small steps to get there” (I am butchering the language but you get the idea.

It really struck me because it is easy to think that for companies to grow and be great and big, every improvement has to be a giant, immediate leap.  That’s a hard mindset to shake, because it’s just so intuitive, and there is also so much pressure to grow and succeed.

But really, all you can do is focus on getting a little better every day.  And over time, each of those improvements is part of the overall improvement, which compounds as it grows.

I think it can be hard to give yourself the space, and have the patience, to just focus on making small improvements every day.  But it feels to me like this is a very healthy and productive mindset if you can find it.

5 comments on “A little better every day”

“Small steps do quantum leaps make” is a personal adage.

Gladwell’s principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. Now, there may be some of us who were born with the brain of da Vinci, Einstein, Ada Lovelace, Picasso, Steve Jobs etc.

Most of us were not. So we have to learn best practices and keep practicing every day.


i guess the point i’m trying to make is that it can be hard to find the space to let yourself take little steps, apart from the pressure to make big ones

Here is the thing though. In life there is no coach. So while a coach could potentially bring out the best in kids playing baseball (and older) there isn’t the same equivalent in life for, I would say, most people. A person that gives you constant attention and feedback and pushes you to get better. Using persuasion and other psych principles essentially to manipulate you to do your best. Maybe your parents. But that assumes they have the right stuff to do this type of thing and you listen to them. Maybe a mentor but that is hit or miss and then you end up following the path that the mentor lays out.

It is the idea in Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit,
that sustained, directed effort is the thing that gets people from good
to great. Making little steps every day, targeted to improve the
weaknesses you want to work on.

What came first? Wasn’t it the self motivation to do the sustained effort?

Most people are not winners in the sense that they will plug away at things every day with little feedback and only small progress. Especially today with more quick rewards than ever. The overwhelming majority of people (not people who end up at Stanford let’s say) are looking for the easy way out or to put in the least amount of effort. They suck. Really. And this is not going to change because someone reads a book and drops the idea into their head that they should plug away. The people that Gladwell wrote about (he is a customer of mine ntim) were self motivated most likely. Most people? They need a personal trainer or a buddy to push them to exercise everyday.

no question it’s hard, and I think coaches and mentors (of all shapes and sizes) are really important to help instill ideas like this and make them tangible and believable.

My Dad coached me one year,1984, in baseball in Marietta, Ga before his career commitments wouldn’t allow it. It was the year after the team from our town won the Little League World Series https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Little_League_World_Series.

Every parent thought their kid were better than they were and the next member on that team. I

It was a good experience. I wasn’t very good. I don’t do well with hand and eye coordination or team sports. I couldn’t hit with any power and couldn’t throw the ball from across the diamond with any zip. However I knew how to make pitchers pitch to me so I walk a lot, was fast on the base paths and could think on my feet.

Having a son that sucked at the sport made it easier for my dad to tell other parents why their sons were not playing. (Didn’t show up for practice, wouldn’t play the best position for them were horrible etc )

I rarely started but I did get to choose the team (phillies) and my number 14. (Pete Rose)

My dad was a draft prospect for the Yankees and the Pirates and knew the game. In those days you had tryouts so my Dad picked everybody based what they could contribute. It was moneyball before moneyball. Most players got better or at the least, performed to their abilities. Those that didn’t got kicked off the team.

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