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Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Cost of a Good Old-fashioned Butt Kickin!

What does a good old-fashioned butt* kickin’ cost?

By cost, I mean to ask, is the lesson more expensive than the learn?

And what I mean by butt kicking is when we are schooled by someone who was better than us at whatever we were engaged in with said better. Something we may or may not have known going in. Possibly something where we were in over our head.

What I don’t mean by old-fashioned butt kicking is anything related to a traumatic experience. Traumatic events have an entirely different cost; a cost which I cannot presume to measure nor do I intend to minimize. For tonight’s post, this is not that.

What this regards is what we might encounter in sporting events, card games, cook-offs, a friendly (or not so friendly) debate, and the like. Whatever the case, we were not the expert in the room. Not by a long shot.

So, think of a time when you were schooled, a time when you were the active participant rather than a vicarious spectator.

For me the list is long. I’ll give you the shortened version: chess, golf, cribbage, water skiing, anything which involved linear thinking, and attending a 3-day college basketball reffing clinic (whew, was that ever humbling). These and more can be found circled in red on the lower end of many of my learning curves.

Let me share one from above where I was schooled; the aforementioned basketball clinic.

First, an aside: I believe I am pretty capable at learning new things. It’s kind of a double edged sword, though; it can work for me and it can work against me. I am successful at enough of the things I try so occasionally I find myself trying things that are probably better left alone. Take skydiving, for example. I figured, what could go wrong, right?  Nothing did, of course, or no blog tonight, but what if? But I seldom ask either of those questions; what could go wrong?, and what if?. Instead, I ask what could go right?

That’s the mindset I had when I signed up for the college basketball reffing clinic. I had reffed high school basketball for several years and figured I was pretty good at it. So I asked myself, what could go right if I attended this clinic. My vision of things going right focused on my being noticed right away and subsequently being asked (begged) to work my way up to big time college reffing. I invited my daughter along for company because she too was a basketball official. She worked high school games while enrolled in her freshman year of college.

Fast forward to the third and final day of the clinic. I was finishing up my last game in front of the substantial crowd made up of parents of the players and interlaced (I hoped) with scouts looking for college-ready refs. During the game I made several calls. One player, number 34, was the recipient of more than her share of my whistle than the others players. It happens.

On one occasion, I called her for blocking and immediately a strong voiced gentleman boomed from his balcony seat, “Get into position, 34!”, clearly referencing her number. Later she fouled a shooter. “34, You’re horrible!”, yelled the voice again. I felt sorry for her. It seemed extreme for this fan to be harassing her for normal basketball play, but you get all types.

This continued throughout the game—the same strong voice unabashedly critiquing number 34. Finally, mercifully, the game ended. The players left the court and the fans had exited the arena. All was quiet as I headed over to my gear bag to change out my stripes for a comfy sweatshirt. To my surprise I heard the disgruntled fan one last time as he left the balcony, “Hey, number 34, you are terrible!”  

I thought, Seriously? Let it go. She’s in the locker room.

It was then, when I took of my striped shirt, that I figured it out. Pinned to the back of my shirt was my reffing number—so the many scouts could identify me. None did, by the way. However, my number was not missed by the man in the balcony. You guessed it! I was wearing number 34.

What could go right? Not much in this case. To return to the vernacular, I received an old fashioned butt kicking. I was schooled by better officials and by a fan who actually happened to be right. Who knew? He used the word terrible. I prefer to use in over my head. But, to be honest, this is a distinction without a difference.

So, back to the original question: Is the lesson more expensive than the learn?

There was a cost to my lesson, both a monetary and a personal cost: It cost me money to travel and to attend. It also dipped in to my pride and exposed the reality of my reffing talent. That was the cost of my lesson.

What did it buy me? Said another way, what was my learn? I learned I was not college material. I learned how to better officiate at my appropriate level of competence, high school. I learned that sometimes fans are right. And I learned that while I was suited for high school ball, my daughter was ready for the college ranks as she went on to officiate college basketball, including the college play-off level.

And the cool thing about the learn is that, while the cost of the lesson was uncomfortable, it was also temporary. On the other hand, what it bought me, the learn, is lifelong.

So back to you. I invite you to consider when one of your lessons turned into a learn. What was the event? What was the cost? What lifelong learn did it buy you?

Thank you for reading. Feel free to submit a comment online or to respond via teachfearlessly@gmail.com.

*Toned down to PG for this blog and inspired by my deep thinking nephew, Michael, who told me at the end of a conversation, “ I gotta sign off. I am heading out to get my *ss kicked by my Jui Jitsu coach.” He knew he was going to get schooled, but he also knew he would come away having learned something new.


  1. Great story! I can definitely relate to the optimism you felt at trying the training while secretly feeling perhaps you were already a star student. I felt that way recently at a training I attended. Though I quickly swallowed my pride when I realized I would learn more by accepting my lack of skills than trying to prove I already had them. Therefore, I walked away with some excellent training. The key is, to gain anything at all, the student must want to be changed. And that’s just not always easy. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    1. Thanks. I wonder if the fine line between humbled and humiliated is determined by our willingness to learn.