Recently I had the opportunity to be “That Guy”. You know the Guy: the Guy everyone loves; the guy everyone pities. The Guy who makes everyone feel better about themselves, because, let’s face it, at least they aren’t him.
Who is he? He’s the Guy who finishes dead last. The Guy everyone beats.
It was at an open disc golf tournament here in Tallahassee, a tournament complete with pro circuit players, 2 courses over 2 days, 72 baskets and some seriously tricked out carts. I knew some ultra competitive players would be in attendance, but I also figured a few novices like myself would constitute the bottom bracket, The Recreational Players. Nope. Even the bottom tiered players had their skills dialed in. (Did everyone but me get the memo that “Open” actually means “Already in the Know?”)
Since everyone, and I mean everyone, knew more than me, I approached the weekend as an opportunity to get schooled. And I did. Turns out, you can learn a lot while floundering on the bottom.
How to be the beginner (or, in my case, the loser):
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be earnest in your efforts, but patient, light-hearted, and jovial.
- Arm yourself with self deprecating humor. A little bit of, “My discs seem to have the hots for trees.” goes a lot farther than, “Dag-nab-it! I hit another tree. I suck.”
- Watch and listen. Subtle (and not so subtle) lessons in cultural norms, methods, and techniques abound for the observant.
- Be curious. “I added more anhyzer while using an overstable disc to helix around that mando,” can be something to ignore or explore. Ignoring leaves you on the outside, but questioning open doors.
- Relax. Being last has it priveledges. Relish the kindness given by the uber-competitive on those who don’t pose a threat.
- Appreciate the skills of others. Give props. Want others to share their trade secrets? Tip your hat to their insider knowledge.
- Avoid excuses, and under-talk your skills. Chances are, you’re last for a reason. Better to claim you’re worse than you actually are, that way everyone celebrates your gains, however incremental.
- Apologize for accidental missteps against “The Culture of the Already Initiated.” When you’re in the dark, you’re more likely to bump your toes on things. Taking responsibility for it gets it out in the open and communicates respect.
- Celebrate others. If you’re last, it’s not about you. Celebrating others’ successes and they, in turn, will celebrate yours.
- Don’t give up. If you’re gonna loose, loose big. Go all out and don’t stop until the finish.
It takes a special sort of mettle to be The Guy and still walk away with a smile.
My last place finish had a happy ending (or perhaps a happy beginning): a pro player invited me to tag along on a round of baskets and gave me 3 hours of tips, pointers, and insights. I’m happy to report that I no longer think of myself as being atrociously pitiful at disc golf. Now, I’m probably just really bad at it. Heck, if I keep practicing, I might even get to be shoddy at it.
It pays to lose — its a chance to learn. And that will make me a better teacher.