Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Collect Good People"

First of all, we are smack in the middle of JUCO week here in GJ and I want to thank you for making last week's blog on the legacy of that event my most read blog, by far! My goal is to keep sharing knowledge, successes, and more importantly, failures, from which I hope we can all learn.
Memorial Day at JUCO. Courtesy Jessica Sidener
Yesterday I had the extreme privilege to join three experienced, rock-star, female, non-profit leaders in our community for lunch.

This lunch was not your average lunch. It was set-up by one of them, who wanted to help me connect and receive mentorship from her and the other two. I did not ask for this lunch, she willingly set it up on her own. The other two obliged, we sat around a conference table, chatted, I asked questions and they willingly bestowed advice and lessons learned upon me. We laughed, got to know one another, and enjoyed the time together. Make no mistake, however, the point of the lunch was to focus on me. I was humbled.

I probably looked like Sponge Bob Square Pants trying to soak up every piece of wisdom flying across the table.
I've honestly never seen an episode of Sponge Bob, but a living sponge seemed like a natural analogy.
Back to my lunch yesterday, and one of the women gave me the most profound piece of advice. I thought about it all evening. She simply said "Collect good people."


That sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Go around, find the good ones, and tuck them away on your shelf like trinkets or Precious Moments or something. (Remember those things with the puppy-dog eyes? I think my mom had a few, that are now probably in my garage somewhere....I digress.)
They do still exist. Who knew?
Collect good people. What a gem of advice!

Indeed, there is more to it than what's on the surface. In my humble estimation, you have to be willing to BE a good person for others - a person worth collecting, before you can collect good people for yourself.

You see, the self-sacrifice of these three women to meet with and candidly help a quasi-millennial like me, just showing up each day trying to make a difference for my community, is more the exception than the rule these days.

How many times have you asked someone what they're up to for them to respond by saying, "Oh, not much, just been trying to pass the time"? The answer to that is NEVER! That person does not exist. Everyone is running warp-speed bouncing around like life is a pin-ball in a machine, trying to milk the most out of another day.
The cutest kid you've ever seen playing pinball with a Santa hat on. I'm bias.
It's the fact that some people will take the time to have lunch with you - or help you on your dissertation, or whatever else it is you need - that makes the difference. And those are the ones, the special ones, the good people worth collecting.

Conveniently, that's also the type of person worth being.

Let's back track to a couple weeks ago when I was asked by a friend to meet with a young professional in our community and give her some advice. I obliged. Turns out, this particular individual is an absolute delight, a rising star in her own right. As usual when we pour into other people, we receive just as much out of the conversation, as I did with her!

I can rattle off at least a dozen "good people" I have "collected", personally, professionally, spiritually, academically. And I am grateful for the unique attributes of each one of them.

More importantly, I wonder if I am on the "good person to collect" list of others? Maybe. Maybe not. But, this is where my focus needs to be. And I hope yours, too.

I'm grateful for those who have helped me and those whom I can help. I'm grateful for the new friendships, the mentorship, and the timely advice to "collect good people". After all, what the individual who gave me that advice may not have realized is by giving of her time, she was sacrificially positioning herself as another "good person" for me to "collect". Now it's my responsibility to pay that forward.

Robert Ingersoll simply stated, "We rise by lifting others." Another dear "collected" individual in my professional life refers to this as the Rise and Lift principle of leadership. I couldn't agree more.

So for the three ladies who joined me for lunch yesterday, thank you, from the bottom of my heart! This has been Stoll on Sports.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Legacy Worth Celebrating

I know what you're thinking, "Woah, Stoll! Gettin' all fancy on the blog layout these days!" Easy there folks, I just changed up the layout a tad. A friend and colleague made a great suggestion about readability and who am I to turn off readers because I'm too prideful to make a simple change? After all, aren't we all constantly learning along this crazy journey of life? I hope this format serves you better.

Now back to sports.

This week marks the 61st year of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series - or as we locals refer to it "JUCO" - held in the heart of Grand Junction, CO. Hands down, without question, JUCO is THE legacy sporting event in our community. It is the official start to summer for GJ-ites across the valley.
There are other fixed-venue events driving this sort of annual buzz in their respective communities - Indy 500, Kentucky Derby - but those namesake events (all you have to say is "The 500" or "Derby") have a major difference than those like JUCO, or others in communities across the country. The reason why?

It's simple. JUCO is run entirely by volunteers in our community. About 80 of them to be exact. On the most high-functioning local organizing committee I've ever seen. An LOC that truly cares, doesn't just show up for the free shirt, but rather brings tangible results to the planning and implementation of the event. Many of whom have been involved with the tournament longer than my 29 years on this planet. (I wish. But hey, I almost pulled a fast one on you!)
Social Capital is kind of like taking a network and looking at the outcome it produces.
Here's the thing. In the academic, world we study forms of social capital, or essentially the interactions and strengths of groups of people in a particular society to reach a certain goal.

There is a plethora of scholarly work on social capital, probably one of the most notorious authors on the subject is Robert Putnam from over at that little school called Harvard. His work has surmised that highly structured environments yields better social capital results. However, like much academic pursuit, his work is not accepted unanimously.

Over in the sport setting, Darcy et al. (2014) explored a case study of social capital development in an Australian Surf Club, concluding the organization developed social capital through shared values, community engagement, and learned skills, which then translated to output of other forms of capital (financial, human, material, cultural, etc.).

Hmmmm....Let's hang here for a second.
See what I did there? "Hang here for a second"? Another JUCO plug. 

What I'm saying is that research shows people working together to achieve a certain goal can result in some good stuff (AKA social capital). SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! You have to be kidding? No, really. It's common sense. Side note: I don't say "shut the front door" often, that might event be my first and second time, but for some reason it seemed fitting here. And if you can't tell, it is used sarcastically.

BUT (you knew it was coming), what does that REALLY mean?

In the ethos of social capital there are two core forms: bonding and bridging. Think of them this way: bonding is vertical social capital - or a group bonding WITHIN its members. For example, I attended a JUCO meeting a week or so ago and the group was socializing, laughing, swapping stories, building camaraderie...bonding from within. A word of caution on bonding social capital. Research shows in some facets the bond can be so tight that it is actually exclusionary in nature. Think mean girls. This is known as the "dark side" of social capital.
Mean Girls the movie. Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter
Bridging social capital, on the other hand, is horizontal in nature. So essentially, that LOC's ability to permeate social interactions outside of the core group. Or, with whom are the LOC members interacting to achieve their stated goal (putting on an awesome event)? And how does that interaction take shape? That's a bridge, a link to the broader community. And just as importantly, what's in it for the other parties associated with those interactions?

I think of the old Sunday School song "Deep and Wide" when thinking about bonding and bridging social capital. I know, I'm strange, but it works for me. Deep = bonding, wide = bridging. Like a fountain flowing deep and wide, both can be good for social capital.
So, what's the point, Stoll?

Using our example of JUCO, or the XYZ legacy event in your community, what is important here is how these interactions help us as sport practitioners tell our story and share our value. You see, I would contend that these interactions among JUCO LOC members are actually facilitating such positive results as elevating the status of our community (media/brand/exposure value), creating shared values in our community (community building), fostering interpersonal (community connectedness) and business relationships (boosting economy) that might not otherwise occur. Don't those sound like positive outcomes of sport?

In fact, I've interviewed a number of JUCO LOC members and am writing up this case study slowly, but surely.

We talk a lot about room nights, economic impact and the like, but I would urge us, as sport practitioners, to start looking at a more holistic view of the benefit of sport in our communities. As trends change in the industry, these types of outcomes are going to be valuable components of how we tell our story and thus, maintain our relevance.

As for JUCO, the field is set, the town is abuzz, and the slice of Americana we all experience through America's Pastime every summer is upon us...and that, my friends, is a legacy worth celebrating! I could write another dozen blog posts about how truly special JUCO is to our community, but I'll save those for years 67, 72 and 83 of GJ hosting the tournament.

Until next time, remember, as the Great Bambino once said, "Never allow the fear of striking out to keep you from playing the game." True for baseball, even more true for life. This is Stoll on Sports. Play ball!

Monday, May 14, 2018

View from the "Post-Event Haze"

Start/Finish View from the Road Race
The first weekend in May, our community hosted approximately 350 of the nation's best collegiate road cyclists for the 2018 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships presented by our friends at US Bank.

The event consisted of three days of racing in three separate communities in and around Grand Junction. We had a road race in Whitewater tucked in the rolling hills of the base of the world's largest flat-top mountain, the Grand Mesa. Saturday followed up with a time trial in Debeque, a sleepy neighboring town with a phenomenal TT course winding along the Colorado River with picturesque views in every direction. The weekend of racing was capped off by a downtown Grand Junction Criterium, winding through the heart of our central business district.

Finish Line View from the Time Trial
We could not have dialed up more perfect weather, a feat of God that makes every event director's job a little less stressful! A home-town rider,
Mauro Rato from Colorado Mesa University, won the Men's Varsity road race, and the CMU team took second overall in the omnium. All in all, the weekend was a victory by the standards of most participants and spectators, in addition to the sports commission and USA Cycling teams on the ground.

It's easy to look at this event - one of many wonderful events in the community that first weekend in May - as just a positive blip on the radar.

Down the Stretch View at the Criterium
However, as any event staff/team can attest, what is apparent from the outside is a minimal part of the entire event process. Here are some bits of knowledge specific to the USA Cycling Championships of which you might find interesting:

  1. A team of local organizing committee (LOC) VOLUNTEERS met weekly for more than six months putting the GGJSC's portion of the operational plan into place.
  2. Three said LOC members took Friday off work to be out there grinding hour after hour to make the event proceed successfully.
  3. Approximately 175 community members donated four hours each toward volunteering for the event, totaling 700 volunteer hours contributed.
  4. The GGJSC worked extensively with community partners included, but not limited to Mesa County Sheriff's Office, Grand Junction PD, Grand Junction Fire, Lands End Fire, Debeque Town Marshal, Colorado State Patrol, Mesa County Public Works, GJ Public Works, CDOT, and many others to conduct a safe and enjoyable event. 
  5. Throughout the weekend we went through 7 cases of water, 5 cases of Gatorade, boxes of granola bars, hundreds of Chipotle burritos, Jimmy John's sandwiches and slices of pizza to keep the volunteer corp fed and hydrated.
  6. A local farmer lent us 150 bales of straw for the Crit course, which we loaded, unloaded, reloaded, and restacked in a matter of a couple days. Thank goodness for interns!
  7. Our 200 sand bags were moved no less than a dozen times each - or so it felt like...perhaps an opportunity for improved organizational efficiency?!
Time Trial Start Line
Those of you in the event space are probably nodding your head in agreement here, because the truth is, it really doesn't matter the name of the event, this is the business we are in. Sports commissions, our LOCs, our community grind away at hours no human should be awake for one reason, and for one reason alone: To benefit the community we love. 

So as I emerge from the "post-event haze" that leaves me bleary-eyed and numb the days following a major event like cycling nationals, I wanted not only to share some of the "inside scoop", but more importantly say thank you.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank all the LOC members, sponsors, supporters, volunteers, vendors, partner organizations, public agencies, interns, and friends at USA Cycling that made this one possible. With the opportunity to roll out a hospitable "red carpet", our community did not disappoint. This collective collaboration is elevating the status of the Grand Junction area and we are excited to be a part of it!

As Helen Keller once said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." This is Stoll on Sports.