Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Reading Habit

Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I just love the nostalgia. Everything about it makes me recall my fondest childhood memories.This past year I read a biography on Thomas Jefferson. Looking back to our Founding Fathers, reading snippets of letters written between them, and understanding the immense pressure they were under really solidified my love for Independence Day.

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was and is regarded as one of the most intelligent men to ever serve as the President of the United States? In fact, at a dinner hosted by John F. Kennedy honoring Nobel Prize winners from the western hemisphere on April 29, 1962, Kennedy said this:

"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Wow. That's some brain power!

I don't normally read books the size of encyclopedias (for the record, the T.J. book was about 24 hours on Audible), but I do read almost daily and I get asked all the time how I have time to read. It's a fair question for all, especially balancing life, kids, work, school, etc. So for this week in Stoll on Sports, I'm going to leave you with 5 book recommendations and 5 tips on how to read more. Here we go:

Stoll's 5 Book Recommendations:

(In no particular order)

5. The APA Manual. I'm totally kidding! No offense to the fine folks over at the APA, but as an ABD doctoral student I'm about over it. In fact, I might sacrificially burn it when I graduate. If only I didn't have the Kindle version...
You know you're lame when you use APA humor.
Okay, the real number 5.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Two Navy Seal veterans who draw on battlefield skills and experiences for business application. The principles in this book are easy to understand and implementable regardless of organization size.

4. Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf
There is serious power to unlock by developing neuropathways. Dr. Leaf is a wealth of knowledge in this area and the simple premise is what you think about expands. This principal has been a tough one for me over the years, but the more and more I own my thoughts, the more freedom it has given me.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, a great speaker as well
3. Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis
The true story of a 21 year old college graduate who thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Her story is one of "all the feels". Since that successful thru-hike, she has gone on to set the record for the fastest thru-hike on the AT (roughly 2185 miles in 46 THAT's bookin'!). It's a great story and will leave you feeling empowered and inspired.
Just finished this one and loved it.
2. Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
I've mentioned this one in Stoll on Sports, but it's worth putting on this list. Stulberg and Magness completely shifted my perspective on what it takes to succeed, the value of stress and how to balance that with the uber elusive 'rest'. It's a great read for highly motivated and driven people, or those - like me - who have a tendency to teeter on burned out.

Oh man, why did I say just 5 books? I could easily leave many, many more.

1. In an effort to balance business and personal development books, I'll go with The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. No intro needed for this one. I read it at least two times per year and highly recommend it for everyone.

0. I made that up, but I have to add Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a fascinating overview of scantly explored trends involving some of the most successful people. From professional athletes, to Bill Gates, to the Beatles, it's chalk full of good stuff. Paul McCartney even touched on an element addressed in this book during the now-viral James Corden Carpool Karaoke segment when he said there was a point the Beatles would play every gig they could get. Read the book and you'll find out how this relates to 10,000 hours.

If you haven't watched it. Do so now.

Now quickly for my Top 5 "Read More" Tips:

5. Drive to Audible books. Get in car, flip on Audible. Before you know it, you're at your destination.

4. Mix it up. Business, personal, biography, fiction, non-fiction. It does not matter, reading different genres and styles stretches your brain and even though we don't retain it all, it gets dust off our cobwebs and keeps the ol' gears hummin' along.

3. Keep a reading list. I keep a list in my notes app, and then I relish the joy of moving a title from the list to the "finished" section. I's the little things. Then at the end of the year you can look back and feel proud of the new knowledge you've acquired.

2. Read a hard copy book before bed. I have one Kindle, one Audible and one hard copy book going at a time. I usually read a few minutes before I fall asleep, almost always hard copy.

1. Give it away! Reading is a pleasure, not a burden (unless you are writing a dissertation, then reading can, in fact, suck the life out of you). But, giving it away is one great way to continue that pleasure. If you've got a hard copy book, gift it to someone who will enjoy it. If it's an audio or digital format, I always try to find someone I know will love the book and tell them about it.

Who can forget this timeless classic show?
My love for reading didn't come until well after my first round of college (sorry LaVar Burton), but  as Dr. Seuss so astutely penned, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." This is Stoll on Sports. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ripping the Refs

One of the reasons I got into sports as a career is my fascination about the behind the scenes aspects. As a fan, or a participant, you often show up, participate or watch, and hit the road. Maybe your team won, maybe your team lost, but the experience is what it's all about. The sights, the sounds, the tradition. The loyalty to an individual or team. The rivalries. These are elements that comprise the mystique of sport.
The "experience" for my 4 year old at a NASCAR race...only one to ever nap at a NASCAR race.

My interest is in what happens to create those participant and spectator experiences. People think sports just "happen" at a certain time or place, with little regard. Poof! A Super Bowl. Walah! A Final Four. Bazinga! A 300 team youth soccer tournament. (You're welcome Sheldon fans)

Whether large scale national events or community events, this assumption couldn't be further from the truth. What you see on the playing surface is comparative to the tip of the iceberg seen by the captain of the Titanic. It is the stuff behind the scenes that makes the event. Things like recruiting an event, planning, lining the fields, scheduling the teams, dealing with parking, restrooms, cancellations, weather...the list is endless.

One aspect that is often more visible at sports events is the rules and regulations. Those core components of the competition are managed by referees, officials, umpires, judges, etc. Officials have been a staple in sports since the beginning. No refs, no consistency to competition standards.
Photo Credit: Rob Decker/Chicago Tribune

But the Chicago Tribune published a recent AP article about the decline in the number of referees in the State of Illinois. Down 11% from 2012-2013 to 2016-2017 seasons. Double digit decline in an field that's been present for decades? Hmmmm.

Further, on the academic side of things, Hancock, Dawson, and Auger (2015) explored referee motivations to begin reffing, continue, and quit. What they found was that most officials are motivated to officiate to give back to a sport, and gain intrinsic satisfaction for doing so. They continue blowing the whistle for intrinsic and social reasons (i.e. they still enjoy it and have made some friends). Interestingly enough, however, referees reported discontinuing the profession for three reasons.

Can you guess them?
  1. Lack of respect
  2. Too much stress
  3. Lack of recognition
Let me pick my jaw up off the floor. So Hancock and friends are saying sports officials feel underappreciated, an immense amount of pressure, and that no one appreciates them? No. Way.

Athletic Business reported 85.7% of officials would quit if the officiating environment worsens.

The recommendations the authors offered for increasing officials retention include: stressing intrinsic and social benefits of officiating, increase respect garnered from coaches, athletes, and spectators, train them on handling stress, and recognize their achievements.

Then there are things like this, where a coach instructed his players to intentionally hit a referee. Are you kidding me? This may be the far side of the unethical pendulum, but lack of respect is lack of respect.

What's funny to me, strike that, it's not funny, it's disgraceful, is that we (parents, coaches, public, spectators, athletes...) get so enthralled by sport that we basically act like toddlers having full-on temper tantrums when calls don't go our way. We often treat officials - a necessary and important part of sport (ala cities with no fire department, or roads with no traffic signals) - as public enemies, the reason for another "L" in the loss column.

We know it's wrong in youth sports, but what about more competitive levels? Sure, officials at these levels are expected to have more skill - just like any industry's career advancement - but we watch Nick Saban or name-your-coach flail around at these levels. Why is that acceptable? What we see is often what we do, and how can we expect not to see that kind of behavior emulated at a pee-wee football game?

I believe this ties into sustainability in sport. We talk about specialization, we talk about commercialization of youth sport, we talk about combating this childhood issue or that. Then, we've got individuals out there from our communities, whom we see at the grocery store, or at the school, getting involved in a profession to give back to the sport they love, and we run them through the ringer. I think I'm smelling a double standard. Here's an interesting article by a football referee in the trenches worth a quick read. Research shows his sentiments are pervasive. 

Maybe striped shirts are out of fashion. Maybe someone misses a double dribble call at a 8 year old basketball game. But lets bear in mind officials are the ones out there, keeping kids and sport safe, providing opportunity for play. So maybe in return, we should cut them a little slack...or better yet, put a whistle over our own heads and try to be a part of the solution to the decline in sports officials.

The National Federation of State High School Associations is attempting to address this officiating crisis head-on. Here's an article by the NFHS on the topic from 2016.

If sport is about building confidence, bonding, respect, culture, health, and so much more, we cannot afford those opportunities to some, but not all involved...including officials. It goes against the very principal we are trying to achieve.

As a reminder, sport is supposed to be fun. It's not life or death. And with ALL things in life, as the Bible and Momma say, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." It's truly as simple as that. This is Stoll on Sports.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ba-Ba-Black Sheep Events

Our team spent the morning striping soccer fields for the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games descending on Grand Junction this weekend. This event is hands-down my favorite event of the year. Seeing these incredible athletes, their determination, sportsmanship, and the sheer joy spread ear-to-ear on their faces is, as MasterCard says, "priceless". It's a true exemplification of what sport can and should be. In its purest form.
Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games Opening Ceremony 2014
Not all events are that way.

Here at the sports commission, we get asked on a weekly - heck, nearly on a daily basis for event advice.

People always want to know what goes in the "secret sauce" for successful events. Is it marketing? Is it sponsorship? Is it pixie dust? What is it and how do they get 'em some? How does a black sheep event turn a 180?

Well, I'm no Great and Powerful Oz, but a few trips around the event planning block will cause some busted chins and lessons learned. In my opinion, these lessons do no good if they don't drive change. And what's more, sharing them multiplies the fruit for others to enjoy.

Uh, yeah, not me. 
So, without further ridiculous analogies (I'm lying, I'm sure there will be plenty more to come), I give you my Top 5 fixes for Ba-Ba-Black Sheep events.

*Disclaimer: Please note these responses are only the opinion of Stoll, I do not receive compensation from any outside entity and as such, the advice may, in fact, be worth as much as you are paying for it. PS - No black sheep were injured in the writing of this blog.

5. Revisit your "Why"

In other words, what is your purpose for creating the event in the first place? Is it because you want to generate revenue? Perhaps you were suckered into it by a community member who just loves unicorn races. Maybe it's for room nights. Maybe it's for community exposure. Whatever your "WHY", you must not lose sight of it.

On the flip side, knowing your "why" will also allow you to determine if you're measuring success of your event appropriately. Some events may not pencil out from a budget perspective. In some communities, that's fine. It's about exposure, and the exposure reward is more valuable than the financial. If your "why" is for exposure, then don't measure success in economic impact, or room nights. That makes no sense. Identifying your "why" can keep the vision pointed in the right direction. Maybe that sheep was just rolling around in the dust.

4. Events Need to Grow Legs

On the hole, events do not launch as raving successes. They have to cut their teeth. They must be loved, nurtured, fostered, and cared for. Often boards of directors and staff alike want the instant win. Managing those expectations is paramount. It is important to proceed with most new events knowing this truth.

At the GGJSC we inherited a 30+ year event that was turning a profit of a whopping $127. Yes, you read that correctly. I did not omit a zero (or 3). Slow and steady, with an eye toward the potential and managing expectations of growth, that same event is now our highest revenue generating event...and we give a sizable portion of the proceeds to fund a student-athlete scholarship at the local university.

3. In Events, True Positive Correlation is a Myth

In scientific research we look at correlations, or the degree of relationship among two separate things. The more DQ S'Mores Blizzards I eat, the higher my weight will be, for example (unfortunately). At least I hope that's right, b/c I'm almost finished with my PhD and that would be super embarrassing!
Positive correlation we THINK will occur with every event
In the event world, we tend to set our sights on a perfect positive correlation of time and event success (no mater what your metric of success). Simply stated, as time goes on the revenue/economic impact/exposure/number of registered unicorns will increase at exactly the same rate because, you guessed it, they are correlated.
What events actually look like
This isn't the case with events. Events more look like a spider web of chaos. Our job as event managers is to make as much sensibility and efficiency out of the chaos to better our chances of hitting our success metrics and get that correlation as close to 1.0 (perfect positive correlation) as possible.
That's more like what we're aiming for!

2. Don't Marry Your Event

All that stuff about events needing time to grow and be nurtured in No. 4 above...That was some flowery crap. NO, I'm just kidding all of that is VERY TRUE. Buuuuuut, you can take that too far as well. This is what I called "Marrying your event". I see people do it all the stinkin' time. Events are given a fair shot and they don't produce even though your "why" is clear and you are measuring appropriately. Or, worse yet, a great yielding event suddenly under-performs and never rebounds.

But these are our babies! We put hours, sweat, tears, and yes, if you are me and have been the only person to visit a medical tent at an event, even blood into them. Then they leave us at the alter. And a little piece of our ego dies.
Photo Credit: SocialMediaBeyondAllRecognition
I'll let you in on a secret: It's okay! Like the number of times Brett Favre came out of retirement, everything has a life cycle. Hey, dude was a good QB, and like I'll mention below, there was a market. Times change, trends change, customer preferences change. Events, at times, also need some pruning. It may be 20 years in, or sometimes it's just a one year effort. Don't be above it, don't take it personally. We cut an event after one year. Was it fun? No. Was it right? Yes. Not every event has the longevity of the Kentucky Derby, or the Daytona 500, but that's why we talk about those events, they are the exception, not the rule.
Photo Credit CBS Sports
And, the number one tip I have for black sheep events is...

1. The Judge is NOT You

Events, like anything in business, is based on a market. You can plan the best event in the world that you're certain will rival the Olympic Games, but if the market isn't there to support it, then it's not there to support it. Period. *Cough* XFL *Cough Cough*. Oh, say what?'s coming back? They must've talked to Favre.
Photo Credit: XFL
Further, you can have Prime Angus filet at aid stations, spit-shined portable restrooms (eww, I can't believe I just typed that!), and medals that rival the Heart of the Ocean in Titanic, but if there isn't a market for the event you created - in other words, you built it and they aren't coming - then you have a problem.

Also, well-planned events can have poor execution. Remember, it can be hitting the fan in the back of your mind, but we are in a customer service business. We - me included - often think we are in the event planning business. Well, maybe to an extent, but we don't have an event to plan if we don't have customers. Our primary business is customer service. And unfortunately, we aren't the judge of it. Our customers are, and what they say trumps what we think. We better listen. Excuse me while I choke on a bite of humble pie.


So there you have it, my top 5 ba-ba-black sheep event fixes. I hope I've provided some new ways to think about tending your sheep. As John Wooden said, "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." This is Stoll on Sports.