Too many years ago, when I was in high school, I played sports like basketball and volleyball for the school teams. As much as I loved playing the sports, being 5'9" made it quite a challenging to succeed in tall people sports. In spite of this, I found some success and even made varsity.
However, as I played on these teams, I never truly felt the sense of “team”. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun. But many times, it felt like we were several individual players playing the same game, instead of a team trying to achieve a common purpose.
The activity that brings me the fondest memories and also taught me the most about teamwork, mindset and winning, was not playing sports, but being in the marching band
Yes, you read it right. Being a “band nerd” in the marching band provided me many of the foundations I have today for business and life. This was especially true my senior year.
Our high school marching band wasn't a typical band that just played at pep rallies and football games. In fact, we begrudgingly participated in those events because we were required to. What we always looked forward to during the fall, were Saturdays.
Saturdays were competition day.
Our band consisted of over 200 plus members, consisting of instruments, color guard, and drill team. We competed against the best schools in Southern CA and the West. In comparison to sports, we would be considered division I, the best of the best. Our band had a history of winning and a reputation of being one of the best in Southern California and the West.
Every year, bands would compete in local and regional tournaments in October and November. Like always, we would go and beat up on the smaller bands and took home the ridiculously tall trophies. These were really warm up tournaments for what’s about to come.
What we always looked forwarded to was the first week of December and the last tournament of the year, The Tournament of Champions. Tournament of Champions or what we called T.O.C., was an invitation only tournament for the top 6-8 bands in Southern CA. Schools were invited based on results in October and November. We, of course, were invited every year. Unfortunately, in my first three years of high school, our band kept finishing fourth at T.O.C.
It was my senior year and we did what we always did. We showed up to the tournaments in October and November, won the tournaments like we were suppose to, and took home those ridiculous 4 feet tall trophies. Even though we won like we were suppose to, we just felt like something wasn't right. The seniors just felt like the band just wasn't as good as previous years.
As the end of November rolled around, it was time for the final warm up tournament. It was the most important warm up because it was the show before the "show." All of the best bands from Southern CA, Santa Barbara to San Diego, would attend the event to gauge where they were in comparison to everyone else.
Unfortunately, the feeling the seniors had about the band that year was proven correct. We finished fifth at this tournament.
So, you would think our natural reaction would be disappointment in knowing we were right about this year's band. We would have little hope knowing we would most likely finish fourth at best the following week at T.O.C., based on our results.
As it turned out, the opposite happened.
We were of course bummed out that weekend, but when Monday morning came around, something different happened.
Our band director gathered us and gave us the scoring break down of every band in our class. Although we came in fifth, we were only one tenth of a point behind the top band and thirteenth hundreds of a point behind the band that placed just ahead of us.
The seniors collectively said to each other and to ourselves, “we could do this!” Instead of being down and accepting our position, we were motivated to compete and win. What happened next will always stay in my mind, even after more than 20 years.
After a hard week of practice, competition night finally came. When we finished our warm up in the parking lot, The 200 plus members of our band took the usual long 10-minute walk to the stadium.
However, unlike other tournaments and every prior year, when everyone usually talked and goofed off while walking to the stadium, this year’s walk was different.
The entire band was completely silent during the 10-minute walk.
No one told us to be quiet. No band director, drum major, section leader, or senior, told anyone not to talk. Yet, the 200 plus members of the Entertainment Unit walked silently to the gates of the stadium. I remember looking around and knowing we were ready. Every person was staring straight ahead, focused and poised, concentrating on what was ahead of us. We walked as one unit into the stadium
As we finished the show and played the loud long note that every band likes to finish a show with, I stood on the front of the 40 yard line, looking up at our band director standing on the ladder looking out at us. He was beaming with the biggest grin we had ever seen. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever seen him smile during competition.
He opened his arms wider, conducting us to play even louder, which to our surprise, we did. At that moment, everyone in the band knew we had played our best show. We left nothing behind. It really didn’t matter where we finished because we knew we did our very best.
But, as you probably already guessed, we finished on top. We got first place.
So why did I share with you my senior year band nerd story? I wanted to share with you my takeaways from my experience.
1. Belief: When we believed we weren’t as good, we were right. But when we collectively believed we could achieve something great, we did.
2. Focus: We practiced with focus, walked into the stadium with focus, and competed the same way.
3. Vision: Although we were 200 separate individuals, playing different instruments, throwing a flag, or dancing, we acted as one unit. We shared the common vision that every one of us was important to the result.
Every note from every instrument, every footwork, every toss, was critical to the success of the unit. There was no one more or less important than the person next to them.
4. Execution: We executed to the best of our abilities what we practiced and rehearsed during the week and throughout the season. We perfected our show through constant practice, improvement on problem areas, and not settling for just “okay.”
5. Drive: We pushed ourselves and each other to do our very best. Without the drive and motivation to achieve and win, we would not have reached our goal.
Can you apply these takeaways to your agency? Do you have a band nerd story or another story you’d like to share that taught you a lesson about life and business? We’d love to hear it. Please comment down below.
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