A Short Pencil is Better Than a Long Memory

By Jill E. Wolforth


Last month I had the opportunity to hear Coach Jack Lengyel speak at the Concordia Lutheran Baseball Fundraising dinner.  If you’re not familiar with Coach Lengyel, he was the head football coach at Marshall University; having taken over the program in 1970 after a devastating plane crash killed 75 people, including 37 football players, 8 staff members, 25 boosters and 5 flight crew.  The story was depicted in the movie We are Marshall.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

Rebuilding a program from basically scratch is hard to imagine.  It took a solid commitment and some creativity.  Coach Lengyel petitioned the NCAA and was granted the right to play freshmen, which at the time was not allowed.  He also recruited players from the other sports teams at the University, including basketball and soccer, in order to field a team. 

Marshall in its four years under Coach Lengyel was 9-33 but at least there was a program.  This is important to note because following the crash there was discussion of simply eliminating football from the university.  It’s a credit, not only to Coach Lengyel but to the administration and the players that remained and persevered in spite of the bleak looking future.  Some twenty plus years later, in 1992 the Marshall University Thundering Herd won the Division I-AA National Championship. 

Throughout his keynote speech Coach Lengyel covered several points but the one that really resonated with me was “A short pencil is better than a long memory”. 

It was a fancy way of saying you’ve got to write things down.  You’ve got to map out your plan on paper and you’ve got to journal your work.  You cannot try to remember everything that is important to you.  He emphasized how he did this very thing while rebuilding the football program.

I see this concept missed over and over again with athletes.  They say they’re serious about their sport/their craft but when it comes to keeping track of their workouts and performance, they fail and usually fail miserably.  It really is astounding to me.

At the minimum I would think one would want to document “break out” days, in other words, days where something really worked.  Why?  Because there will be days when things aren’t going so well and it would be nice to have something to return to for guidance and perspective in those instances.  And no, you won’t remember everything you’ve done.  If I asked you what you had for lunch last Saturday, I’ll bet you don’t remember.

So, you might ask, why would I write down things from my regular, average days?  Simple, it can show you patterns.  For example, once you’ve journaled for a couple years, you could notice that every season, shortly after starting, you have some back issues or you notice that each time your velocity has gone down you also notice you reduced your long toss work.  That’s probably good information to know and if you don’t have your workouts and your performance documented, each day ends up being a new experience. 

As a result, you are more likely to become frustrated and have to guess at what is taking place.  When someone asks you a question such as “What were you doing when things were going well?  Or what did you do the last time you faced this challenge?” the answer is typically either “I’m not sure or I think _____” with neither being the response of a serious athlete.  (I might add the same holds true in business.)

I watched with amazement and great appreciation this fall/winter as one of our Major League guys, who has played 10+ years, meticulously documented everything he did and reviewed his notes before and after his workouts.  It hit me that I really shouldn’t be surprised.  That’s what the best do and as the saying goes “Success leaves clues”. 

I guarantee you he has a lot of short pencils in his pencil bag.  What about you?

pencil stump

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