In the spirit of exposing a group of high performance junior tennis players to “embraceable” challenges, I recently set up a good-natured exercise to see how they would react to a particular challenge often faced in matches: cheating.
The activity was simple: I asked each member of the group in my session to take 6 shots (with a tennis ball) into a small can from about 12 feet away. At the end of the activity, the player with the most baskets would win (winning simply meant bragging rights, as there was no material reward attached to this).
However, there was one “actor” in the group. Seconds before the competition began, I received a fake “phone call” and told everyone I must leave the room, but to begin the game without me. In my absence, the “actor” was selected to shoot first, and was secretly instructed by me beforehand to cheat. The actor took 6 shots, but lied to me, in blatant fashion, about how many were actually made once I conveniently re-entered the room moments after the shots were taken.
The actors performed marvelously – that is, there was no giggling or losing character during the act of perjury – and as anticipated, their acting affected the anger levels of many of the shooters next in line.
The temptation is surely for the cheaters – the immoral folk – to take us off our own road. While we’ve got control of the wheel, in those moments it feels like we don’t. It feels like our focus, our effort, and our attitude are no longer controllable qualities.
But many players WEREN’T affected by the cheater, and took their own shots with full attention and relaxation. They stayed on track. It wasn’t easy for them, not in the least, but as they felt the temptation to sway off their road, they caught themselves. Their awareness of the anger rising – their own proverbial inner rumble strip – led them to make smart decisions about where to put their attention in that moment (on calming their bodies and minds, and not on the vindictiveness that swelled within them).
The commitment to play our best and give full effort is something that a cheater, or many of life’s other roadblocks, shouldn’t ever influence. That’s a challenge worth embracing.