Process versus Goals

by Rich Allen

Growing up outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was exposed to two sports: soccer and baseball. It was here that my love for competition grew. It was here that I, being hungry to win, began my somewhat misguided journey towards goals attainment. The idea of the importance of process would come much later in life. My journey of process over goals was a ride well worth the time spent because of the lessons learned along the way. It was marked; I’m sure, by missed opportunities along the way.

I played soccer with my friends on several vacant lots, and when possible, on the local university’s rugby fields near my home outside Buenos Aires. During the school day, soccer was played every day during recess. In those days the Argentine professional soccer players supplemented their salaries by holding full-time jobs. I was fortunate to have two teachers who played professionally. I was a Boca Juniors fan, they played for Independiente and River Plate. I’m sure they taught us strategies, skills, techniques, and the value of process, but I was goal driven. To me it was all about winning. Looking back on it today, those lessons on process were more important than trying to imitate the tricks and moves my teachers flashed on the pitches in front of thousands of fans, or “fanaticos” as we were known by. Today, I reflect on their lessons on process that I ignored for so long.

Baseball would enter my life at the age of seven when my father, and lifetime baseball coach, had built a baseball complex on the corporate headquarters for Ford Motor Corporation, Argentina. I spent all day at the fields watching the older players throwing, hitting, running, and playing their positions. I was determined to be the star on the field one day. Again, my goals took center stage, though in retrospect, my coaches always talked about the process. My impatience guided me to the trophies. Who had time to think about the process? After all, I was just a kid!

At the age of eleven, most of the Americans were asked to leave the country. My father was an executive with the Ford Motor Corporation, and even he was not spared the directive from the Government. Everyone meant everyone. So, what seemed like overnight, we landed in West Bloomfield, Michigan. It was there that I was introduced to a former pitcher with the Boston Red Sox; Mr. Frank Hourtekier. He would be my baseball coach and mentor along with my father for the next four years. Coach Hourtekier had built his own field of dreams in his backyard complete with a pitcher’s mound, built in bases, a backstop, and an outfield fence. It was here were I developed as a pitcher. It would be here where the pitching lessons I learned first would be reiterated, reintroduced, and emphasized for the rest of my playing career. I kept in contact with Coach Hourtekier over the years, and sadly, at the age of 90, he passed away in spring of 2019. Reflecting on my years with this incredible man, it was his emphasis on the process that always took a backseat to the trophies and press releases. But at the time, what did I know? I was just thirteen years old when I moved to New Jersey. Until his lasts days, we talked about those lessons in process and how I applied them as a teacher, coach, supervisor, and high school principal.

Those four years in Michigan prepared me for my next chapter in my athletic journey. I was introduced to Coach Bernie Goldwater in the spring of my freshman year of high school. After the third day of tryouts, I was given a varsity uniform and I would spend the next four years learning baseball from Coach Goldwater, a NJ Hall of Fame player and coach. His knowledge of the game was truly amazing. Coach Goldwater was a task master, a superior strategist, a baseball scholar, and a no-nonsense coach and teacher. He demanded your best, and he delivered his best, day in and day out. We were expected to be scholars and athletes in and out of school. Winning came easy to us in a very competitive conference, and as it turned out, it was an opportunity for me to pay little attention to his lessons on process. The trophies kept coming in and drowning out the lessons about the importance of the process. Scholarships and professional offers came from everywhere, I chose to attend college and hold off on playing professional baseball.

My baseball days would continue until one fateful day when an arm injury ended any hope of moving through the minor league system to the big club and the large MLB stadiums. Like so many others before me, and so many after, that one injury changed the trajectory of my life. What I didn’t realize until later was that the lessons about process over goals would become my rallying call.

Being competitive by nature, I started running. First it was the weekend 5Ks, then the 5 mile runs, and gradually to the half marathons and mini triathlons. These competitions filled the void created when I left the grass and turf fields I spent a lifetime roaming. It was during those lonely runs that I started to think back on my career as a baseball player. I was convinced that my skills were as good as many of those who played at the time. Certainly, I didn’t see myself as a Hall of Fame pitcher, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming. I was stuck in the “what could have been” moments and ignoring the tasks before me. What those long runs eventually led me to realize was the importance of the process. My “ah ha” moment didn’t come to me in my 20’s. My epiphany about the power of the process eluded me for nearly a decade. That “Oh! Process before goals” moment came thousands of miles later and just about the time when I first became a school administrator. It would eventually be my guiding force and my repeated mantra for the next three decades. The secret to significance was always there. I was reminded of it every step along my journey. From one country to another and one state to another, the emphasis on process fell on deaf ears, until one day it didn’t!

Process versus goals. The emphasis on the process over the goals is best illustrated in the transformation of the British cycling team. Sir Dave Brailsford was hired to be the head of the cycling team in 2002. Applying the theory of aggregated marginal gains, Brailsford guided the team who previously won only a single gold medal in the past seventy-six years, to seven out of ten Gold medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Four years later in London the team matched that achievement. Along the way they’ve added to their record books several Tour de France victories. And what was Brailsford’s secret? The emphasis on process. Take care of the process, the goals will take care of themselves. This is true in sports. It is true for the teacher working to build the skills of their learners. It is true of the school and district administrators who are looking to take their schools and districts from good to great. It is true for any coach developing the skills of the scholar-athlete. Take care of the process and the process will take care of the goals.

 I recently competed in a 5K race in town. I approached this race like all the others since I found my respect for the process. My strategy was to take one step at a time; one turn at a time; one straightaway and one hill at a time. I became aware of my surroundings. I refused to struggle with, or acknowledge, the clock. The runner alongside of me was not my competitor or my competition. I know I came in sixth place not because I counted or cared. It simply because I was reminded of it over and over after I crossed the finish line. My answer to “How did a 61year-old do so well?” was, as you would expect buy now, predictable. Process versus goal!

 I have no room for trophies anymore because I have removed the mantles and shelves that once housed them. I no longer write my goals down. I have replaced that task with process writing. Goals last for mere seconds and trophies collect dust before they eventually tarnish. Processes are long-term; the by-product is continued growth and achievement. The result of my prioritizing the process over goals challenge has become the most rewarding, for it allowed me to find the true hero within me. The more I do it, the closer I get to become the person I was meant to be. My processes are internal, and they guide me the way a trophy never could.

I’m glad I can tell my father that he was right about the value of the process. I missed my opportunity to say thank you to my teachers in Argentina. I had the chance to say thank you to Coach Hourtekier and Coach Goldwater before God took them. Together their legacy lives inside me. Process versus goals. Take care of the process, and the goals will take care of themselves.


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