This is the third installment in a series of stories tracking our writer Matt Crossman’s progress on improving his scores in the SAT for Sports … if he makes any (and that’s a 40-yard tall IF).
When I first went out on my own, I was lost. I struggled for months. I needed help but didn’t know where to find it. I thought freelance writing was such a unique way to make a living that nobody except other freelance writers could help me.
I was so wrong about that that it’s embarrassing to admit I ever thought it.
The first person to push me out of that misguided way of thinking was Duke football coach David Cutcliffe, who is famous for having coached Peyton and Eli Manning.
I had gotten to know Cutcliffe when I wrote for Sporting News. Our interviews rarely stayed on football for long. He asked as many questions as he answered. He quoted Eminem with baffling accuracy, read me samples of his own poetry and handed out copies of the books he was reading (which, of course, were not about football).
The first time I saw him after I became a freelancer, he immediately discerned I was floundering. “You can’t think of yourself as just a writer anymore,” he said. “You have to think of yourself as a small business owner.”
That advice reoriented my thinking. It also made me realize if I could get help on my writing business from a college football coach, I could get it from anywhere. Since then, I have picked the brains of dog mushers, software developers, monstrously enormous Instagram influencers, subsistence hunters, paragliders and more about how they run their businesses. None of those jobs have anything to do with writing, and yet they all have helped me.
And here I am again.
I need help. Now, more than ever.
Like many who work in the gig economy, I’m facing the biggest challenges I have ever faced in my solopreneur career. I need help coming up with and refining great ideas because the shrinking marketplace is overrun with good ones. I need help finding new clients because two of my best have been waylaid by the coronavirus and others are skittish about buying pitches. I need help identifying and tapping into new markets because the ones I have worked in for most of my career are disappearing.
I need help coming up with things for my kids to do and balancing the tension between fear and freedom and not falling headlong into despair. I need help clinging to hope.
Also: I need help running, because I’m training for the SAT for Sports in an attempt to become an average high school athlete at 48 and I am s-l-o-w.
Mike Weinstein is an entrepreneur who owns a business called Zybek Sports. He created the “SAT for Sports,” comprising the 40-yard dash, broad jump, high jump and two agility drills. For the sake of this diary series (part one is here and part two here), I am defining “average high school athlete” as broadly as possible—an average score of the 25th percentile, according to data Weinstein collected in administering the test to 20,800 people last year, the vast majority of them high schoolers.
I conceived this idea mostly as a lark to fight isolation during coronavirus. It has turned into much more than that. The training has helped me find mental relief to constant anxiety, strengthened bonds with friends and taught me about running my own business in ways I never would have guessed.
Zybek’s slogan is “It’s on You.” Weinstein uses that phrase to show that the laser scoring equipment does not know or care about the athlete’s race, age, gender, financial status or anything else. “It’s on You” means the athlete alone determines the outcome.
And that’s true within the rigid confines of the test. But before and after it, athletes get help from coaches, trainers, teammates, friends, parents, etc. And so have I as I’ve trained for and written about the test.
This is not unusual. I ask friends to help with my stories all the time. I asked a friend for help setting up a Google spreadsheet so I could share results with Athletes for the SAT for Sports (ASS), the group taking the test with me, which grew from three to more than 30 in about 10 days. (There’s still time to join us. Hit me up if you want in.) I asked another friend for tips on how to create a video story to go along with this written diary.
There’s help for you, too. All you have to do is ask for it. One friend training for the SAT for Sports with me is a consultant offering his services for free during the quarantine. Another called a Zoom meeting of friends to determine who among them needed help (all) and who could provide it (same).
Even with all of my experience asking for help, I still had to talk myself into asking for it when it came to running. I’m 48 years old. I know how to run. That’s what I thought, at least, until I saw video of myself in an agility drill called 5-10-5.
My friend Micah took video as I ran five yards to my right, touched the ground with my hand, ran 10 yards to the left, touched the ground again, then ran five yards to the right across the finish line. When running, I looked like a baby giraffe on ice skates. When touching the lines, I looked like that same ice-skating baby giraffe trying to pick marbles up off the ground with tongs.
The good news: I am so bad at the 5-10-5 I can get faster by learning to do the drill even a little bit, and I have a trainer, Ethan Lord of D1, helping me.
Lord and I also watched video of me running the 40-yard dash. My sprinting form isn’t nearly as bad as my form in the 5-10-5. Which means it’s actually worse.
Here’s why: Early in my freelance life, my successful pitch rate was abysmal. I didn’t know who to pitch, what to pitch or how to pitch. (Other than that, I was a master.) By trial and error and asking friends for help, I learned I was making correctable mistakes. The biggest problem was not what I was pitching or how I was pitching it but to whom. I reworked my pitch philosophy to target specific people and publications, and eventually my success rate went up.
In the same way, if I ran like a dope—arms flopping all over, legs crooked, head bobbing—Lord could help me fix that, and I would get faster. Alas, I ran slow because I’m slow.
The first time I ran the 40 for this project, I focused on the wrong outcome—blasting through the finish line as if it was made of bricks. In the last few strides, I tried too hard, my form fell apart, and that led to a hamstring injury that set me back weeks.
With Lord’s help, I won’t do that again.
I couldn’t have made up a better metaphor for asking for help in the age of coronavirus if I tried.
Update on my scores:
- 40-yard dash. Goal: 5.95 seconds. Best so far: 6.14. Because of my injured hamstring, I have only run this once. Two-tenths of a second is not very much, so I think I can do it, especially considering I will run the 40 numerous times over the next several weeks of training. Surely in one of those attempts I will find that extra time. The big If is if my hamstring gets back to 100% and stays there.
- Standing broad jump. Goal: 89 inches. Best so far: 77 inches, an improvement of 9 inches over my first jump of 68. That makes me think I measured wrong the first time. I can do better than 77. But probably not a foot better.
- Standing high jump. Goal: 21.6. Best so far: 17. My high jumps feel like a great idea improperly expressed. The measure is not how far my feet get off the ground, it’s how high my hand hits the wall. I feel like I’m jumping higher than I’m hitting the wall. If I learn to smack the wall at the apex of my jump, it’s possible I’ll pick up a few inches. It’s also possible I’m delusional.
- 5-10-5. Goal: 4.956. Best so far: 5.8. It would help if I didn’t creak like a door in a haunted house when I bent over.
- Three-cone drill. Goal: 8.376. Best so far: 10.3. The time is misleading; I was not 100%. This performance was even more visually disturbing than the 5-10-5. Imagine that ice-skating baby giraffe after it has had a half dozen Jack and Cokes and you’ll get the idea.
Photo by l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com