I was a lazy teenager and would much rather have spent my afternoons after school watching television or reading than getting sweaty on a netball court, but one day something stirred me off that sofa.
The netball coach, having already selected the A-Team, was rounding up volunteers for the B-Team trials. I can’t remember why I agreed, there must have been nothing on TV but I didn’t even have time to change into my PE outfit.
I jogged down to the court with the coach on my heels, immediately aware of the sea of girls waiting, all in the same uniform, all staring. Conspicuous and out of place in my brightly coloured t-shirt, I managed to avoid a trip or face plant. Go me!
What an upstart they must have thought.
But I annihilated that game and led my team to victory. The coaches were as surprised as I was, so much so that they decided to restage the tryouts of the school A team the following week.
The old A team was now under threat from a new goal defender and I was the only new participant in the tryout match.
When news hit the A team, they got nervous, and one by one people who had never spoken to me before dropped by my lunch table to inquire which position I played.
The new game was scheduled in one week away, and in the meantime, I started training with the A-Team.
Was it simply beginner’s luck or did I smash the next trial? You’ll have to read on.
Luck in sports and in business is a contested quality. It’s not something you can train for and is difficult to measure. Ergo it makes sense that coaches of athletes and high performing entrepreneurs would choose to dismiss the concept.
Beginner’s luck doesn’t exist and is often used to dismiss someone else’s success or to offer a humble but disingenuous rationale for your own success.
That said there are natural conditions to the beginner that we could use to emulate the perfect mindset when trying out new ventures or marketplaces.
Energy and Enthusiasm
Anyone at the beginning of a journey naturally displays a level of energy and enthusiasm than some at the other end of the spectrum.
In business the threat of failure can loom closely, we’re in an age of information, when stories of the successes are held up on a pedestal, but someone else’s success is difficult to copy.
Everything else,i.e. non success stories, seem to fall into the background, which sets incredibly high standards for people to achieve. Measures that are too high to reach for most people.
If you’ve been in the game for awhile it’s understandable that an amount of fatigue will have set in and the energy levels will vary between a beginner and a struggler.
In some situations, enthusiasm is more valuable than pragmatism. Interest, by its nature, shows in its holder an ability to engage with the idea of a positive outcome. It’s a sign of faith and a commitment to a positive result.
Is there something to the energy and enthusiasm of someone that propels them to success? Rather than it being a case of beginners luck, the enthusiastic team player is halfway to victory because they can imagine their success?
The rise of high achieving athletes and business people undertaking meditation and yoga speaks of the power that the role of relaxation plays in success.
In an article by the Universal Journal Of Psychology on The Relationship Between Relaxation Techniques and Sports Performance a correlation is drawn between relaxation techniques and enhanced performance.
The athletes and industries know this, but is there something that business pioneers in their early stages have naturally? Does being a beginner in any field yield less stress than being an expert and therefore add to better performance.
Is there a way that, having identified the role of relaxation in beginner’s luck we can keep it running in ourselves?
No one sees you coming
The 1990 triumph of Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson is still cited as one of the all-time sporting upsets. Odds for Douglas that day were 42–1 against him and no-one, including Tyson or the crowd that day, expected Douglas to get up from a knockdown to take a win in the fight.
No-one saw the win coming though Douglas and his trainer had prepared for this particular opportunity in the fight.
It was the same in my netball story. No one saw the mismatched teenager who hadn’t bothered ever attending a school netball game before coming into triumph.
Is it quiet confidence or knowing when to be quiet and when to shout as a newcomer? Is it the anonymity that a beginner takes on board that enables their success?
Making a silent entry in your arena is worth trying. And on the flip side if it doesn’t go down as you’d hoped you have less public back peddling to do.
Is the luck of a beginner more to do with the supreme focus on their art rather than having to respond to the noise around them, competition, expectations etc.
A beginner has less to lose and everything to prove. Having less to lose means that you’re not in a position of defense. The act of regaining a title or swinging back a football game when the odds are against you is a tough and anxiety ridden affair.
A beginner doesn’t have the same baggage to focus on and can therefore dedicate all of their attention to the right place.
When you can cut out the background noise and focus purely on your task, maybe you have an advantage? When you’re not worried about who is coming close on your heels, is there an advantage in that?
Does having a focus on your craft allow for an element of believing in yourself?
Formula One World Champion and 2020 winner of the Laureus World Sportsman Lewis Hamilton talks about the power of not feeling threatened by the competition and of looking beyond this.
Supreme focus is something that can propel the beginner towards greatness. In my netball game my initial triumph was gained through just focusing on my game, not on the fact that I was dressed differently to everyone else. Not the to the fact that I was playing against one of my enemies; who, after the game turned friend.
As for my A-Team tryout, I failed miserably and didn’t shake the core of the netball community at my school.
Nerves got the better of me, and I was a former shadow of the player that performed the week before. The A-Team remained safe, and I stayed with the B-Team out of a sense of determination not to return to the sofa.
Was it beginner’s luck, or was it a combination of a few of the points above? I can’t say for sure that I intentionally threw the game, but nerves and fear did set in during that week. I was only 13, and I’ve since faced more formidable competitors than a Grammar school netball team, so I can’t chalk it up as a life failure and looking back there are lessons to be learned.
Whether you are a beginner entering a new sport or business or looking for ways to refresh your performance, there may be an advantage in playing beginner.
Thanks for reading.