Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Master the Fundamentals

Someone from work was telling me about his night last night. He mentioned that he had tee ball and then went to a band concert. I naturally asked if he is playing a lot of tee ball these days (I don't think it's a far stretch seeing as how, next to hockey, adult kickball is one of the most popular sports in Chicago). He of course told me that it's not him who's playing tee ball, but his six year-old son. He mentioned that the league his son is in ranges from five to seven year-olds, a pretty wide range when you consider the differences between a five and seven year old.

Yet they're all in this phase of life of learning fundamentals. I remember this age as the time of learning how to hold a pencil to write out the alphabet, read books, spell, do some basic math. And, I remember the sports I played, including tee ball is the fundamental beginning to baseball. At this age, those boys are learning how to throw, catch, run, and hit. Hitting in tee ball is the most unique because it's the one component of the game that's completely different at another stage in life. In tee ball, the ball rests on a rubber tube right in front of you and all you have to do is hit the ball by swinging the bat and making contact. Kids are learning how to do all of that without the added complexity of the ball moving.

But here's what stood out to me when we kept talking about tee ball - hitting a ball on a tee is something that continues well beyond those early years. Even when I played baseball in high school, one of the primary hitting drills we did was hit hundreds of balls off the tee. And, you know as well as I do that hitting a ball off the tee the right way is actually super hard. The point behind these drills is to get better and better at the fundamentals that are key to being a good hitter, so that when the ball is coming at you 90 miles an hour, you don't think, you just react, and you react with a all the right pieces in place to make the best contact possible. Tee ball is something that sticks with you the entire time you play baseball, even if you make it to the big leagues

Here's the point of the illustration: it's not merely learning fundamentals, but mastering fundamentals that's key to how we actually become good at anything.

I believe this is true because fundamentals are the most basic building blocks off of the foundation of principles or philosophy. In other words, fundamentals are the initial actions of giving principles. And because they are closest to principles, mastering fundamentals allows the principles to be expressed with their fullest potential. This is true for baseball and I believe it's true for anything: playing an instrument, writing code, cooking, teaching, selling...whatever.

The problem is that most of us, including me, grow impatient. Fundamentals are boring and practicing them can feel like nails on a chalkboard. We want bigger, more exciting challenges, well before we've actually learned, understood, and especially mastered fundamentals. But anyone who's a master of their craft will tell you that the key to it is breaking down all the noise to the most essential components and becoming the best at those they can be. They make the fundamentals look almost non-existent because they're infused in all of the complex pieces of their craft.

This is what makes people stand out above the rest. It's not because they're smarter or better or more talented or whatever. Those that stand out do so because regardless of intellect or talent, they are of the few in this world with the patience and dedication to master the fundamentals.

What in your life can you look at and say, "this is something I want to master?" This is a call to remember that if we want to master any kind of craft, we must be patient and master the fundamentals first.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!


  1. Julie Andrews comes to mind as someone who worked through all of those fundamentals to master them, even though she already had massive raw talent!

  2. That's amazing. It's so easy to assume that someone who has talent doesn't need to do the work, but the work only makes them that much more spectacular!