■ Focusing on your strengths
■ Applying yourself toward your goal
■ Developing your personal best
"Grandpa," asked Thomas on the phone, "can we walk the Bibbulmum Track next weekend and stay at Hewitt's Hill Hut?"
"That could be possible," said Grandpa, thinking of the previously enjoyable hikes they had on the local backwoods trails and how Thomas had a particular preference for Hewitt's Hill Hut. "Could I bring some friends? Daniel, Bon, Luke, and Willo?"
Grandpa noted Daniel's name at the top of the list. Daniel and Thomas were best friends as well as friendly rivals. They were always challenging each other to see who was the better.
If the competition had been confined to schoolwork, Thomas might have been the victor. He learned his new spelling words faster, he was quick to pick up on addition and subtraction, and he could read aloud quite effortlessly—but these are not the things that are really valued among little boys, and education is a lot more than reading, spelling, and math.
Daniel had the physical prowess. He could run faster, climb higher up a tree, and throw a stone farther. When it came to designing and building a paper airplane, Thomas was quick and creative, but Daniel always seemed to fly his farther.
Some days they would take the long walk home from school through the woods. There they would climb to the top of a granite outcrop and engage in the ultimate little-boy challenge: to see who could pee the farthest. Daniel always won. That in itself was infuriating, but it wouldn't have been so bad if he didn't laugh at Thomas. Thomas felt hurt.
He was also worried, for the annual school football tryouts were coming up, and Thomas desperately wanted to be selected. He had no doubt that Daniel would be. Daniel always was. He ran fast, he handled the ball well, and he didn't get frightened when other kids tried to tackle.
One weekend, Thomas arrived at his Grandpa's looking forlorn. Daniel had beaten him again when they stopped at the granite outcrop. Again he had laughed at Thomas, and boasted about how he'd be on the football team.
"What's wrong?" asked Grandpa kindly.
"It's Daniel," said Thomas. "He is always better than me. No matter what he does, he always seems to win. He'll get selected for the football team and I won't. He beats me at everything I do. We have the grand championship coming up in a few weeks and I know that he'll win . . . and laugh at me again."
Thomas's grandpa gently stroked his grandson's shoulder and said, "You and Daniel have been friends for a long time and in that time there is something I have learned about Daniel. Over my life I have met a lot of other people like him. You see, I used to be a champion swimmer." Thomas had seen the dusty old trophies in his grandpa's den and the ribbons that hung from the bookshelf. He had seen the couple of framed photographs of his grandpa as a younger man, proudly holding a trophy. He knew this about his grandpa but they had never spoken about it before.
"In my experience, the best athletes have a few secrets that you never hear them talk about," his grandpa confided, as though he were a master magician finally agreeing to tell his student some safely guarded magical tricks of the trade.
Thomas was eager to learn the secrets. He wanted to know what he could do to beat Daniel.
"First," began Grandpa, "it is helpful if the ability comes to you easily. You see, there are some things you do very well and some things Daniel does very well. We all have our different skills and abilities. The secret is to concentrate on your strengths. Know what they are and how to use them. Be aware of what you are not so good at, too, and make the choices as to whether you want to focus on those things less, or try to develop them. Thinking too much about what you can't do may stop you from doing what you can.
"In my time as an athlete I have seen many people who have the ability, but they tend to be lazy. They could make it to the top but don't put in the effort.
"The second secret of top athletes," continued his grandpa, "is that they train. Have you ever seen Daniel training? No, he never puts in the effort. Set your goal, work hard toward it ifthat is what you really want, and you will certainly make it.
"Finally," said Grandpa, "you know I play golf now. My aim is not to beat others, but improve my own score. Top athletes talk about competing against themselves rather than others, or about improving their own personal best. In training, aim for your best. That's what matters most for your own satisfaction."
Grandpa's words inspired Thomas. He wanted to do his best, so he began to train, getting up early every morning and practicing. He watched top athletes being interviewed on TV, and, after Grandpa's talk, realized how much effort they put into becoming the best. He noticed that they often carried water bottles with them. That, he thought, was a good idea, and he always kept one in his school bag. He drank plenty.
Well, Thomas got selected for the football team, but that wasn't the grand championship for which he had been training. It was a couple ofweeks after he asked his grandpa's advice that he asked Grandpa to take him and his friends for a walk along the Bibbulmum Track to stay at Hewitt's Hill Hut. This was to be the site of the grand championship.
They cooked on a campfire, toasted marshmallows on sticks they had whittled, and played spotlight in the dark. They watched the moon rise, then snuggled into their sleeping bags full of anticipation. The grand championship was to be held in the morning. Thomas had prepared himself, he'd drunk constantly from his water bottle all that day, and even sipped on it when he awoke during the night. He had certainly been training.
First thing in the morning, before Grandpa awoke, Thomas led his friends out into the woods because here, near Hewitt's Hill Hut, was the tallest granite outcrop that he knew. It was the day of the grand championship: to see who could pee the farthest. Thomas had been practicing holding back as long as possible. Now he was ready. He let fly. He won. He was the Grand Champion. He peed the farthest he had ever done.
That night when they had walked out of the woods and returned to Grandpa's house, Thomas gave his grandpa a big hug. "Thanks for teaching me the secrets of success," he said with a smile his grandpa could only begin to wonder about.
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