The Unexpected Good

From The Quality of Effort Workbook, Chapter 5 – “The Varying Natures of Success and Justice”:

“Think of those athletes who have excelled in or even dominated the sport(s) you enjoy.  Every generation in every sport has its amazing performers, so focus on those most familiar and meaningful to you.  Despite the publicity they get, they and their exploits are very, very rare.  Not all of us will realize our dreams of professional sports, entertainment, professional, political or entrepreneurial careers, but some of us will—and that’s great.  Whether we realize our dreams or not, we can commit to discovering and realizing our ability to accept and embrace the unexpected good that comes our way.   Sometimes the only difference between the “successful” and the “unsuccessful” person is the ability to see both the vast forest and each individual tree, and to hear, and then open the door when opportunity knocks.  Commit to learning to look and see ever more clearly, and to listen and hear ever more deeply.”

Copyright © 2013 by Reggie Marra

Who and What You Truly Are

From The Quality of Effort, Chapter 11 – Athletics and Life: A Permanent, Positive Relationship:

“In the movie Rocky, Adrian and Rocky spend their first date at a skating rink after Rocky bribes the maintenance man for some ice time on Thanksgiving night.  During their first few minutes on the ice, Rocky tells Adrian that his father told him he’d better learn to use his body because his brains wouldn’t get him anywhere.  Adrian laughs and says that her mother gave her the opposite advice—she’d better learn to use her brain because she didn’t have much of a body.

“Both funny and poignant, the scene allowed each character to share a somewhat awkward self-perception, and it also portrayed the strong sense of “perceived specialization” that characterizes so many of our journeys. We’re either smart or dumb, quick or slow, athletes or scholars, liberals or conservatives, thin or plump, peaceful or angry.  We do not allow ourselves to be human beings who happen to have certain interests and talents, who have chosen certain careers or vocations, who engage sports and spirituality, and for the sake of an example, have a knack for carpentry but no clue when it comes to cooking—or vice versa.  Don’t get me wrong—the differences do exist, relatively speaking, but the differences are not who we are.

“People seem easier to sort out, classify and understand if we group them by size, shape, color, sex, wardrobe, profession, ethnicity, religion, and other arbitrary characteristics.  If you’re a plumber or a surgeon, we know what that means, or if you’re Catholic, or short, or don’t believe in God, we know what that means as well.  While you’re in school, you may be a jock or a techie, or a goth, or a preppie, or a loner, or … you name it (the labels get outdated and updated pretty quickly).  If you’re lucky, perhaps you’re in touch with that part of yourself that allows you to move easily among your classmates in all the various groups. Regardless of the category or categories you embrace, or into which others place you, the groupings don’t really matter except in people’s minds, and while that can affect perceptions, it does not affect who and what you truly are. Why not strike a balance?  Why not develop athletically, as well as intellectually, emotionally, socially, professionally and spiritually, as you grow chronologically older?”

Copyright © 2013 by Reggie Marra

How We Hold Our Stories – Talent, Effort and Results

From the Preface to the revised 2013 edition of The Quality of Effort:

“….What prompted me to write the book was the dynamic around talent, effort and results…. As a teacher and coach, I constantly faced the diverse mix of learning styles, intelligences and levels of effort in the classroom and the gym.  Faced with the myriad sagas of my own and others’ victories and defeats, I wanted to more deeply understand the place of effort in life.  I explored the “well-played loss” and the “poorly-played win,” the prospect of doing the best I could and falling short of my perceived goal, and the frustrating experience, especially in youth, of engaging someone with great talent, who seemed to make little effort, and always, it seemed, came out on top.  In a nutshell, I wanted to understand my own experience more clearly—to take a close look at any chosen endeavor, my quality of effort within it, my preconceived notion of success, and the ultimate meaning of the experience, both in light of and completely divorced from any final result.

“As I was completing the revisions to this edition, the 2012 Summer Olympics lured me to spend more time in front of a television screen than I would ordinarily. As I watched these amazingly gifted and hardworking athletes with their respective reactions to winning gold, silver, bronze or no medals, or to not even qualifying for the medal rounds of their events, I was both moved and intrigued by their diverse perspectives. Some were elated just to compete in the Olympic Games, some made it clear that a silver medal was a failure, and others danced in joy with their bronze medal in hand as they celebrated the gold and silver winners.

“These games reminded me yet again of the very human story behind every gold, silver, bronze, and no-medal performance, and of the countless stories of those athletes who don’t make it to the Olympics. Every performance everywhere—from local youth leagues to the NBA, from Major League Baseball to intercollegiate competition, from the NFL to high school sports, and from the World Championships to every other level and class of athletic competition—guarantees that for every win, another, or ten, or a hundred, or thousands of other performances didn’t win, at least not in the traditional sense of score, time, weight or distance. This book is about how each of us holds these stories and performances—within the context of, and completely apart from, the final outcome.”

Copyright © 2013 by Reggie Marra

22 Years Later, The Quality of Effort Persists

The Quality of Effort: Integrity in Sport and Life for Student-Athletes, Parents and Coaches officially made its way into the world on February 27, 1991. It looked like this:

Today, December 10, 2012 the 2nd edition, revised for 2013, made its debut as a trade paperback and a softcover workbook, both of which are also available as Kindle editions.

The new book’s cover appears at the top of the sidebar to the right, and you can find out more by clicking on that cover, which will take you to

Testimonials for both the 1991 and 2013 editions are available here.

The 2013 edition of The Quality of Effort and The Quality of Effort Workbook marry literature and sport, story and effort, the thrill of experience and the “dignities and disasters” of our interpretations. Reggie Marra speaks to us through the soul of a poet-athlete-teacher-caregiver and kid who got cut from the team he later went on to coach.

He invites us into the worlds of Mary Catherine Bateson and Ken Wilber; Bob Knight and Boethius; Joan Benoit Samuelson and Don Beck; and Sacred Heart High School’s 1979-1980 boys’ junior varsity basketball team.

If you’ve been waiting for a perspective on youth, interscholastic, and intercollegiate sport that  embraces The Consolation of Philosophy, Spiral Dynamics, Man’s Search for Meaning and the Bhagavad Gita, and yet at its core is all about your favorite topic—you, your wait is over.

Marra takes us by the hand and challenges us to inquire into our own values, behaviors, and relationships within the complexity of the 21st-Century environments in which we live, learn, work and play. If we’re willing to take up the challenge, this inquiry helps us see ourselves and all those heroes and villains out there from increasingly comprehensive and balanced perspectives.

“Preaching” only what he practices, in The Quality of Effort, Reggie Marra authentically engages each of us to become increasingly more aware of our stories—the interpretations we choose, and how they affect, and even effect, what we do next as parents, coaches, student-athletes and human beings.

Human Nature Universe U.S.

Harry Chapin spoke eloquently about the wonderful gift of Thanksgiving food drives in our nation’s schools right up until his untimely death in 1981, and he had the courage to ask what the recipients of these traditional dinners would be eating the following week. The 47-second audio clip below can also be found on his Gold Medal Collection. Harry put his money where his mouth was–performing over 200 shows a year, and donating half his earnings to World Hunger Year, which he co-founded with Bill Ayres in 1975.


As another Thanksgiving approaches and the northeastern U.S. continues its recovery from Hurricane Sandy, Harry’s nice job, now what about next week? perspective still packs a punch.

While others have made their reluctant, often weakened ways to the northeastern U.S., most hurricanes in recent memory have devastated our neighbors in the Caribbean, Florida, north to the Carolinas, and west along the Gulf coast. We in the northeast have a concern with seasonal blizzards and ice storms, which, while occasionally deadly, rarely matched the hurricanes’ destructive power.

One of the interesting claims that Americans, and most other tribes and nations on the planet, make is that when disaster arrives, we are quick to unite, respond, recover, rebuild (and even strike back and exact revenge when we believe humans, rather than nature, are responsible for our losses). More often than not, we, and others, make this claim as though it is unique to our particular family, community, city, state, or country.

What we fail, for the most part universally, to learn it seems, is that whether its a hurricane,  fire, tornado, earthquake, tsunami, flood, drought, famine, lone gunman, terrorist cell, act of war, or violent crime, our inevitably ephemeral coming together–the invaluable food drives to which the late singer-song-and-storywriter alluded–to help each other is always available, not just when tragedy, disaster or a holiday strikes.

Ultimately, if we’re paying attention in the 21st century, we know there is no real security for our lives, property and possessions, secure and insure them though we may try. We can and do innovate, build, improve, recover, rebuild, cure, heal and innovate again, but when the planet shifts, the seas rise, the wind blows, and the fires rage, the question is not whether we will lose, but how much, where, how and who this time around.

One of the great gifts that space travel has given us is the view of our little planet from afar, with its vast oceans, discrete weather patterns, and perfect, predictable, rotation and revolution. The planet, and the universe at large, are perfect, emerging as they do (and each of us does) from that same moment, whether you refer to it as the Big Bang, Creation, both or neither. The point is that we’re (it’s) all related—as cosmologist Brian Swimme tell us, “You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.” Cast the first stone if you originated elsewhere.

As those in the path of October’s Hurricane Sandy continue to process the extent of their respective losses, so too do many who were in the path of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the tornado that leveled Joplin, Missouri, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and countless other more-or-less media-covered, but no less devastating losses on the planet.

This is far from a new idea, but it warrants consideration. Why not keep those Thanksgiving food drives going year round, and behave as though all the creatures with whom we come in contact, even if they seem to be having a better day than we are (and especially if they’re not), would like to be treated with love, generosity and respect. The key is to go first. Don’t wait, and don’t worry about reciprocity. See what happens.

I sure do miss you, Harry.

For folks too young to have heard him on the radio or in concert, here’s a link to Bruce Springsteen’s honoring him and singing Harry’s “Remember When the Music” at the live tribute concert after his death:

Looking At and As the Empty Chair

Dr. Jonathan Moreno’s essay, “What the Chair Could Have Told Clint,” reflects on what might have happened had the actor/director occupied the empty chair he spoke to during the Republican Convention in an attempt to feel what it’s like to actually sit as the President of the United States. (See below for addresses if above links don’t work).

Dr. Moreno speaks to the techniques used in psychodrama and voice dialogue, in which individuals are invited to speak to someone, often but not always someone who has hurt them, using an empty chair to represent that someone. Competently guided, the process can lead to insight and a letting go of pain, resentment and anger.

What Dr. Moreno suggests “would have really made his day,” was if Mr. Eastwood had taken what is often the next step–actually sitting in the chair himself–which, done authentically, might have allowed him to feel at some level what it’s like to be the individual he so glibly criticized. This “next step” is not intended to dismiss or justify egregious past wrongs if they exist, but to invite a more insightful understanding of what it’s like to be the person represented by the empty chair.

In a more popularized sense, we’re speaking about the metaphorical advice to not criticize someone unless we’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes–which usually means not so much that once we’ve walked that mile, it’s fine to criticize, but that our deeper insight into the “someone” often softens or eliminates our need to criticize.

My experience with this advice is that it’s been thrown around by so many people, for so long, and without any authentic investigation into what the metaphor, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, might truly mean, it’s usually an essentially meaningless, albeit well-intentioned, suggestion.

My concern is grounded in my own attempts to walk a mile or more in someone else’s shoes, and in observing others as they make a similar journey. With very few exceptions, when most of us think we’re taking a walk in another’s shoes, we sincerely think we’re feeling into and understanding the other’s response to an event or set of circumstances by imagining what it would be like to be the other. Inevitably, however, what we do is imagine what it would be like to be ourselves in the other’s circumstances, and this is perfectly understandable.

Each of us looks at ourselves, others and the world through a unique set of lenses that includes worldview, behavior, culture, environment, moods or states of mind, masculine/ feminine balance, personality, and levels of development across a wide variety of intelligences or developmental lines. When we look at this person in whose shoes we intend to “walk a mile,” we indeed look at him or her through our own lenses.

It is not until we can, with some degree of competence, do the work of identifying and understanding aspects of this other person’s unique set of lenses—and experience his or her circumstances through his or her lenses—that we are in some small or large way truly walking in shoes that are not ours. We make the move from looking at to looking as this other person.*

This is no small task. It’s a lot of work, quite complex, and requires the essential first step of learning to look accurately both at and as ourselves, becoming familiar with our own unique set of lenses, also known as biases.

To come back to the ongoing political idiocy in the United States: imagine if leaders and “hardcore” constituents of political parties were both developmentally able and courageous enough to look first at and as themselves, and then at and as their opponents. Imagine if they did this motivated only by a deep, authentic desire to truly know themselves and their perceived opponents in order, not to push forward their ideology, but to work openly toward resolving the myriad local, national and global issues we face.

That’s a long way from the attempted cute, snide, derisive and ultimately embarrassing and useless comments and tactics that political parties regularly engage.

As each of us negotiates our respective “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and unique experiences of “Triumph and Disaster,” may we do so in a way that is increasingly better able to look both at and as ourselves and others, especially, but not only those with whom we come into direct contact day-to-day.


*Two ways of looking—looking at and looking as—have been developed extensively as tools for understanding self and others by Laura Divine and Joanne Hunt at Integral Coaching Canada. For an article that deals directly with these two ways of looking, see Laura Divine’s “Looking AT and Looking AS the Client: The Quadrants as a Type Structure Lens” Journal of Integral Theory and Practice,  4.1 (Spring 2009): 21-40.

Dr. Moreno’s Article:

More on Dr. Moreno:

Journal of Integral Theory and Practice:

PDF – Downloadable Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Revised 2012 Edition of The Quality of Effort: On walking a mile in someone else’s shoes: looking at and looking as:

Leadership, Love and Healing – Allegedly “Soft” Skills Prove Hard to Embody

Ample evidence exists that almost anything that has to do with looking within oneself is termed a “soft” topic or skill by most folks who are paid to lead organizations, and yet actually looking within is inevitably very hard for these same leaders.

One valid, albeit oversimplified reason for this is fear: fear of what might be found within; fear of not being good enough; fear of appearing vulnerable (exacerbated by mistakenly confusing vulnerability with weakness); fear of losing a real or imagined competitive edge; fear that we’re the only person who feels this way or has this experience–whatever our unique way or experience happens to be. Feel free to add your own.

Popular leadership qualities like confidence, assertiveness, integrity, vision and resilience, to name a few, along with an ever-growing roster of intelligences, are essential. Taken at face value, however, these essential qualities can serve leaders whether they’re leading the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Ku Klux Klan, Doctors Without Borders or the decades-long United States Congressional opposition to accessible healthcare for all Americans.

In the absence of a commitment to ongoing development and deepening self- and other-awareness, however, even high-level skill in all the essential leadership qualities–whatever we might agree they are–is limited by the awareness of the leader. This is true whether we’re leading a multi-billion-dollar organization, a local youth sports team, our toddler, or “just” ourselves.

From September 8 through October 28, the Palabra Counseling & Training Center in Middlebury, CT is offering an 8-session seminar for 16 intrepid souls who are willing to explore their own evolution as leaders. Read on for details and registration information.

Leadership, Love and Healing:

Deepening Awareness of Self, Other and the World at Large

8 Sundays, September 9 – October 28, 2012
1:00 – 3:30 PM

Online registration and details:

Click here for a PDF with a synopsis of the 8 weeks and registration information.



Beyond, or perhaps beneath, your essential leadership qualities or skills lies your worldview. How aware are you of the lenses through which you view the world, and of the direct impact and ripple effects of your leadership? Your participation in this program will directly engage what you’re able to see, how you see it, and what, currently beyond your field of view, can enhance and deepen your vision.

Eight Weeks at a Glance

Our basic premise is that the more aware each of us is of how we see, behave in, and relate to the world, the more effective we can be as leaders. To the extent that we’re unaware of and unfamiliar with the stories we tell, the beliefs we hold and the conditioned responses that hold us hostage, our leadership is diminished. Over the course of eight sessions, we’ll step back and take a look at the biggest picture available to each of us, courageously step inside our own stories and investigate our unique ways of being in the world, and then re-engage the big picture from a place of deeper understanding and fuller embodiment.

This is not about pointing out or learning “leadership qualities or skills” (e.g. integrity, confidence, assertiveness, vision, resilience, listening, emotional intelligence, etc.), all of which are essential. It is about the invaluable impact that deepening awareness and ongoing development have on these and other qualities: Oversimplified example:  ego-centered leaders listen differently than team-centered leaders; team-centered leaders assert themselves differently than world-centered leaders.

Each session will start on time and include check-in, introduction/review of relevant research and models, direct experience/application and debrief of session focus, Q & A, and brief look at what’s ahead.

Week 1: Welcome and introductions; the roles of vulnerability, intimacy and paradox; overview of “what’s at play each moment of our lives”—a comprehensive map of the stories we tell through the four foundational elements of worldview, behavior, culture and environment; the relationships among leadership, love and healing.  

Week 2: Development and Change; looking at what we previously looked through; a practical look at (some common threads among) different developmental models; “automatic,” “serendipitous,” “imposed” and “intentional” development;

Week 3: Resistance to Change: why even when we’re good people, we commit, and we really try, true change is difficult to sustain (e.g. New Year’s Resolutions). We’ll engage, and you’ll leave with, a process that will allow you to understand and overcome your unique resistance (and you can use it whenever you need it).

Week 4: Inquiry: the power of direct questioning – what’s true, what’s a story, and how can you tell? The difference between “truth” and “truthfulness,” and between “reality” and conditioned “thinking about reality.”

Week 5: Shadow: recognizing and owning the disowned, repressed aspects of ourselves—both “positive” and “negative” as an essential move toward wholeness and healing. We’ll also see why some people who REALLY upset us actually remind us of some aspect of ourselves we’d rather not acknowledge.  Great fun!

Week 6: Dying and Death: understanding those “small, everyday practice deaths” as ordinary elements of development and change, and as invaluable experiences toward preparing for our own physical death.

Week 7: Living Poems, Writing Lives: engaging poetry-writing as a vehicle for processing the work of weeks 1 through 6. No previous poetry-writing experience needed. Show up, engage, and be amazed at who you are, what you can access, and what you can write. Guaranteed. 

Week 8: Summary, Witness and Close: we will step back and honor the work each of us has done, envision our respective paths forward, and continue to live into the answers we’d like, but do not yet have.

Online registration and details:
Click here for a PDF with a synopsis of the 8 weeks and registration information.


Palabra Counseling & Training Center | Suite 207-B, Village Square
530 Middlebury Road (Route 64) | Middlebury, CT  

Click here for map and registration information.