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  • Mark Cheney

Pilots and Pros and You

Updated: May 29


It’s a brilliant sunny day with unlimited visibility. The pilot carefully walks around the gleaming white United States Air Force F-16 painted with a blue Thunderbird on the belly and stars on the tail. He carefully completes his preflight inspection. His grounds crew has already walked the tarmac, picking up every loose pebble, lest it be sucked into the engine. As the show begins, an unhurried, yet specific routine begins to unfold. Pilot and grounds crew move with practiced coordination through their checklist. With great care and exactness, the Thunderbirds prepare for their iconic demonstration of precision flying.

The sun warms the cool air as a PGA Tour pro walks towards the practice tee. Unhurried and relaxed, a cool confidence flows as he strides across the freshly cut turf. Creased pants and a sharp shirt highlight the appearance. He systematically applies sunscreen while his caddy carefully marks balls, polishes club heads, and cleans grips. The pro works through his clubs, hitting the shots that he will need for the day. After thorough mental and physical preparation, the pro heads to the first tee, ready to demonstrate his ball-striking skills at the highest level.

Having recently observed both of these professionals, I found a striking number of similarities (besides a red, white, and blue logo). Both utilize a meticulous attention to detail. They demonstrate a confidence born out of countless hours of preparation. At the same time, there is a relaxed feel that allows them to still laugh and smile. A team of supportive professionals is committed to their success. They employ a deliberate and focused routine that leaves nothing to chance. All of this comes out of a deep love for their craft, and the thrill of sending a glistening white object through the air at high speed and accuracy. When their performance concludes, they reflect on what went well and what could be better.

So many times, I see performers randomly prepare for a game, concert, or test. They’re running around, grabbing what they need, and hoping they haven’t forgotten anything as they try to avoid being late. There’s nothing cool, calm, or collected about it. Instead, it’s frantic, haphazard, and/or sloppy. They are rushed and impatient. Not surprisingly, this “routine” carries over to their performance.

I firmly believe that how you do the small things is how you do all things. You might think pebbles or sunscreen are insignificant factors, yet the best know that everything matters. As the old quote (anonymous) goes, “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out — it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” At the highest level of competition, the line between success and failure is ultra-fine. There’s also much to be said for an unhurried and relaxed approach.

I encourage you to learn from these professionals. Their consistent and effective routines have resulted in a long history of success. You may not have to perform an eight-point aileron roll or hit a 300-yard drive, but the principles will still work for you.


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