Home > Inspiration, Leadership, Motivation, Success > Who are you competing against? Part 1 of 2.

Who are you competing against? Part 1 of 2.

Army ROTC has a “Varsity” sport called Ranger Challenge.  This competition pits regional college ROTC programs against each other testing their basic Army skills in eight to ten events.  Each region of the country has their own version of the event that takes place each fall, usually in October.  The schools train for about six to eight weeks and arrive at the 24 hour event ready to test their skills against the other twenty to forty teams.  It’s a great event for the cadets who decide to participate.  I was lucky enough to have the honor to coach one of those teams.

It takes a team to build this bridge.

I knew what a good team looked like because I had been a member of a fantastic organization when I was in college.  While I was never good enough to be on the “A” team I was the “B” team commander my senior year.  My university, Western Michigan University, won the competition all four years I attended.  We beat the likes of Notre Dame, University of Michigan and Michigan State to name a few of the vanquished.  I used those years of experience to mold a team as a coach a decade later.

My Army career took me to a small college in Ohio called, Central State University.  It is in Wilberforce Ohio located in the middle of a cornfield.  Down the road was our sister school named Cedarville University.  The students from those two schools made up the bulk of the Army ROTC program where I was lucky enough to be appointed as the Coach for the Ranger Challenge team.  The current team wasn’t very good.  The previous year they finished 26th out of 30 teams.

I sat down with the team Captain and asked him about the current members and the training program.  He described a hap hazard approach to training that lacked guidance and focus.  While the Cadets clearly knew the skills, they just need a bit more focus to compete as a team.  It was so rough that the day of the competition the previous year they didn’t have the required members show up for the bus.  They had to convince a one more cadet to join the team, that morning just to field a team!  Ouch.

The first thing was did was assess our own skills and personnel.  We knew that we had about twelve to fifteen dedicated cadets who would like to train for the grueling events (out of about forty in the entire program).  The training included about two hours of physical and skills training daily with an extra two to three hour session once a week.  It’s a big time commitment for college kids who have classes, jobs and other ROTC events.

My assessment was, we had outstanding talent.  Some that rivaled the championship teams that I saw in my Cadet days a decade earlier.   What they lacked was experience and institutional knowledge about training for the events.   For instance, I would ask them how fast they could cross/setup a one-rope bridge.  They said they were good at that they could do it in four to five minutes without any penalties.  (note to the reader, that is not good at all).   Similar answers were given for land navigation proficiency and basic rifle marksmanship.  They were “good” but didn’t know how to be great.

We needed to set some goals.  Along with the team Captain, we assessed last years results.  We established specific benchmarks and goals for each of the ten events.  Once we could consistently atten those benchmarks we knew we were in good shape.   Now we knew what success looked and felt like.   But it wasn’t simply to aim to be the best in each category, it was to be the best in two to four categories and be in the top five for the rest.  It’s nearly impossible to win each event.  Too many variables but it is not impossible to be really good at each event.

After two months of training, gallons of sweat and blood my first year team finished in 6th place out of roughly 30 teams.  6th place!  It was like we conquered the world.  We did not win a trophy but we did improve in every single event.  Not only that, a seed was planted in the freshmen and sophomores who were on the team.  Those underclassmen were my future leaders who were now hungry for more.  The focus of those young men burned a hole in the chest of the ultimate target, the multi year champion, Ohio State University.

To sum up, before you can really consider your competitors you need to take a hard look at yourself and your own organization.  Do you have the right people?  Are they trained?  Do they all have a common vision and focus?  If you aren’t succeeding the answer to those questions is probably NO.  Start there and once you work on the internal issues you can shift focus to gaining market share in your industry.

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