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A compelling thing happened Sunday night when Tom Osborne introduced Shawn Eichorst to more than 550 Nebraska student-athletes at the Nebraska Champions Club, and Eichorst, in turn, introduced a new tradition to the NU Athletic Department's bi-annual student-athlete meeting after he spoke - a keynote speech from a current head coach.
Just moments before the Husker men's basketball team took Michigan State to the wire on a BTN telecast inside a large room across the street from Memorial Stadium, Nebraska's legendary head softball coach took Osborne and Eichorst to a place where both feel comfortable and want to be ... focusing squarely on the magic that can happen when individuals and teams focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses.
"I spent more time thinking about what I wanted to say than preparing what I did say," Rhonda Revelle said Monday. "I spent a long time meditating on why Coach Osborne was so successful. Those offensive lines he had were as strong as they could be, so the running backs could do what they wanted to do. Watching those teams play was like watching a symphony because they were always focusing on their strengths."
Reinforcing Strength Meets the Energy Bus
Revelle made sure she also connected with Eichorst, who has launched his first year as NU athletic director/Osborne successor with a guidepost book entitled The Energy Bus - which became a holiday gift for every full-time member of the athletic department. "It fits in with America's obsession to fix our weaknesses instead of focusing on our strengths," Revelle said. "I wanted all of us to leave the room thinking about how much we can soar with our strengths, not because we ignore our weaknesses but because we can manage them and keep them under control."
Somehow, after Osborne received a long, spirited, heartfelt standing ovation precipitated by Nebraska's new athletic director early in his speech, Revelle found her own stride in the final, keynote delivery. She had an authoritative, animated attitude for an audience that included the vast majority of student-athletes representing 22 of Nebraska's 24 varsity sports.
Revelle was active, anecdotal and atypical, and she finished her address with a flourish. For extra oomph, she placed her hands over her mouth, looked skyward and used her makeshift megaphone to yell the extended Gooo....Bigggg.....Redddd, which was immediately followed by a captive audience screaming a quick-hitting GO BIG RED! right back at her.
Connecting with All Husker Student-Athletes
Let the record show that Rhonda Revelle seemed to connect with all Nebraska student-athletes who favor Sunday night bi-annual gatherings over mandatory 7 a.m. weekday meetings twice a year.
"Darn right I yelled Go Big Red after she did," Nebraska golfer Aaron Wong said of Revelle. "She was great talking about what it takes to be great. She's a phenomenal coach, a phenomenal speaker. I was so pumped about what I heard, I almost screamed at the end. I had so much adrenalin in me hearing what she said, I told the softball players I wanted their coach's autograph, and I'm going to watch them play."
A national top 100 prep freshman recruit from Chandler, Ariz., Wong has not met Revelle, but he was aware of her reputation. When I wasn't improving my putting like I thought I should in the fall, I told Coach Coach (Bill) Spangler, and he called me out on it. He told me to think about my strengths, not my weaknesses and how if I hit the ball longer, I would have shorter putts. He told me that is how softball thinks and why they're always so successful. They work really hard on their strengths."
Imagine Power to Strengthen What's Right
Revelle opened her speech with the ultimate challenge. "Imagine thinking about what would happen if we studied what is right with people versus what is wrong with them?" she said, adding that's exactly what the Gallup Organization did - spent decades researching and asking questions of 250,000 highly successful people in all walks of life.
What did Gallup find in its broad-based research?
"They found that, as a society, we're obsessed with fixing our weaknesses," Revelle said. "They also found that if we spent the majority of our time and energy on fixing a weakness, that, at best, improving a weakness will lead us to average."
Revelle used herself as an example. "My absolute best in science classes was very average, no matter what I did," she said. "As a pitcher in high school, I got so busy comparing myself to others, and judging myself for what I did not have - like a blazing fast ball - that I almost lost what I did have - pin-point precision and mental tenacity. Fortunately, I recovered enough to still be recognized by college coaches and play and graduate from a great university...the University of Nebraska!!"
Don't Ignore Weaknesses; Manage Them
You can't ignore your weaknesses, but you can manage them. "In my case, my best pitch was my change-up, which was the exact opposite of a blazing fast ball," she said. "Because my change-up was so effective, it made my fast stuff seem faster to the hitter than it actually was. That's how I managed my weakness of not having a lot of speed. With those science classes...well, I managed by doing all the 'extra credit' stuff that could help bolster my grade and then made sure that I got the best grades I could in the classes I was stronger in to keep my GPA at a high level."
To reinforce her point, Revelle talked about teams from China winning more Olympic gold medals in ping pong than any other country. She related how China's latest gold medal winner played only a forehand shot. His opponents knew he could not play a backhand, but he'd trained his forehand to the point where he believed it was invincible and that he could not be beaten.
"The study of strengths helps us understand the difference between good and great," Revelle said, pointing out how world-class marathoners could handle pain better than good marathoners. "The good marathoners disassociate with the pain in order to cope with it," she said. "They want to ignore it...push it out of their mind...bury it. The great marathoners associate with the pain in order to constantly monitor their body's signals. They focus on their aching legs and remind themselves to stay loose and relaxed."
Focusing on Weakness a Life of Its Own
According to Revelle, highly successful people/teams look at the world in a different way than average people/teams. "To understand greatness; we must study greatness," she said. "To develop strengths, we must focus on strengths. If we focus on our weakness, it takes on a life all its own.
"Our mind is our strongest muscle, and our body wants to please our mind. So, whatever our thoughts are locked in on, our body is grinding away to prove our mind right," she said. "To make the thoughts of our mind a reality, we can think about our weaknesses all the time, and that could be a recipe for disaster."
Bottom line, Revelle recommended that all student-athletes in the room develop a strategy to manage their weakness and that, in turn, will allow them to unleash their time, energy and enthusiasm while sharpening their strengths.
Do a Little a Lot; Don't Do a Lot a Little
According to Revelle, everyone is blessed with certain gifts and strengths. She pointed to China's Olympic ping pong dynasty, Nebraska's national championship debate teams and world-class piano players as individuals/teams that are always focused on their strengths and managing their weaknesses. "Do a little a lot and watch your strengths sharpen rather than do a lot a little," Revelle said. "Our strengths are usually our passion, and our passion is most likely our strengths.
"If we're passionate about sharpening our strengths to be razor-sharp, then the sky's the limit to what we can become and what our teams can become," Revelle said. "So find your passion and soar with your strength!"
Aaron Wong wasn't the only one in the room grasping Revelle's fundamental thoughts. "That was great thinking and great motivation," said Nathan Wong, Aaron's twin brother. "I had no idea, no clue that Coach Revelle was so legendary, but I do now. I mean, I'm so lucky to be able to learn from the best that I thank God every day I'm here. It was a beautiful speech ... very inspiring."
Quarterback, Swimmer, Infielder Agree
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska's talented redshirt freshman quarterback, was equally motivated listening to Revelle. "All of us have to focus on our strengths, whether we're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior," he said. "Coach Revelle has the same philosophy Coach Osborne has. He always got as much out of his football teams as you could get, yet in a very loving way. The more I listened tonight, the more I thought about how true it is to keep taking your greatest strengths up a notch and not letting your weaknesses get in the way of that."
Kelsey Larson, a senior First-Team Academic All-Big Ten swimmer from Newport Beach, Calif., considered opportunities at Harvard and Brown before choosing Nebraska, and Sunday night's session only strengthened that decision. "Nebraska has been everything I thought it would be and more," Larson said. "When we're surrounded by greatness, it's up to us to find and reinforce each other's greatest strengths and manage our individual weaknesses one day at a time. We're all looking for that extra edge, and when you listen to Coach Revelle, I think we can all help each other find it."
Revelle's relevance was not lost on Mattie Fowler, the sophomore infielder and 2013 team co-captain on the softball team. "We have the privilege of being motivated by Coach Revelle every day, so we were excited for the rest of the athletic department to be influenced by her enthusiasm," Fowler said. "She did an incredible job of speaking and got a great response from the athletes. I just thought it was a great way to bring the athletic department together and to kick off the semester!"
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Voices from Husker NationJust read this inspiring report. Great job. I am a BIG fan of Rhonda's and got to know her when she signed up for our annual bicycle tour, Tour de Nebraska, about four years ago. She's become a dear friend and built-in counselor/therapist! I posted the link to this article on the Tour de Nebraska FB page and my personal FB page. I am also happy to know that Shawn Eichorst recognizes Rhonda’s extraordinary talents. GO BIG RED!! Susan Larson Rodenburg, Lincoln, Nebraska