Chasing The Hare

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This is a true story of a boy and his journey through football and life. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and unconscious.

John started playing football with his friends in the park, the school, the road and pavements of his youth. He was never seen without a ball at his feet. In school, out of school it was always the same. Sometimes he didn’t even need his friends as a wall would be used to pass endless hours developing his touch and skills. At the ripe old age of 7 he got involved in organised football for the first time. He learned quickly and developed fast both on the pitch but also in the pick-up games down the park and on the street. At the tender age of 9, the scouts were already circling, however he continued with his local club for another year or so. During this period he stuck out like salad on a fish supper! He had a January birthday which put him ahead of most boys and girls his age. He was physically stronger and faster than the majority of his opponents. At the age of eleven, he finally relented and signed for one of the biggest clubs in the country. He signed ‘professional’ terms and entered their ‘elite’ academy. The parents were delighted, he was in the local paper with a picture of him holding the club strip and signing on the dotted line of a ‘contract’.

At the age of 11, John had made it. He had the contract, the strip, the top club in the country and it is only matter of time before fame and fortune followed.

However, our hero’s journey must go through some trauma and crisis before he transforms and wins the day! So the journey starts well but soon he realises he is only one of a number at the club who are on the treadmill. His confidence is hit and soon his performances follow. He quickly moves from the ‘main man’ to a squad player as his appearances in the team become more irregular. Ultimately, at the age of thirteen, he is released. Disappointed and disillusioned, his dad picks him up as he has arranged for him to sign for a ‘lower league’ professional club. He is, therefore, still in the professional ranks which gives his ego a little jolt back into place. The Hero’s journey says he will be back at the top after he works his way through his current predicament. He starts well but as the season goes on, that pace and power that he relied on has been overtaken by others who have not only matched his strength but have better technique. Again, he finds himself getting less game time and the recurring self-fulfilling prophecy dents his confidence again. Released again, but he’s ok because a top end amateur club want to sign him up. They are always hanging around the ‘pro’ scene looking for the cast-offs. He joins them but they are far from his home and involves many hours driving by his parents to and from training and games. He is certainly not feeling like the hero now and eventually picks up the courage to tell his parents he is not enjoying playing football any more.

John is now fifteen and decides to take a break. He now realises he is not going to make the grade, his hero’s journey is over before it ever really began. He thinks this is not the way it was meant to happen. One year becomes two and he has still not found that unbridled joy he had for the game. That elusive Hare he had been chasing will never be caught yet he is still on the track. What does this mean?

He is now eighteen the glitzy football career is all but a distant memory. It’s the real world, the track is real and the hare looks back at him in the distant and winks. A new journey beckons. He starts with going out and finding the girlfriend but then very quickly after a few upgrades he finds the one. He acquires the car, the house, the marriage, the job, the children. All of which require regular upgrades. The house is never big enough; the car is never fast enough; the job is never high profile enough but it has to be said the credit card bill is the only thing that is enough! The race is back on. I’m going to catch that hare he says. Eventually, after many years of chasing, John is exhausted. He has hit middle age and wonders what the hell has just happened. John just stops and is still. He closes his eyes and wonders where did all the joy go that he had as a kid with a football. He needs to let the hare go and step off the track. Easier said than done, I have a mortgage, commitments, dependants. John has realised that his early life has been conditioned and is now reflected in his adult life. The conditioning continues as he screams ” How the hell do I get off?”

John is at a crossroads, I don’t know which way he will go? If I were to offer even the smallest piece of advice (and I am not qualified to do so!). The past story is irrelevant, we have conditioned ourselves with our thoughts. He needs to kill that image of a hero (ego). It is time for John to break free from these same thoughts that hold him back and go forward to have any chance of making a real difference. John has the opportunity to change the story but only he can do it, only he can break free.

Lots of questions for John to answer:

Can he get off the track and leave the hare to run its own race?

How does he do it?

If not now, when?

How does he experience that joy from his childhood again?

I wish I could help John to answer all these questions as he has already asked me a number of times. All I can offer, is for him to stop listening to that voice in his head that is telling him a story that is not true. Be present, live in the moment, stop chasing the hare and ‘Just Be’. There is nothing else.

Chasing The Hare

The Biggest Game In History

We are sitting in the dressing prior to the biggest game of our lives. This is THE cup final. Both teams have been years in the making. In fact the history of both teams goes back many generations and each side has developed in their own unique way. We know our opponents are strong and ruthless but we have done our homework. We have analysed their strengths and weaknesses. We know they have got to this point by having a team of ‘galactico’s’ A bunch of individuals who rely on lone rangers and hired guns put together as a team. They have a track record of stopping other teams playing while inducing fear across the leagues. Their ‘novel’ approach means our game will never be the same again. Our opponents go by the very strange name of Covid-19. The individual elements of this team have amplified and manifested themselves to come together to produce an irresistible force.

We, on the other hand, are a real team. A bunch of quiet, respectful, self-effacing lads who play for each other. Teamwork is the key to us getting to the biggest game ever. We have been developed in and by the local community. Our strength in pulling together in adversity is what breathes air into our lungs. We are at peace but we have spirit that will not be extinguished. Many years ago, we realised that the world we live in and the tales we were being told by the media and rulers were all about image, hype, spin and individualism. Separation was driving us apart (Covid-19 team was just an echo chamber for this society). Big ego’s were taking over. There was a ‘More for me, less for you attitude’ Our team wanted to do everything in their power to show that this was going down a dead end road. The signs were there if we looked for them but the biggest thing holding together the status quo was FEAR. This is the Fear of the Unknown which stops us moving to this new world. Consequently, a few of us got together and woke up to a better way. We realised we could build a team that would be stronger and could compete against the status quo and that is Team Comm-20.

As the world watches from every TV and online device, the teams are announced.

Team Covid-19                                                      Team Comm-20

Covid         V         Annotation 2020-04-27 135353

As we get ready to walk out into the tunnel, our game plan is simple but as in all great performances, how we implement it will determine our success and the outcome of the biggest game ever. A ‘New World’ Cup is the prize.

Please wish us luck and join in with your support. Community 2020 needs it.

 

 

The Biggest Game In History

WTF is going on?

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It has been over a year since I last posted a blog post. The main reason for my early retirement from blogging was that I felt I had got most of the things I wanted to say out. However, the world has changed beyond recognition and I have had a number of requests to resurrect the blog in these unprecedented times. So what have I been doing for over a year? I have continued to coach at grassroots but my penultimate post Me V Me will give you a strong hint of what I was starting back in January 2019. I would like to report that I have been continuing this theme of working on myself to establish good habits to become a better coach and person. I can report on the following progress:

  •  My physical health has improved considerably as I am maintaining a fitness regime consisting of working out 5 days out of 7 per week. This includes running, cycling which are continuing outside and before the lockdown also included spin classes, cross training,  gym weights and core session plus some classes like HIITS and Body Pump.
  • No alcohol for 10 months now
  • 14 days into developing a daily meditation practice (many false starts on this one!)
  • Learning about spirituality

The main outcomes from the above is the way I have been feeling. In the physical form I have lost around a stone and a half but it is more about the feeling of energy and aliveness I have now. I am probably the fittest I have been since I stopped playing football in my early 30’s. I believe I am now fitter at 53 than I was at 33. I am thinking more clearly and the meditation and spiritual work is certainly helping my thinking and outlook in these difficult times. I believe this has boosted my immune system which has been shown to have a clear advantage in fighting COVID 19.

My main aim over this period was developing good habits which would last. I now believe I have developed the physical habit of the 3 key areas (SPM – Spiritual, Physical, Mental). One habit (physical) is consistent and has now been going for nearly 18 months although I need to add other aspects like healthy, clean eating which will enhance this aspect further. I have started working on the other two areas by learning as much as I can and applying them everyday in both work and play. For the ones who have followed this blog, you will know I have talked about the ego many times and I have delved deeper into this area and will talk about this more. I don’t think it is saying too much but the ego is a massive part in getting us into this current mess.

This blog looks through the lens of grassroots football and the lessons learned and applied. This is a bit hard just now as it all closed down and has been for over a month. This is why it is important that we all consistently work on ourselves, and not just sitting back and waiting for it all to return to ‘normal’ My belief is that normal is going to look very different so we must all work on ourselves so we are ready and be the best version of ourselves when the restrictions are lifted. We will need to be in peak condition mentally, physically and spiritually as I believe we face even bigger challenges ahead.

My ambition as a coach has always been to make my players better as both footballers and people so if I can help anyone out there then I am open to trying anything to help you through our current crazy situation. So, as a start, make sure you are getting your exercise daily. Outside is best in nature, even if it is just for a walk. Try meditation if you have never done so. Switch the news and social media off as that just sucks your energy. Focus on the positives and look at what you can be grateful for. The world is being portrayed as a big scary place but don’t give into this fear. The world and the people are still great. Let’s focus on what we can do. My simple model of SPM is what I am working on daily and the beauty of it is you can do it in self-isolation. As everyone keeps saying we are in this together so let’s get out of the fear state and do the things we can do and be positive on this test we have been set.

So, finally, it’s good to be back and sharing some thoughts and hopefully I can explore all the aspects of where we currently are and how we can move forward.

Stay safe.

 

WTF is going on?

What is the Best?

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Our local secondary school has just come out as the second best school in the whole of Scotland. Being second out of 339 schools means that it can boast to being one of the best schools in the country. Every school has been ranked from best to worst performing school in a league table which was recently published. I am sure the teachers and management at the school are celebrating and parents have a warm feeling that they have sent their kids to a great school (Declaration here, my kids have only recently left the school in the last 6-12 months). However, let us dig a little deeper before we all get sore backs from the slapping going on. What does the ‘best’ mean in this case? In this evaluation it was solely based on exam results and specifically it measured the pupils who achieved 5 or more highers. My verdict is that this is not a measure of the best education but it is a measure on how they are taught to pass exams. Ken Robinson backs this up in his many talks. Exam results are seen as the promised land and the entrance fee to an adult life of university, employment and all the riches of the world we live in.

My experience is that schools will drive the behaviour that gives them this outcome (exam passes). Schools will encourage and spend time with the pupils who will give them this outcome while those who will negatively impact this measure will be actively discouraged from sitting the exam if there is doubt they may not pass. A reflection of our society in that we drive inequality wider and wider to the benefit of the ones at the top of the ranking while the ones at the bottom have to fend for themselves. This is not education but a capitalist dogma which is the access point for entering our neo-liberal society.

It’s not just the schools who are driving this agenda but it is being ably supported by all of us as parents. We stop our kids playing to make them study. We bring them in tutors to help them excel or at the very least get that exam pass. We ferry them to private institutions to give them even more skills to pass that exam. We believe we are doing the right hing for our kids but are we? What is it teaching them? What are we making them into by giving such privileges? Again, the haves get more but where does that leave the kids in the school ranked at 339?

I believe we are in grave danger of robbing our kids of their childhood if we haven’t already done so. The pressure we put on them at an early age to pass exams as we tell them that is how they can make it in the world. Really?

So where does grassroots football come into all this? Our game has never been more important in the context of the above. A chance to not be constrained by school and just go out and PLAY football or any other play. A chance to PLAY football without an exam at the end of it. Just PLAY for the sake of PLAYING. Go and PLAY with friends without having to be assessed and sit standardised tests. No pressure from parents or teachers or even coaches.

I should emphasise that PLAY means active PLAY outside in the natural world whether that be playing football or climbing trees but not sitting inside playing a computer game.

This PLAY time is crucial in a child’s development as they learn the skills of co-operation, teamwork, ownership, responsibility and friendship. The kids can learn these skills without adult input but only if we let them!!! Are we willing to take the chance and let them think for themselves (another key skill) or we will we drive them to be compliant and subservient?

The more and more we cut out PLAY from our kids in order for them to ‘concentrate on their exams’ the poorer we make our society. Yes, they may well get better exam results but the long term effects on both the individuals and on the fabric of our society will be serious. WE will make the gap wider in our plutocracy. The rich will get richer as materialism is the altar at which we worship. Our education system will continue to produce automatons who can pass exams but don’t have the social skills required in the new, developing workplaces. It will produce people to fill jobs but at what cost? Once the dream of a university degree; a house in the suburbs; 2.2 children; a driveway full of cars; exotic foreign holiday and all the status you’ll ever need to satisfy your ego then what next? And YES there will be a what next?

Ironically, education is both the problem and the cure. In its current form it is both authoritarian and dictatorial. Obedience, conformity, compliance and selfness are the order of the day when what we really need are free-thinkers, critical thinkers, teamworkers and community champions displaying creativity and risk taking if we are to advance our society. Let’s have a pause for thought and look around to see what is going on in our world. Remember, we are perfectly designed to get the outcomes and consequences of our actions. (Almost) everyone has gone through the education/school system so is it any wonder where we are today!!

Yes, I would like to offer some hope from my little speck of dust in the corner of the universe. I believe that being part of a grassroots community club that can reach way beyond what is taught in schools. We can offer an environment through PLAY where creativity, enjoyment and free thinking is encouraged and promoted. It needs to be the antithesis of schools. Kids choose to come and are not forced. We don’t try to teach or lecture to them but should encourage them to become learners. We need to encourage a growth mindset where questioning and enquiry is a common occurrence.

I am now in my 50’s and have only recently realise how important PLAY is to my all round health, fitness and wellbeing. Without my health the rest doesn’t really matter. So at my age, I push myself daily to PLAY. The penny has dropped for me again. I wish it had dropped earlier but the meaning you get through play is priceless. My play is in the form of being much more active. Running, gym, football, golf or even just the simple things of getting out in the fresh air and walking. My activity/PLAY levels since the turn of the year have been significantly higher and the health benefits have been extraordinary. My sleep is better; my energy levels are higher and just feel better generally.

Just think if we can instill this in our kids then we will help them create great habits for life through PLAY. Maybe one day we will measure schools by how much meaning they can create through PLAY. Now that would challenge our norms but maybe it could create a fairer, more democratic, healthier and more environmentally conscious society for us ALL to enjoy.

What is the Best?

Me V Me

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Happy New Year. I’ve had a bit of a blogging holiday as I have been too busy doing rather than writing about it. It’s time to get back on the horse in 2019 and see where we get to in terms of all things associated with kids football development.

Over the last 3 months, I have continued to read many books. Many very good and some average however the one which stood out by a country mile was ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins. I have followed David on Youtube for many months so was delighted to read his book (Audiobook is the best version as there are so many added extras). For anyone who hasn’t heard of him then a quick David Goggins wiki will do it better justice than me. A consistent message is that the only person we are competing against is oneself. As a coach and a player, how can a I produce a better version of myself?

I’ll start with my players first. A great bunch of lads with varying ability across all players. My ambition has always been to make each player better than when I first met them and see incremental improvement over time. As a bunch of 16 and 17 year olds there are many outside influences which means you don’t see the same person week to week. My challenge is to understand them better to try and help them develop. Goggins mentions how people fail to put themself in a position to succeed. Too many are afraid unless they are 100% guaranteed of success so will never even try. Failing is too much to handle for them so they do not even leave the start line. This demonstrates a poor mindset and I recognise this in some players. We need to get across that failure is acceptable as it hardens us for the next challenge ahead. I can see this in a few and I need to work to help them overcome this.

A Goggins classic is ‘Taking Souls’ My blog isn’t long enough to go into this in depth but it is quite literally breaking your opponent down to “snatch his soul” It’s starts with identifying your own insecurities (we all have them) but then using them against your direct opponent. Imagine I have a midfield player who thinks he is too slow or can’t head the ball etc. Will he go into the game confident he can overcome his opponent? Of course not, his mindset is not right. Turn it round to ” I just need to be ahead of him when the race for the ball starts” or “I just need to get to the ball first to head it ahead of him” Different mindset! I am always talking about winning 1v1’s and if everyone is just 1% better than their opposite number then they have won the battle and taken their soul!! We need to get players to believe in themselves and understand the first battle is winning your own mind as you are playing against yourself.

Your mind is lazy and always wants to take the easy path. I know this from experience and constantly battle that voice in my head that says it’s too cold, wet or there is a great programme on Netflix to watch rather than going for that run. Well I have ran for 6 days in a row now and going out after I finish this blog! We need to build the good habits and fight ‘our mind’ We need to take back control from it and start to programme it for the good stuff. I need to ask my players what I can do to help them do this. A % improvement every week (it only needs to be 1% to get cumulative effect (see blog 1% Rule). Remember, the only person we are playing against is ourselves. Michael Beale ( a coach I have admired for years) also talks about this in his own blog post ‘Through the Ages‘ where he talks about You v Yourself. This constant battle to improve yourself whether that is technique, socially or psychologically then we need to build the muscle.

In Me V Me, I couldn’t care how others are doing. There will always be someone who has more money, status, better job, car etc etc so why do this? It’s how you shape up against yourself that counts. As a coach and person, I am now taking score on how I am doing. External things like the match result matter little. Can I help each player be the best version of himself? A big task with 21 players!

I am willing to put myself up to be shot down and see what I can become as a coach. I have realised that I will never reach the promised land as there is no finish line and now I know there never will be!!

I will keep you up to date on progress and what is working and what is not.

Now, where’s my running shoes!!

 

Me V Me

What’s your story?

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I wrote this blog post almost 1 year ago but never published it. I am sure my ego was in charge so here goes…..

My earliest memories of kicking a ball was well before we got into the competitive world of organised football around 8 years old. In these early days I just loved kicking a ball endlessly. Most of the time it was on the street directly outside our front door. There were two concrete posts which we used as goals. Grass on one side and a multi-purpose surface on the other side (concrete slabs and tarmac). On the good days we used the grass but on the majority of days when it was raining then it was the ‘multi’ court. Cars were never an issue as they took their chance if it was left too near our ‘goals’ Other times we used garage doors as goals. The game was generally the same (repetition, repetition, repetition) with usually 1 keeper and 2 or 3 outfield players knocking in crosses from both sides. Volleys, half-volleys, headers. If you scored then you went one up and if it went past then a goal to the goalkeeper. We would lose ourselves for hours in this simple game of ‘crossy’ During this time maybe a big game would evolve either down the local school grass pitch or next to the adjacent garages where we had effectively an enclosed pitch of garages on one side and a fence surrounding the rest of the perimeter . This meant the ball never left the pitch. The ages ranged from us being the youngest but we played with boys maybe 4 or 5 years older. Yes, we were easily pushed off the ball but we kept coming back for more. Most nights and weekends were spent in this fantastic learning environment.

So we moved on to organised football with East Mains Thistle. First year of full 11-a-side at under 9’s. I played a year above myself as my friends were in this age group. Memories of gravel pitches at Brancumhall with blowing gales. Standing at the back trying to be a centre back. Although this was our first taste of wearing a proper strip, the street games continued and we even had a ‘street team’ I did ok and won a few medals during these early years. You seemed to get a medal for everything back then and had a board full of them. I couldn’t tell you what most of them were for.

At around 12, I trialled for Celtic Boys Club. They were the premier club in Scotland at the time and pretty much regarded  as such. In my trial I played directly against Peter Grant, who went on to play for Celtic and Scotland. I must’ve done alright as I got in. This led to me being part of a team who won every game they played for the first two years including two Scottish Cups. My third season was the last one as we lost our 3rd Scottish Cup final appearance. During this time I signed an ‘S’ for Hamilton Accies which meant I was also training with them. Subsequently, I left Celtic BC and joined Aberdeen BC who were based in East Kilbride. A couple of good seasons there but the team finished at under 16’s. At the end of the season I was also released by Hamilton Accies. I then joined East Kilbride YC for two great seasons at under 18. This was rounded off by winning the Scottish under 18 League Cup (I think). This was a brilliant time playing with a bunch of mates from EK. Not only a brilliant time but a great set of boys who just had a great laugh.

In effect my youth football was now over. I was working and joined EKYM who played in the Scottish Amateur league. A good team and again great bunch of local lads. During this time I also turned out and played a few reserve games for Partick Thistle and Airdrie. It was during my third game for Partick that they said they liked me but (being gently let down) asked me to go to Ashfield and play junior football. As a young boy, this was a steep learning curve playing against a lot of ex-pros and experienced junior players. It certainly toughened me up. My problem was I always lacked pace but junior football was perfect for me. Over the next ten years included two spells at Ashfield, a brief season at EK Thistle and was finished off at Neilston Juniors where I probably enjoyed my best spell of football. However at 29, I tore my ankle ligaments and was out for a year. I then made my comeback after the next pre-season and was really fit and ready to go. In a friendly against St. Mirren I stretched for a ball and managed to tear my knee ligaments. So there it is at 30 years old and career over. A failed footballer.

Everyone reminisces fondly on their career and we remember the good times. I notice in Facebook and Twitter how good we all were!! This is where the ego has created an image of ourselves that has been created in our mind. I know I was ok to a certain level but never good enough to make it to the top. That realism still hurts today and that is, I believe, why I coach the way I do. Being a ‘failed footballer’ allows me to see the mistakes I made and try and help the kids I coach.

As a player, I felt too much stress in trying to win. It was drummed into me that winning was everything and I remember the tears when games were lost. I am pretty sure this was the effect of 3 years at Celtic BC but is still stayed with me in later years. My play was too fearful. As a coach, I now try to go the opposite way and get across that winning is only an outcome and not always within our control. Developing players to be the best they can be and playing the right way is key to my coaching.

Consequently, I have learned all the ways not to create a ‘failed footballer’ Instead I hope to build people who have a love of the game and doesn’t matter where they play and at what level. My story is not complete and I am the ‘director’ of it. Like all good stories, we face a challenge to overcome. I am woking to overcome this baggage and enlighten the players that there is a ‘way’ for all of them, no matter their ability.

So what is your story? Is it the ego driven narrative of how good you were or can you learn and apply it to your current situation? This is what I am trying to do but only my players will be a judge of its success.

What’s your story?

Egoic Dream Killers

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Having enjoyed a little blogging break to recharge the batteries and prepare for the new season ahead, It’s time to get back in the saddle. My last blog ‘Field of Dreams’ created a lot of positive feedback with many actually asking where this club was from and how could they visit!! Unfortunately this was my vision and dream for how it could be. Don’t get me wrong, my own club is very much following this path but we still have some distance to travel.

As my footnote in the previous blog suggested I would cover what would get in the way of fulfilling this dream. So, after only four matches into the new season there has been plenty to reinforce the Egoic Dream Killers who abound our clubs.

The feeling of losing a game/cup final/goal is just the ego telling you that it is in charge. Does that ‘oh so important win’ really matter? Is your meaning and purpose tied to an external event that you have no influence over? The ego is constantly running your life by telling you that you need MORE. More wins, more plastic cups, more success. So what happens when all this winning and success stops (and it will) and you are still tied to that same ego? Depression/feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. Unless you have a bigger purpose and meaning in your life then you are wide open to these egoic influences.

If you really identify yourself with wins and losses then you are always at the behest of your ego. Only when you start to quieten that egoic voice and reduce the impact of your ego by having a higher purpose will you start to enter a new plane of wisdom and understanding. Only then will you start to understand how many problems that the ego is causing you. This will start a transition from having a selfish outer purpose (wins/trophies etc) to an inner purpose where you begin to understand that the most important thing is to realise what that purpose is.

So how do we tell if the ego is in charge and driving the bus? Easy, just test it out. Watch a game and just observe the actions from the coaches and parents at the side of the park. If you are witnessing lots of stress, anger, complaining, fear, blame or other negative reactions then you are seeing the manifestations of all these ego’s together. This is self-fulfilling as you will see the ‘enemies’ being created in the opposition players/coaches and/or the referee. As all ego’s battle it out, they continually reinforce each other to make the ego’s stronger. They reach a crescendo and the problems have now become massive as all the ego’s involved fight for superiority (This is what the ego does!). The ego causes separateness in people as we move apart. This is now the opposite direction in which we should be moving if we want to work together to get better. We need to be inclusive rather than this exclusive behaviour.

The bottom line (and I know this is extremely difficult) is we have to move away from “my team” (exclusive) to “our game” (inclusive). We (individually and collectively), need to call out the ego and replace it with an inner purpose where we are still and calm and can then work together for the betterment of our game as a whole. Yes, of course I am called an idealist but only when we move from independence to inter-dependence will see progress, and ultimately results.

So all you Egoic Dream Killers who try to bring us down, remember we are in this for the long haul and not the short term plastic trophies you so crave. I will work collaboratively with this constant message that the ego does us no favours but achieving a higher purpose does. My larger purpose is to keep this dream alive for the good of the game.

 

 

Egoic Dream Killers