Water the Bamboo

Matt Long, M.A., M.Ed., CC-AASP


Seeds for giant timber bamboo are planted deep in the soil.  After one year of watering, the bamboo has grown…not at all.  After two, and even three years, the bamboo has still yet to break through the soil.

But sometime in the fourth year, after many months of faithful watering, the bamboo shoots up and can grow up to 90 feet in 60 days!

How many things in sport (and in life) are just like this?  We invest our time, our energy, our effort – only to be left wondering if it was all worth it.  What we so often fail to understand is that meaningful success comes from hard work applied long before results are seen.

As with many things that require time and effort, the best results only come when we dive headfirst into the process.  It is only a resilient commitment to the process of watering that results in these huge bamboo trees.

So what can we take from this idea of watering the bamboo?  Read on to find three helpful tips to achieving success, no matter what the arena.

1) Create process goals to keep you focused on “the watering”

There is no shortage of successful coaches who preach process over results (think Nick Saban and “The Process”; Chip Kelly and “Win the Day”).  And the most practical way of staying in the process is to create process goals.

These are goals that can be met daily – often detail-oriented reminders of the little things one needs to do to improve and stay on track.  For example, a golfer might have process goals of keeping a daily journal recording small gains in short game skills, practicing their pre-shot routine for 25% of their practice time, and visualizing every shot before they hit it.  These process goals are the small daily steps toward one’s bigger long-term goals.

The bottom line is, if you focus on the day-to-day things that go into the process of becoming successful, the results will take care of themselves.  Process goals keep you in the process.

2) Be crystal clear about your “why”

If you are committing to a long-term journey in order to reach big goals, then you won’t get there without a powerful source of motivation.  In the words of Dr. Rob Bell, one of the leaders in the field of sport psychology, “If you know your WHY, you can find your HOW”.

Your “why” needs to be meaningful enough to keep you going when you have been watering the bamboo for months without a single inch of visible growth.  So if it’s championship trophies you’re after, make sure you have put some time in reflecting on why they are meaningful to you and what reaching your ultimate goal will represent to you.

3) Commit to becoming resilient on your journey

Continuing to put in the hard work when the results aren’t showing up requires a healthy dose of one of the most importantly qualities of a successful person – resilience.

Think of the well-documented failures of Abraham Lincoln (losses in business and multiple elections before becoming President) and Thomas Edison (1,000 unsuccessful attempts before the invention of the light bulb).

How about the list of the worst first-year records for coaches in the history of the NFL? Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, and Jimmy Johnson.  They combined to go 1-45 in their initial years of coaching before winning 11 Super Bowls between them.

And baseball’s all-time leader in striking out?  The Hall of Famer, Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.

If you have your sights set on something big, you will need to be prepared to weather all kinds of failure along your journey.  Only the resilient will survive.

For a parallel example to watering the bamboo, look no further than the 5-time NBA champion, coach Gregg Popovich, who has adopted the idea of “pounding the rock” from this Jacob Riis quote:

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

So choose your metaphor.

Water the bamboo.

Pound the rock.

Commit to relentlessly staying in the process, and the results will take care of themselves.