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Friday, June 13, 2014

THINGS I KNOW BECAUSE I PLAYED

It's funny how life works -- especially in the coaching profession.  Several years ago I was in Phoenix to visit with one of my players Temeka Johnson who was at the time helping guide the Mercury to a WNBA Championship.  While attending a practice session, a young man came up and introduced himself to me.  His name was Bret Burchard.  Bret works for both the Mercury and the Phoenix Suns organization.  He told me he knew of me through his college coach at Taylor University, Paul Patterson.  Coach Patterson and I are connected through our friendship with Don Meyer.  Since that time, Bret and I have remained in touch.

Fast forward to a few weekends ago when I traveled to Nashville for Coach Meyer's Memorial Service at Lipscomb where I ran into Coach Patterson.  Those that know coaching and teaching know Coach Patterson.  Bob Knight once called him the best coach in the state of Indiana -- while Knight was coaching the Hoosiers.  After the service we were talking and Bret's name came up.  Coach Patterson told me he had wrote something amazing.  He went on to tell me that Brad Stevens had actually read it to his Boston Celtics team.

I asked Coach Patterson to send me a copy which he did.  He was right -- it's amazing.  I then reached out to Bret to ask his permission to put it on our blog and he was glad to share.  He's one of us coaches that want to share and help.  In fact, his newest venture is developing a program to help athletes/coaches separate who they are from performance in competition and overflow excellence.  You can find out more about that at: http://championshift.com/.

It's a bit lengthy but well worth the read.  As did Coach Stevens with the Celtics, we are going to share this with our team as well.

THINGS I KNOW BECAUSE I PLAYED
By Bret Burchard

The thing I now appreciate the most about my basketball experience is the fact that the game, or competition itself, is always honest. Every day you step on the court the game will tell you the truth. There are winners and losers every day, every game, every practice, every drill, every possession. If you didn’t do the work the game will tell you about it because you will probably lose. If you took shortcuts or you took the easy route, the game will tell you about it. If there’s selfishness in your heart or there’s arrogance about the way you approach the day, the game will tell you about it. If your goals are set for mediocrity, you will probably get mediocre, and if your priorities aren’t in line with your goals then you will be left disappointed. If you’re putting yourself first when you should be last, and I’m not talking about the tournament standings here, then you’ll hear about it in your results.

I believe in the value and place of an academic education, but it doesn’t compare to the real life, applicable lessons that are taught through athletics and competition. The trick is you have to be paying attention to learn. Before learning anything most guys will get their butts kicked everyday and blame it on someone else or on circumstances out of their control. At some point they will get tired of losing and take ownership of the results. Then they get serious about what they are doing and start paying attention. That’s when competition reveals life and spiritual lessons that are taught in a way unique to any other avenue.


I respect athletes that are pursuing excellence because they put themselves on the line everyday. One of their faults could cause them to lose. And in basketball, a team sport, they could cause 12 other guys to lose too, all because they weren’t paying attention when the game was trying to teach them something. And it’s a crappy feeling to go to class the next day or go back to the dorm when the whole school watched you cost the team the game, all because you weren’t paying attention during preparation. But, because you put yourself on the line everyday, you are getting an education that most people don’t get. So stick with it because the lessons learned will come back well after you’re finished playing. If the program you are involved in is challenging you enough you’ll be like me and find times when you want to quit. Don’t quit. The best decision you’ll ever make is to keep going. Keep working and enjoy every step of the journey.

When most people finish their athletic careers they talk about the things they wish they knew while they were playing. The truth is, they could have known those things but they were too stubborn, selfish, or arrogant to realize them. I put it nicely. Coaches will say they had their head to far up their butt to see the truth.

I’m writing this to say there are things the game was screaming at me every single day but I didn’t immediately recognize it, and the game is screaming those same things to everyone else that is serious about being good at what they do. You just have to be paying attention. The sooner you can humble yourself, the quicker you will learn these same lessons and approach your full potential.

Humility

This is without a doubt the most pivotal lesson an athlete will learn during a career. I entered college as a freshman thinking I knew everything and left knowing I have a lot to learn. This is a common pattern amongst any athlete going through college. As I learned more about humility I became a better asset to my team and my whole athletic experience was more enjoyable.

There are many misconceptions of what it means to be humble and so most people shy away from it. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. It is realizing the world does not revolve around you and there are a lot of things going on besides your desires, needs, wants, expectations, and beliefs. Humility is being last, and I’m not talking about being the worst player on the team. I’m talking about putting other’s needs ahead of your own.

Humility is also about accepting the truth. I have already discussed how the game reveals the truth every day. The arrogant player won’t pay attention to those facts and will continue to believe he is something he’s not. When he keeps fighting the truth he just makes life harder and limits the possibility of becoming the best player he can be.

Unfortunately, when we think of being the best player we can be we automatically think about how many points we can score and how many moves we have in our repertoire. Being the best player means playing to our strengths and recognizing our weaknesses. It’s humbling to admit our limitations, but recognizing them is the first step in exceeding our potential. Humility is about knowing who we are within the context of what we are doing.

If you happen to be the team’s best scorer you need to realize you can’t score without the help of your teammates. If your strength is not scoring you use your strengths to get those that can score open shots.

When we recognize our limitations then we play to our strengths and we avoid our weaknesses. By understanding our limitations we actually become a greater asset to the team and ultimately exceed any limitations others put on our potential because everything we do helps the team rather than hurt it. And it is a team game. And we are in it for the success of the team. And each individual is judged on the success of the team.

Humility is also about taking responsibility for your actions. When you mess up you admit to it, accept the consequences and move on. You don’t blame others. You worry about what is in your control and do not blame your mistakes on external factors.

Preparation

Preparation is imperative in whatever you are doing. You don’t just show up on game day and win the championship. The wins and championships are a result of the preparation done beforehand. I have found this to be true in everything. You don’t just show up on test day and expect to pass because you are awesome, or you need it or for some reason you believe you deserve it. You pass the test because you went to class every day of the semester, you did the homework, you understood the material and asked questions when you didn’t understand. You pass the test because you spent time studying and reviewing the material before test day.

It’s true in public speaking as well. You don’t just show up to speak to a group of people and expect them to listen because you are awesome. You prepare to be awesome. You understand your audience and grab their attention and prepare points you want to get across.

Preparation is imperative.

How you prepare is important too. There’s an old saying that tells us we should practice like we play, but the inverse of that statement is true as well. We play like we practice. If you prepare for mediocre then that’s what you’re going to get. If you prepare to beat the worst team in the league, that’s all you will do. But if you prepare to beat the best team in the league, your chances are better. If you practice things that won’t come up in the game within your team’s system of play, you are waiting your time. That’s poor preparation.

Excellence

Excellence is a word thrown around so often it has lost its meaning. People use it to offer the appearance that they are working hard and are committed to something when in fact the fruit of their work is mediocre.

I don’t claim to have achieved anything of excellence but I did play for a coach that has a solid vision of what excellence is and understands what it takes to achieve it and he demanded that from us every day in every activity. Whether we responded or not is a different discussion.

What I have discovered about excellence is that it’s not a one time thing. You don’t have a good day and call it excellent. It is called excellent because you did excellent work day after day, possession after possession, time and again. You don’t do one thing and say, “That was excellent.” You look back on a season, on an entire career and call the result of great work excellence.

The other thing about excellence is you don’t get to judge it or get to pick who judges it. Excellence will be called excellent no matter who judges it. We all think pretty highly of the work we do ourselves and we all can find a mom or girlfriend to tell us how “awesome” and “excellent” we are. But when your work is truly excellent there will be no doubt. Anyone that sees it will recognize it. It won’t take convincing. You won’t have to sell your product. The results will speak for themselves.

Commitment

Our generation has nearly lost the value of commitment. We don’t give ourselves completely to what we are doing. We are told to be well-rounded and get involved in many different activities. I believe in the necessity of balance in life. But well-rounded is another term whose meaning needs to be reestablished.

When we tell kids to get involved, they sign up for three or four different activities. Now they are doing a lot of things but aren’t committed to any of them. They don’t have priorities. When you are committed to something, it becomes your number one priority all of the time.

Of all the extracurricular activities I was involved in on campus basketball was always my number one priority because I had made a commitment to it before I ever stepped on campus (and it was paying for my school too). And everyone was aware of that before I became involve in another activity. If there was ever a conflict, basketball always took precedence. I still did good work for the other activities but basketball always came first. I didn’t do anything to interfere with my performance in basketball because I had made a commitment to the program and to my teammates. I never scheduled a late night meeting the day before a game. I never scheduled events immediately following practices or games that may take my focus off of basketball. When it was basketball season, I was committed to basketball.

Commitment, done the right way, also builds toughness. We have encouraged kids to get involved so much that when one activity beats them down they just move on to the next one. If they fail in basketball today, it’s okay because they will have a soccer game tomorrow. There’s something to be said for being beat down one day and coming back again the next day. That kind of commitment will force you to swallow some pride and accept the truth. That will build some humility. When you respond positively to negative situations, that builds toughness.

Toughness

Society tells us toughness is gaining power and being the biggest, strongest guy and beating people up. Those are just lies.

Toughness is about doing hard things well and doing them the right way. It’s not about taking cheap shots or cutting corners. It’s about doing the necessary to be successful. It’s about getting up when you are knocked down.

If you get undercut while going up for a layup, fans will call you tough if you retaliate by punching the guy in the face. That’s not toughness. That’s stupidity. Toughness is standing up, knocking down the free throws, guarding him on the other end, and then your team scoring on him the next offensive trip. Toughness is not letting that cheap shot throw off your focus. It’s doing the things necessary to be successful.  You become tough by doing tough things.

Winning on the road in a hostile environment is hard. If you want to succeed you better be tough. You better be disciplined in the things you do well and be trained to focus on your strengths, the game, and your game plan.

Toughness is about not quitting. Not giving into fatigue. Not giving into the temptation to cut corners and take the easy way out. We will use the excuse, “My body just couldn’t go anymore,” but that’s a lie. The truth is our mind wasn’t tough enough to not quit.

It’s about doing the hard things that no one else is willing to do in order to be successful. That level of toughness will separate the good from the great, the mediocre from the excellent.

“Winning isn’t everything”

Here is another phrase whose meaning needs to be reestablished. The people using this phrase are the ones not winning. It’s their excuse to being mediocre. They usually follow it up with lines like, “We’ve learned so much from our adversity,” and “It’s all about the lifelong relationships we’ve built.”

That’s bull crap.

First, you haven’t learned anything from your adversity if you keep getting the same results. You haven’t learned something until it changes you. If you want something different than you’ve been getting, you have to do something different than you’ve always done. Losing can be a powerful teacher. But you don’t learn more by losing more.

Second, I’ve built lifelong relationships with people that are striving for excellence. I’m not too interested in sustaining friendships with people that drag me down and settle for mediocrity. I want a lifelong friend that is going to be excellent in what he does and will challenge me to do the same. A friend that settles for less than his best and will allow you to do the same is a lousy friend.

That’s another excuse we like to use: “We did our best.” That’s bull crap the majority of the time too. It’s typically an excuse to accept losing.

John Wooden’s definition of success is the self-satisfaction in knowing you did the best you possibly could to become the best you possibly could-or something to that effect. If you lay your head down at night and are satisfied that you did everything you could to help your team win then good for you.

But typically, Mom tells little Johnny, “You did the best you could,” to make him feel better about losing. Who said it was a bad thing to feel bad after a loss? Losing should hurt. If you pour yourself into what you are doing it will hurt when you don’t win. That’s okay. Get up and do it again.

I’m all for doing the best you can and being satisfied in that. But let’s not use that as an excuse to not do our best. We typically tell people we did our best to cover up the fact that we could have given more or we tell them that because we are ashamed of losing.

I agree with the idea that winning shouldn’t be the ultimate determinate of success, but it’s an important one. No one wants to lose all of the time. If you are going to commit to something and sacrifice for it, and if you are going to apply yourself and work hard at something, you should find a way to achieve some success.