You Can Always Learn to Play Defense

hi-res-158282241_crop_northAs our players step onto the court this weekend, far too many come in with a faulty sense of what they need to do to earn playing time and a faulty sense of what they can contribute. Many will assume that it’s all about scoring, while few will focus, even though we’ve been emphasizing it throughout the preseason, on learning how to defend. That’s a standard for most programs – you have to play defense!  There’s also a standard from God that never changes, but few of us are willing to think about it, talk about it, or follow it.  Let’s explore what players can do at the start of the season to become better defenders and then relate that to the taboo subject of sexual sin.
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A while back, I suggested that players in the preseason should spend as much time working on defending a ball-handler as they do working on their shot.  My suggestion fell on deaf ears.  Why would players want to do that?  It’s hard enough to get them in the gym, why would they do that on their own?  I would hope that it’s because they want to play, but for most players, it’s all about scoring.  While I spend most of my time coaching offense, I still believe that defense is the key to consistent winning. My encouragement for players beginning practices soon is to let your shooting and scoring come, but take the time, right now, to be come a better defender.

Consider the NBA’s Tony Allen.  Playing behind Paul Pierce with the Celtics early in his career, Allen found the only way to get on the floor was to become a supreme defender. He parlayed that skill into becoming one of the most respected defenders in the league playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.  His passion for defense, as outlined in a Sports on Earth article from 2013 entitled All D, All Day, provides several keys for all players to become better defenders.  Here are five aspects of defenders like Allen:

  1. Focus – Admit you can get better and focus on getting better, every day and in every drill.
  2. Strength – Defending requires physical strength.  Don’t forget the weight room – ever!
  3. Study & Prepare – Allen studies his opponents – on film, in games, and even against teammates in practice.  Go to school!
  4. Control – Take control of the player you’re defending.  Force them our of their comfort zone and don’t leave it to referees or teammates to bail you out.  Take responsibility.
  5. Overcome – When you give up a score, bounce back.  When you make a mistake, make up for it.
LIFE – Defend the Standard
istock_000017356047small_wide-59a19304fd5e7a5819f1bf20f9796caa43b1fbf7-s6-c10The culture we live in has not just weakened, but in many cases, has abolished moral standards that apply to all of us.  As the presidential campaign unfolds, constant attempts to cover up and spin past indiscretions or to self-righteously accuse the other side of moral failure without looking at one’s self indicate how completely absent moral standards are in our culture.  Though it may seem old-fashioned, moral standards do matter and they are true for all of us.  They don’t change – and most of us know that.  We know right and wrong.  We know what is sin.  But rather than stand up and fight, we allow the culture around us to tell us, “do whatever is right for you.”  And before you know it, we have rationalized our irrational behavior. We put the focus on “consent” or “tolerance” or “individual rights,” rather than on the simple question of right and wrong.  So where do you stand?  Are you defending moral standards or are you allowing the culture around you to entice you into diminishing standards?
FAITH – Defending Morality
God gave us the gift of sex, but also clearly defines throughout the Bible the acceptable role that sex plays within marriage.  There’s nothing confusing about that; but yet, throughout time, we’ve manipulated moral standards to make sex a private, individual matter and try to take God out of the equation.  I’m sorry to offend, but we can’t do that.  God is always with us – in our thought and in our actions.  He knows all of our excuses and our justifications.  Deteriorating sexual morals and our quest for sexual freedom is no different now than it was in the Old Testament, in the Roman Empire, or in the 60’s.  Yet, he still commands:
 “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality . . .”  (Eph. 5:3)
In God’s creation, premarital sex is unacceptable. That doesn’t change. Objectifying women or lusting after a man are hints of immorality.   Adultery, being unfaithful in your marriage, is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Pornography is unacceptable to God. It’s not just a hint, it’s immoral.
: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Just like Tony Allen’s approach to being a great defender, each of us can learn to responsibly handle sexual temptation within a culture that is in complete contrast to God’s plan.  How do you do that?

  1. Focus – Admit you’re in a battle.  Don’t rationalize it or excuse it.  Work at it – now.
  2. Strength – Condition yourself by staying in God’s Word and surrounding yourself with others who recognize the difficulties of living responsibly.  God will provide all the support you need.
  3. Study & Prepare – Recognize your opponent is temptation and prepare to do battle everyday.  Understand the messages of our culture.  Read Lay Aside the Weight of Lust, a terrific discussion from Desiring God for more encouragement and understanding.
  4. Control  Make a commitment to live morally pure by God’s standard from this day forward. That means having sex only with the person to whom you’re married.
  5. Overcome -When you do act irresponsibly, God is waiting to forgive, cleanse, and restore you. He’ll release you from the shame, regrets, the hidden hurts, and the pain that come from your sin so you don’t carry them into your relationships.
The beauty of God’s story is that He forgives and he helps each of deal with the troubling area of sexual sin. God gives you a chance to come clean and start over.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV)

Get to Know Your Coach

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

For the past three years I’ve been presenting my ideas about basketball and a variety of issues in life and faith, mostly from my perspective as a coach.  We’ve explored trends in coaching, styles of play, practice planning, and leadership and have found applications for daily life and for living out a Christian faith.  As the season approaches and many of us return to the court, I’d like to speak directly and honestly to players and as I do, I hope that you’ll see once again the many ways that basketball is a tremendous gift from God in helping us navigate life in a confusing world.



download-1It’s the first day of practice and players will step onto the court in a completely new situation You see, even if you’re playing for the same team as last season and even if that team is coached by the same coaches, it’s a new year. Coaches adjust.  After evaluating the past season and after being evaluated by their superiors, coaches often adjust.  And if you are playing for a new team or playing for a different coach the lesson is still the same:  Don’t wait for your coach to get to know you. Get to know your coach.  Successful teams value relationships, but relationships are a two-way street.  One of my lasting impressions from this year’s U.S. Men’s Olympic team came from watching a video of one of the team’s first practice sessions.  As the players walked onto the court, almost all of them walked in with a coach or some other support person for the team,  It was obvious they’ve learned the lesson of taking the time to build relationships!  Here are a few suggestions for getting to know your coach once you hit the floor:

  1.  Actively Listen:  Stay involved when a coach explains a drill or teaches technique. Too many players zone out and try to catch up while watching other players. Listen to hear what points are stressed and listen like it’s the first time you’re being taught.
  2.  Follow-Up:  There’s a fine line between being an inquisitive pest and confirming what you’re hearing from a coach, but take time to ask clarifying questions. Genuinely seek for background explanations on your coach’s methods and philosophy – just do it without interrupting the flow of a practice or meeting.
  3.  Exchange Opinions:  It can easily begin with basketball, like what happened in an NBA game or about what’s happening on the college coach or transfer carousel, but having conversations with your coach on a variety of subjects will help you get to know their perspective, but also express who you are as a player and as a person.
  4.  Open Up:  Unloading on your coaches may feel a bit threatening, but players who wear a false front often struggle with their relationships with coaches.  Be who are and let your coaches know why you’re playing the game.  That helps your coach find the best ways to keep you motivated.

LIFE – Spend Time

downloadAs the busyness of life consumes us, the quality of relationships can easily take a hit. One of my biggest regrets in my life was that as a Division I coach I allowed far too many of my closest friendships to fall by the wayside.  Let’s face it, it was difficult enough to focus on my marriage and a growing family. But taking the time to truly invest in nurturing friendships was too often overshadowed by professional networking, which can often be superficial,or in the typical church social settings in which so many people rarely scratch the surface of what is truly going on with others.  I’ve been challenged in this area recently through Craig Groeschel’s book Dare to Drop the Pose: Ten Things Christians Think but Are Afraid to Say.

Many of us hate to admit it, but as life becomes more complex many of us can feel extreme loneliness.  As Groeschel suggests, we might conclude. that we have to perform for others, we can’t trust others, and that other people do not truly care about us.  That may seem extreme and pessimistic, but many of at various points in our lives may feel that kind of loneliness.  The only solution?  You have to spend time and take the risk of reaching out to others, rather than wait for them to reach out to you!

FAITH – Spend Time

I’m amazed when I hear Christians, including me, say “I really want to trust God more, but why doesn’t He speak to me in more obvious ways?  Why can’t I hear Him?”  Like a player who wants his coach to understand him better and to relate to him more, we need to spend quality time getting to know God.  If you want to know God, you have to be near God.  If you want to hear God, you have to clear out the distractions, open up, and actively listen.

The Bible tells us:

“Be still and know that I am God”   Psalm 46:10

That’s how you get to know Him.  You take the time, you open your Bible, and you talk to him about your perceptions, your concerns, your ambitions, and your challenges.  And then, you follow-up.  You act on what He tells you.  If you make the effort, God will respond.

Next week, I’m anxious to get to know our players – both on the court as players, but also as young people finding their niche in a difficult world.  The best relationships I have had have grown from players who are willing to get to know me, just as I extend myself to them.  For some, it’s not an easy thing and can take a while – but like our father in heaven, I’ll patiently keep after them.

Evaluating Your Why

Many of you know that I took a little break from posting new content.  My summer baseball job took its toll and quite frankly, I’m still recovering from and still processing Cleveland’s remarkable comeback in the NBA Finals to beat the Golden State Warriors. Little did I know that Cleveland would move the ball unselfishly, as the Warriors did last year in winning the title, while Golden State would be reduced to desperate and forced shooting.  I spent some time re-watching the series and I still believe completely in the way Steve Kerr wants his team  to play, but I had to take a closer look at what I value in the game and why I want to approach it the way I do.  That may be different if we had LeBron James on our team or if we added Kevin Durant, but by taking the time to analyze what I believe in as a coach, I feel more strongly about our approach to the game and will make some slight adjustments to keep our system relevant and meaningful for our players.

BASKETBALL – Why do it?

As I was doing my own research and preparation for our college practices to begin, I listened to Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan talk about his approach to each new season. He suggested how important it is to continue to refine and add to your system of play, whether it’s in the pros, at the college level, or with high school teams:

“I try to evolve every year in terms of what we are doing and add different things.  I want to make sure that everything we do actually helps us get better in how we want to play.  I’m not going to do things just to do them.”

It’s important to identify and reinforce your system, but it’s also important to consider if the system continues to not only help your team be successful, but also is relevant to the types of players you have on the team.  I’m impressed when I hear coaches say that they are willing to adapt and adjust because far too often I’ve seen “this is the way we do it” coaches get stuck in their own habits and traditions, unwilling to do the hard work of analysis.  It takes an objective mindset to truly consider how effective a coach is in philosophy, implementation, and approach. Certainly there is something to be said for mastering an approach and maintaining consistent methods, but as the game evolves and, more importantly, as generations of young people change and develop, coaches have to consider their ways and re-evaluate why they do what they do and how they do what they do.

FAITH – What We Pray

If you were raised in a home of German descent like me, you may be familiar with a traditional prayer for meals called the “Common Table Prayer.”

Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen

It’s a simple prayer used at almost every meal in the home, at church, and at school. I’ve known it and said it for my entire life, and so have my kids.  At times, it can be prayed without much thought, but we’ve always felt comfortable with it as a traditional prayer – that is until my pastor shattered my perspective!  Without thinking about it, we ask Jesus to be a “guest” at our table and in our home – a terrific sentiment, but far from an appropriate statement of the hope and request I actually want to express.  You see, I don’t want Jesus to simply be a guest, somebody I welcome into our home for a meal who then politely leaves when we’re finished eating.  I actually want Jesus to be a part of my family, to live and dwell in my home, my heart, and within my family, just as God expected from his chosen people in Exodus 25:8:

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

I want my home and my life to be a place where God is welcome to dwell, not simply visit.  So, why say “be our guest?”  I would suppose there are adequate explanations based in translation and poetry, but it really made me think. And as I think, I’m less inclined to use the prayer at our table and if we do, I know that each of us will think a little more about why we are praying and what we are saying!  It’s the same thing I do as a coach – I want to be thoughtful about what we do, how we teach it, and why we do it.

LIFE – What We Say

Thanks to Colin Kapernick, we’re all thinking about why we do something like stand for the playing of the National anthem.  Many of us will simply go along with tradition, maybe even feel more determined about what we are doing, and many of us will actually think about what we’re doing, who we are honoring, and what we hope our flag and nation represent.   And sadly, some of us will completely ignore tradition and act foolishly without thought or consideration for what our actions represent.  I can’t speak for what Kapernick hopes will happen or what it will take for him to return to his feet, but rather than disregard what happened and feel offended, I choose to consider my hopes and my feelings for what I believe is the greatest nation on earth, despite its faults.  I found a lot of truth and thoughtful comments in Dan Everson’s article, On Patriotism, Protest, and Prayer, written for the Jesuit Post.

As our nation continues to mend and grow and as we continue to battle through violence and hatred, my prayer is that we not only invite Jesus to be a part of all that we are as a country, but that we also think more about why we do what we do.