The NBA Playoffs: Making It Stick!

NBA PlayoffsAfter the first week of the NBA Playoffs, the Lakers and the Bucks are out and a couple more teams are on their way.  As the drama unfolds, there clearly are teams that were prepared to stick around.  And as the pressure increases, communication takes center stage.  It’s not just about who has the most talent or the healthiest players or who has put in the most  Hard Work – although these have an effect – but communication within a team is essential.  It may be during that critical timeout, or on an off day before an elimination game, or it may be the driving theme created in the off-season.  The terrific book by Chip & Dan Heath, Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die gives a good explanation for each of us of how to create messages that connect.  It’s not just for marketing and advertising – it’s helpful for coaches, leaders, parents, and anyone who wants to encourage and inspire others!

BASKETBALL – Sticking Under Pressure

Made To StickFor decades, coaches have followed the KISS formula for communicating with players – Keep It Simple, Stupid – and for the most part it’s a helpful reminder, especially during a close game.  The Heath brothers have uncovered ideas about moving beyond just keeping it simple to making the message stick.  Their formula is summed up in six principles (SUCCESs – the extra “s” is silent!):  Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion, and Stories.  The more of these factors you can use, the stronger and more impactful your message can be.   Failing to use any of them, usually dooms the effectiveness of your message (See my Made To Stick Book Notes for more detail).

For coaches this is some great insight for making messages stick – especially  long-term ideas like offensive and defensive philosophy, motivation, off-the-court expectations, and off-season conditioning.  As you implement these principles, the Heaths also advise dealing with the “Curse of Knowledge.”  Too often, when you know something yourself, it can be difficult to relate the idea to a player who has little experience with the idea.  It’s one reason why many accomplished players have a difficult time becoming effective coaches.  That “curse” can also lead to losing the core of a message.  It’s common for coaches to use complex terms and explanations that only lead to a paralysis of thinking that confuses the core of their message.  That’s one I’m working on!  As the playoffs continue, watch the close-up views of huddles, the post-game interviews, and the discussion between games.  We’ll see which coaches and teams know how to make their messages stick.

LIFE – Are your messages falling on deaf ears?

How often do you feel like your message is not getting through?  Why do ideas like “Where’s the Beef?”  “It’s the economy, stupid!” and The Jared Diet at Subway stick for so long while a parent’s request for a child to help with chores is forgotten in a nano-second?  Let’s face it.  There are so many messages and ideas bombarding us in our world today that it’s essential to learn how to make your messages stick. Whether it’s building trust in a relationship, establishing guidelines for your children, selling yourself for a new job or promotion, or sharing your faith, each of us can improve our communication skills.

FAITH – The Parables of Jesus

As I read the ideas from the Heath brothers, I was instantly drawn to take a closer look at the top communicator of all time, Jesus.  Afterall, His message and His ideas are remembered throughout humanity, even by non-believers!  Jesus used short, simple stories called parables to communicate complex ideas and boy, do they stick!  He used familiar concepts and terms, but often stirred emotions and inspired action with His credibility and concreteness (see Matthew 13:1-23 for one of His best, The Sower, and an explanation of why He used parables).

Jesus set the example for communication that each of us would be wise to follow in our daily activities, but more importantly as we fulfill the call that each of us has to spread the Gospel message.  As our country and our world increasingly present ideas and worldviews that conflict with the Christian faith, we need to make that message stick.  I believe it’s an important skill for each of us to master.  We are called “to go out into the world and make disciples of all men” – that includes atheists, Muslims, and many others, so your message better stick!


Hard Work on Display in the NBA Playoffs

As we push aside the NBA regular season, the stars will be on display in the drama of the playoffs.  Just last night, Chris Paul of the LA Clippers beat the buzzer to put the Grizzlies down 0-2 in their first round series (view Chris Paul’s Winning Shot). It’s easy to think that plays like this are just a result of the superior talent of players like Paul, but when you take a closer look, you find that it doesn’t just simply happen.  To be able to shine in the pressure of the playoff spotlight after a long, grueling season, NBA players must condition and train at a level in the off-season that far exceeds what most of us can imagine.  The hard work required reminds us of another kind of hard work that each of us must choose in our personal lives as well – the hard work of forgiveness.

BASKETBALL – Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard!

I highly recommend a subscription to the Pure Sweat Chanel on YouTube provided by  Alan Stein, a well-known performance consultant that reminds us of the hard work required to perform and succeed in the NBA playoffs  Check it out at  you will find some great reminders for players of any level!

1.  Working hard is only effective when you work hard, smart, AND consistently.

2.  Working hard requires you to get out of your comfort zone.

3.  Working hard must become a habit.

4.  Working hard is a conscious choice.

LIFE – Forgiveness is hard work!

After first watching the Hard Work video, I got to be a proud parent and watch my daughter perform in her first high school musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It’s the Broadway version of the real-life soap opera of Joseph from the Old Testament. As you listen to the fun, glitzy songs you realize the incredibly hard work Joseph did to forgive his jealous brothers who had faked his death and sold him to be a slave. You can read all about it in Genesis 37-50. The point is, forgiveness is hard work.  It doesn’t come easily.

Think about all of the frustration, bitterness, and pain that we have in life when we fail to do the behind-the-scenes work of forgiveness.  It can be big things, like unfair treatment in a job, unfaithfulness in marriage, and the evil events in Boston last week, or it can be small like a nagging spouse, an inconsiderate person in a theater, or an inattentive student.  Pastor Charles Stanley says that failing to address the hurts done to us is like grabbing a rattlesnake and it’s going to bite you and its going to leave a poison with far-reaching results.  That’s why we need to do the hard work.

Try this – take the four points from the Hard Work video and replace “hard work” with “Forgiveness”

1.  Forgiveness is only effective when you forgive, smart, AND consistently.

2.  Forgiveness requires you to get out of your comfort zone.

3.  Forgiveness must become a habit.

4.  Forgiveness is a conscious choice.

Basketball players know that they need to work hard, but most fail to do so.  Most of us know we need to learn to forgive – in fact several Gallup polls suggest that 94% of Americans feel we should aspire to forgive, but many of us fail to do it.  Those same polls indicate that only 48% of us even “try” to forgive.  Why?  It’s hard work.  Like training, it’s a process.  It doesn’t happen in a moment.  And, it’s a choice.

FAITH – So, why forgive if it’s so hard?

Aside from the rattlesnake reference about the poison of bitterness that builds up in life when we fail to do the hard work of forgiveness, there’s a more impactful purpose for forgiveness.

I’m fascinated and inspired by the work of C. S. Lewis.  In fact, The Wisdom of C.S. Lewis captures some of his views on forgiveness when he wrote:

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.  This is hard.  It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single person great injury.  But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life — to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son — how can we do it?  Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say our prayers each night “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.”  C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory“On Forgiveness”

Why should we work hard to forgive?  Because Christ forgives us.


Be Uncommon in the Off-Season

Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Sar

Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Sar

I agree with Nebraska’s women’s basketball coach, Connie Yori – players who are willing to work on their skills in the off-season are uncommon.  Read Game is Overcoached and Undertaught from the Lincoln Journal Star.  Most young players have fallen into the common trap of only “playing” the game.  Yet why are we surprised?  We live in a society that not only encourages, but expects, us to do common things.  Even in the church, many Christians fall into the trap of playing faith, without working at faith.  Why do we do that?  Why do we have to be common?

BASKETBALL – How can you be “uncommon?”

As the NBA heads into the playoffs, the rest of the basketball world has already stepped in to the “work” phase of the season.  Depending on a player’s level, he may have organized skill workouts, work with a personal coach, or attend camps, but most will simply settle for “playing” in open gyms, on summer league teams, or with travelling club teams.  That’s the common way.  The uncommon way may or may not include the playing but does involve developing skills.  Many players will give lip service, but few will follow through!

During my time with the women at Marquette, I had a chance to watch two of the most “uncommon” players I’ve ever seen.  Steve Novak made himself into a terrific NBA shooter with his persistent dedication to a shooting routine and Travis Diener, an undersized 6′ 0″ point guard, was arguably just as important as Dwayne Wade in leading Marquette to the 2003 Final Four.  Whether it was a Thanksgiving morning in an empty practice facility or while fans were leaving from a women’s game, both of these guys had an uncommon discipline for working on their game.  As we head in to the off-season, I’m hoping to find players who attack the game uncommonly.  To be uncommon in your workouts:

1.  Be Consistent – do at least a minimum amount of work at least five times a week.  Use a set amount of time, a set number of shots, or a specific routine .

2.  Don’t Make Excuses – time conflicts, lack of a workout partner, or facility issues should not prevent you from doing a workout.

3.  Apply Pressure – use consequences and rewards to simulate realistic pressures of speed and production.

4.  Use the Basics – shoot free throws, work on lay-ups and paint shots, and handle the ball.

5.  Narrow Your Focus – choose one or two areas to improve.

Players who actually do this are uncommon!  On You Tube, you can find a variety of workouts to use to build your own.  Check out Basketball HQ, ImPossible Training, and San Antonio Basketball for a few new ideas!

LIFE – Are you comfortable being “uncommon?”

UncommonIt’s far too common for most of us to let society determine the standards we’ll follow.  Sadly for many Christians, we resist the idea of working at and integrating our faith into our daily activities.  We save it for Sunday.  It’s no secret that I admire the work and thoughts of former NFL coach, Tony Dungy.  His second book, Uncommon, is a challenge to men to stand up against the expectations from our culture.  It’s not easy, but it can be done!  And as a parent, I’m learning more and more how important it is to teach and encourage my kids to take that approach when it’s needed; not to be rebellious, but to take a personal stand.  As a family we grew a lot through a wonderful book called Weird.  It has inspired us to look for times when we need to do things differently from the world around us, like working at our faith!

FAITH – Jesus was anything but common!

Wisdom comes when we read God’s word.  If you want to know how young people should spend their time, why not check the life of Jesus?  One simple passage in Luke 2 tells us how He spent His youth:

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

To be uncommon, as Tony Dungy says, why not focus on what Jesus did by growing in faith, growing in wisdom, worshiping God, and learning how to relate to your fellow man?