Good Shot, Bad Shot

It’s one of my favorite games on the bench, Good Shot – Bad Shot, as we judge the shots of our players.  In most cases, it’s pretty simple; shots are better than turnovers and we want to get at least a shot on every possession, but some shots are better than others and we want to get as many easy shots as we can.  The problem, though, is that the standards for a good shot often change.  The time, the score, the ability of the shooter, and the game plan can often change the standards.  Our world tends to be like that, too.  Standards of ethics and morality, and even our perceptions about spirituality, often change; but this week as the Christian church considers the Reformation that occurred in the Middle Ages, we can rest assured that the truth of God’s Word never changes.  We may think it’s all right to alter and shape standards, but God’s truth never changes.

BASKETBALL – Taking good shots.

In nearly thirty years of coaching I’ve seen the definition of a good shot altered by innovations like the 3-point shot, shot clocks, and advanced statistics.  And as I’ve coached alongside both defensive-minded coaches who maximize each possession and those who stress quick-tempo, disruptive defenses that want to score quickly, we’ve attempted to develop some Guidelines for Shot Selection – but those principles are difficult to pin down.

Skip-Jumper-2Edward “Skip” Newton-Kemp walked into one of our practices several years ago as one of the most athletically gifted players I had ever seen, plus he was a gym-rat.  He had a spotty high school basketball experience, but had learned to play at pick-up games throughout the city.  While it took a couple of seasons of trial and error with a structured offense, Skip developed into the fourth leading scoring in our program’s history and as an all-conference player led us to the NCAA tournament by routinely breaking the rules of good shot selection.  Yet, if we hadn’t allowed him to do that, our team would not have been able to pull off some amazing last second wins or use him to create scoring opportunities for teammates against solid defensive teams.  We had to adjust our rules to best utilize Skip!  Some of those incredibly questionable shots were easier to deal with because this gym-rat was routinely in the gym practicing them.  So, even though we can try define what a good shot is, competition and circumstances (like the presence of Skip) often change the rules.

LIFE – The world keeps changing, so where do you turn?

It’s no secret, we live in a world that continues to change and sparks a multitude of beliefs, moral standards, and philosophies.  We tolerate and accept anything and rarely take a stand.  In fact, living within a system of rules and standards is often frowned upon.  Take college sports, for example.  The NCAA rule book continues to grow as rule after rule is adopted, modified, and expanded.  Why?  Because those rules are avoided and broken routinely in the name of competition and by coaches seeking lucrative contracts by whatever means necessary.  Even the very nature of “amateur” sports has become obsolete as the money and resources involved in the big business of higher education taints the very idea of amateurism..  Living by a standard seems as fruitless as trying to tell your players to take good shots.  We live in a world in which government leaders, the media, leaders of education and business, and even our church leaders confuse, disguise, rationalize, distort, and hide the truth.  Everyone has their own rules – in fact, that becomes a common rule – truth is whatever works best for you.  That doesn’t seem right, does it?  We live in a world that obviously was designed by an intelligent creator.   Shouldn’t that be the source of our expectations for this life?

FAITH – Creeds remind us of the truth.

Martin Luther lived in a changing world, too.  The Catholic church set the standards for most of European society.  Everything was dictated by the church and its leaders, yet the world was changing and those leaders were prone to mistakes.  The printing press offered the opportunity to print the Bible in a variety of languages so that every person could read scripture and understand it.  The church no longer held the authority to dictate and control beliefs and practices.  Luther helped all of us realize that we each are responsible for our own relationship with Jesus.  It’s freely given to us and there’s nothing we can do to earn it, but the truth is that each of us can have that relationship with the One who created us and loves us.  That truth is what Jesus is all about:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me..”  (John 14:6)

That idea gets lost in our world today as we’re told to tolerate whatever others decide truth to be.  If Christianity doesn’t work for you, we’re told, find something else.  Society tells us that truth is whatever you want it to be, however truth is truth only if it’s true for all of us.  As I think about Luther, though, I’m also drawn to the importance he placed on the creeds of Christianity, like the Apostles’ Creed and how we can use them to profess what we believe to be true.  Even though his world and our world continue to change, we can reach all the way back through history and profess the same truth held by the early Christians.  The truth of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus was true for them and it’s true for us.  Unlike the rules of shot selection that can change, this truth remains the same.

You can do some more digging into the concept of truth with Focus on the Family’s wonderful series the Truth Project and True U or by reading their article Absolute Truth. 


Even the Great Players Have Blind Spots

Did you ever see Magic Johnson play?  Did you ever see his vision on the court and his uncanny ability to know where other players, both his teammates and his opponents, were on the floor?  My only chance to see him play was from the upper deck of the Summit in Houston against the Rockets in 1985.  It turned out to be a perfect view of his ability to see things that no one else could see! Check out this NBA video:

Observers would say that Magic seemed to have eyes in the back of his head, but like any player he had some flaws or blind spots – those weaknesses or habits that were difficult to see in himself.  The good news is that while even the great players have blind spots, if you’re willing to stick with it, most of us can do something about our blind spots.  In fact, living in a world in which so many changes occur in rapid fashion, we have to learn to deal with our blind spots.  Thankfully, God gives us wisdom for just that!

BASKETBALL – What’s your blind spot?

Few of Johnson’s observers report flaws in his game, but it can be pointed out that Johnson’s perimeter shot was inconsistent and his impatience with teammates could often get the best of him.  More widely reported, though, were his blind spots off the court as his self-admitted promiscuity led to his battle with the HIV virus.  To his credit, he’s used the consequences of his blind spot to be a major voice in educating society about responsible life-styles.

I confess that I have so many blind spots as a coach, I need corrective lenses to evaluate myself!  One of my blind spots, something I fail to see, is my tendency to lose my patience when teaching a new offense or set play.  I think I’m getting better.  I take questions and I re-explain, but when players make the same errors over and over, I tend to get short.  I lose my patience.  On the flip side, I encounter players every year who have similar blind spots – not using their weak hand, hugging their man on the weak side, over-dribbling in the paint, and rushing on the FT line.   No matter how many times an issue is addressed, some players repeat the same mistakes.  They seem incapable of seeing and correcting a weakness they may have.  In our system, we teach an unselfish style of offense based on doing whatever you can to help your teammates score.  By doing that, we hope to utilize the unique strengths of all of our players.  Each year, we have a player or two who really struggles with seeing that his style of play is selfish.  Helping players through that is one of my favorite rewards in coaching!

LIFE – We each have our own blind spots.

Think you’re immune to blind spots?   Psychologists have studied our tendency toward blind spots as shown by this fun test:

Judith Glaser helps CEOs of major companies consider the strategies involved in competitive markets.  In her article “Blind Spots – A Wake-Up call to Reality” she shows us that there are seven common blind spots:

  1. Denial of Reality Feeling so strong about our own beliefs that we deny the beliefs of others, or deny facts right in front of our eyes.
  2. Control Seeing ourselves as being more responsible for things than we actually are, or having more control over things and events than we truly do.
  3. Made-Up Memories Making decisions based on memories that did not happen. Often we confuse our imaginations, or our dreams, with reality.
  4. Reality Distortions Distorting reality to conform to preconceptions.
  5. Know it All Thinking that we know more than what we really do. (We simply don’t know what we don’t know.)
  6. Listening Only to Validate What We Know –  Failure to listen to others.
  7. Undervaluing What We Do Know Listening too much to others, and allowing others’ beliefs to talk us out of our beliefs.

So, I guess there’s more to these blind spots that we may have thought!  What are yours?  Do  things in your life prevent you from seeing reality?  For many of us, coming to grips with these blind spots is the only way we can learn to see and deal with reality. Check that list again.

FAITH – God has a way to help you with your blind spots.

Earlier in my coaching career, one of my blind spots involved letting coaching become an idol in my life.  At times, I was so wrapped up in my identity as a coach that it took priority over my marriage, my growing family, and my faith walk. Even though I felt called to coaching as a ministry, it became an idol in my life.  One of the things missing in my life while I was moving in the world of Division I coaching was having true, reliable friends who understood the demands of coaching, but also the responsibilities of being a Christian husband and father.  I went several years without having any colleagues with similar circumstances and my blind spot was not seeing how important that was for my accountability as a Christian.  That’s why God tells us that we don’t need to go it alone.  He is with us and through his word He reveals our blind spots, but he also encourages us to share our burdens:

 Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively.  If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. (Eccl. 4:9-10 GN)

Coaches and teammates can help a player see his blind spots.  A trusted college advisor can help students see weaknesses and a loving spouse can help a father overcome mistakes.  That’s how God created us – so, who helps you with your blind spots?


The Best of 3 Point Wisdom Volume 1

It’s time to give a special shout out of thanks to those of you who have been reading and commenting on 3 Point Wisdom.  The writing experience has been a great way for me to keep my passion for coaching basketball in proper perspective.  I had times in my career when I allowed my focus to change.  It’s been my calling to use coaching as a ministry, but as I experienced the passion and demands of coaching at the Division I level, I often lost the perspective of ministry.   Developing 3 Point Wisdom is not just an outreach to coaches, players, and fans.  It’s a way to help me stay focused on what God puts on my heart.  As I consider my experiences in basketball and incorporate them into 3PW, I find lessons for me and hopefully, for other people who are serious about basketball and are open to God’s wisdom.

Huddle vs MU 2013

So, as I look back, here’s a look at the most popular and most reviewed articles we’ve shared throughout this past year:

1.  Tom Crean vs. Jeff Meyer: Who knows the truth?  The post-game confrontation between Tom Crean and Jeff Meyer reminds us all to withhold judgment when we don’t have the full story.

2.  Should Christian Players Come Out of the Closet?  As the lifestyles of athletes have been publicly declared, let’s consider whether Christians should declare their faith, as athletes or in the other work settings.

3.  Sex and the Pick and Roll  The Indiana Pacers would be wise to stay away from running too many pick and rolls against the Miami traps.  In the same way, we should stay away from sexual sin.

4.  Stephen Curry: Just Keep Shooting!  Steph Curry has developed into one of the top shooters in the NBA through perseverance and a tireless work ethic, but more than anything, his faith and family set him apart!

5.  Good Decision Foes: Ego  Ego often leads to poor decisions in basketball.  Not enough ego and a player becomes hesitant, while too much ego leads to trying to do too much.

And since I work with a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, who once again have found a way into the World Series, here’s another look at the wisdom of former Cardinals’ manager, Tony LaRussa, who laid the foundation for a program of success:

BONUS:  Basketball Lessons from the Baseball Cardinals

Thanks again to all of you who have been with me on this journey.  As you can see, I’m a searcher and enjoy finding the connections between basketball and faith.  I also enjoy discussing them with you and welcome your comments and questions.  You can reach me on Facebook at 3 Point Wisdom or by email at