Showing Gratitude on the Basketball Floor

I’m frustrated.  Everywhere I look I see Christmas decorations, already!  How can we be in such a hurry to bypass the significance of Thanksgiving?  Unfortunately, our society jumps ahead with a lot of things, so why not jump to the gifts of Christmas?  Does anyone else have a problem with this?  I have similar frustrations when basketball players and teams ignore the concepts of gratitude and thankfulness.  It just doesn’t seem to fit in a sport so reliant on teamwork and unselfishness.  In my mind, if you play basketball, especially in college or the pros, you have something to be thankful for and showing gratitude becomes an important indicator of the quality of your character.  Whether it’s how you respond to fans or support staff or how you treat your coaches and teammates, take a moment to consider that for which you can be thankful!

BASKETBALL – Wise words from the Wizard of Westwood

Growing up, the first basketball lessons I can remember that were attributed to John Wooden were “learn to put your socks on properly” and “always acknowledge a teammate who passes the ball to you for a score.”  As Pat Williams explains in How to Be Like Coach Wooden,

Coach Wooden insisted that his players always acknowledge the help and support they received from other members of the team.  For example, a player who scored a basket after receiving a pass from a teammate was expected to acknowledge the assist as he headed back up the court to play defense – usually by pointing, smiling, winking, or nodding at the man who had helped create the scoring opportunity.

That should be pretty basic, shouldn’t it?  Then why do we still have to point that out?  Day after day, many players ignore the work done by managers, trainers, and media relations members to assist them on the floor.  A quick “thank you” or an offer to help out goes a long way in expressing gratitude, not to mention keeping players in a healthy, positive nature during the grind of a season.  Recently, I’ve seen players struggle with the early part of the season.  Things may not be going the way they want – playing time, scoring, winning; often times players can develop some negative views.  It’s important to daily consider the benefits of playing and of being on whatever team they have been given a spot.  Find the good things.  Be thankful and express that thanks.  It’s impossible to be thankful and negative at the same time!  If you doubt that, consider the case of Zach Hodskins:

Not only does Hodskins play well with one hand, he excels and will take his game to the highest level as a walk-on for Billy Donovan at Florida.  But even more amazing is how he expresses his gratitude in how he plays and how he reaches out to inspire others as detailed by CBS Sports.  He has every reason to be frustrated, but hasn’t allowed his challenges to get the best of him.  Instead, he plays with a sense of gratitude.

LIFE – Take a Gratitude Walk

I love this advice from motivational writer John Gordon as he expressed in The Energy Bus and The Positive Dog – take a daily 10-minute Thank You Walk.  Spend time thinking out loud about things for which you’re thankful.  We may do it around the Thanksgiving table this weekend, but gratitude is a positive emotion that can change your outlook on a daily basis.

Over the years, this has been a struggle for me.  It’s easy to get down about losses, on the court and off.  It’s even easier to allow it to affect other areas of my life.  Expressing gratitude and taking the time to consider the good has been invaluable to me, whether I do a walk like Gordon suggests, or jot things down every day in my journal.  It’s impossible to be thankful and stressed at the same time!  And in relationships, it’s amazing how quickly conflicts can be dealt with after taking a quick gratitude moment to find the good in another person.  When I’m angry or disappointed with my kids or with players, taking time to consider the wonderful gifts they are helps me open a positive discussion.  When I’m frustrated with my work situation, I can find the good and adjust my attitude.  That’s what gratitude is all about!

FAITH – Wise words from Paul

While it’s not considered a Biblical holiday like Christmas and Easter, the idea of Thanksgiving really is something to celebrate; but just as our society has twisted and disfigured the concept of Christian holidays, it’s no surprise that we tend to miss the true meaning of the celebration.  Do we really need to get an early start on Black Friday sales?  In fact when you read George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation and the thoughts of many other presidents who called the nation to devote time for thanking God, you realize very quickly how we’ve twisted the concept.  Thanksgiving, though, does not require a holiday.  It needs to part of our daily lives.  Paul encourages us:

 Rejoice always,  pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

So, whatever happens in your life, find a way to be thankful.  Find the good!  Thank God each and every day, not just during ESPN Feast Week!  Happy Thanksgiving!


Taking Down the Goliaths of Basketball


PrinsenDavid vs. Goliath match-ups are one of my favorite experiences in coaching!  Now, to be the David typically means you’re a decided underdog and  you’re playing with a perceived disadvantage, but competing well, and even winning one of those games, is a memory that lasts a lifetime.  Best-selling author and deep thinker, Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants arrived in my house this week just after our team suffered defeat at the hands of the 2012 Division III National Champ and pre-season #13 nationally ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  It was a humbling loss, especially because we felt prepared, despite our inexperience.  As I think back to being the underdog, I’m asking the same question that Gladwell asks – “How can you win when the odds seem stacked against you?”  It’s important in basketball, but more importantly, in life!

LIFE –  The Advantages of Disadvantages (and vice versa!)

I’m anxious to read Gladwell’s research and more of his examples from a variety of social settings, but you can read some of his thoughts in his article for The New Yorker, in which he has some great references from the world of basketball.  Davids win more often than we think, but many of us rule out the possibility when it involves us.   We often overvalue what we perceive to be an advantage for the giant and over-emphasize what we think are our own disadvantages.  That’s when we make mistakes.  We think a task is too difficult and we think we’re not ready to handle it.  We often run from those confrontations or simply suffer through because we feel that we have no chance.  More often than we think, though, there are Davids every day facing up to giants and overcoming the odds.  Every one of us will have those moments, so why not prepare for them?

BASKETBALL – Take it to them!

I’ve had the opportunity to coach in some true David vs. Goliath situations, mostly as David!  I can remember getting crushed in many of them, but have also felt the exhilaration of pulling the upset or putting a major scare into the opponent.  Gladwell’s idea that underdogs who choose a plan that fits them and takes it right to the giant is completely accurate.


I coached women’s basketball at Baylor University long before Kim Mulkey, Brittany Griner, and National Championships.  In 1990, we had a great year in winning nine, yes nine, games!  In those days of the Southwest Conference we routinely lost to Arkansas by thirty or forty points, but on one given night we had a plan, stuck to it, and went straight at the  #8 team in the country and SWC Goliath.  In fact, they had a dominant center who seemed like a giant, but we had a plan to attack her with two smaller, athletic post players who used her penchant for blocking shots to get her on the bench in a hurry.  On the other side of the ball, we took advantage of their “glue” player, the one who sets all the screens and moves the ball.  We barely guarded her and dared her to shoot.  With the game on the line, she tentatively took and missed shots on two critical possessions.  She did everything else for her team, but she wasn’t comfortable with taking big shots and that’s what we forced her to do.

When you’re the underdog, you can’t walk in the gym with a “let’s see what happens” mentality.  You can’t allow a Goliath team to play the way they want to play.  You have to change the game.  And like David rushing out to face Goliath, you have to establish your intentions immediately.  It may be pressuring full-court against a dominant half-court team or playing a zone against a quicker team.  Davids can win when they search for and believe in their approach and more importantly, in their team.

As outlined by Malcolm Gladwell, Rick Pitino learned that as a freshman guard sitting on the bench at UMass in 1971 when Digger Phelps brought in his underdog Fordham team to play the Julius Erving-led team that hadn’t lost at home in two years.  With no player taller than 6’5, the Rams besieged UMass with an unrelenting full-court press.  They forced the Minutemen to play a style with which they weren’t familiar and turned the tables.  If you need a little inspiration, check out Top 25 NCAA Tournament Upsets, and as you realize how many of these you’ve forgotten, you’ll see that David comes out on top a lot more than we think!

FAITH –  There will always be giants to face!

Most people, believers or not, know the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17), but too many of us push it into fairy tale land and think it’s just a nice story of believing in yourself or maybe, in a higher power.  And, while it shows us to face our problems, attack them, and turn disadvantages into advantages,  it really is a story of faith.  Not faith for the moment, but faith throughout life in this world.  David didn’t just face Goliath.  He faced giants his entire life, whether it was hatred from King Saul or the shame of his adultery, David chased after God’s heart by facing one giant after another.  Nobody explains that better than Max Lucado in his book, Facing Your Giants, when he outlines five principles (David picked up five stones) that can help:

1.  Remember past victories.

2.  Face God first before you face the giant (Prayer).

3.  The priority is God’s glory.

4.  Run toward your giant.

5.  Be persistent.

And as Max sums it up in this video, “Face your God and your giants will fall, but focus on your giants and you will.”

Post Script: Malcom Gladwell has written other fascinating books about society, including Outliers and The Tipping Point, but this recent book affected him on a personal and spiritual level.  Read more in this article on His Return to Faith.


From the Book Pile: Seven Seconds or Less

Jack McCallum. :07 Seconds or Less. New York. Touchstone, 2006. 320 pp. $19.99

D'Antoni & Nash

Sports Illustrated chief NBA writer, McCallum was allowed unprecedented access to the 2005-2006 Phoenix Suns.  McCallum, who has also provided in-depth looks at the 1990-91 Boston Celtics in Unfinished Business and 1992 Olympic team in Dream Team gives us a glimpse at coaching innovator, Mike D’Antonio, and his up-tempo offense that propelled Phoenix into the playoffs and helped Steve Nash win a surprising second MVP award.  It’s no coaching handbook on the up-tempo offense that helped transform the NBA, but it does provide a closer look at player/coach relationships, staff dynamics, and the everyday grind of professional basketball.

BASKETBALL – Good Shot, Better Shot . . . quickly!

Since I try to read a couple of books a week, books often stack up on my desk waiting to be read.  I’ve been intrigued by Mike D’Antoni’s philosophy for a while, but McCallum’s book has been in the pile, especially as all the principal characters have since moved on from the Suns.  As we started this season with a new group of players, I did a quick read as I looked for practical ways to input some of D’Antoni’s ideas.  I’m not completely there – I think I’m a little more comfortable with fifteen seconds or less, but I did find a couple of nuggets to consider in my coaching:

1.  Good Shot, Better Shot – I recently discussed shot selection in Good Shot, Bad Shot and helping players to take good shots, but can you do that in seven seconds?  D’Antoni stresses that there are good shots (shots before the defense sets up and occur before a turnover) and better shots – those that take one extra pass and one extra second to make.  I’ve already used that one with our team.

2.  Coaches Need to Keep Their Identity – D’Antoni’s staff had personality, differing opinions, and different styles.  I appreciate his willingness to allow for a diversity in spirit and player relationships.  I haven’t always experienced that.

3.  Today’s Coach Must Be Positive – D’Antoni showed an ability to push and press his players, without berating them and flying off the handle.  Basketball is often a grind and it requires a sense of humor to roll with the ups and downs and differing personalities.

LIFE & FAITH – Seven Seconds or Less

Here’s the real reason I wanted to write about this book.  God can use anything to get a message through to us and as I was reviewing D’Antoni’s philosophy, I was hearing something deeper.  The Seven Seconds or Less concept is a high energy, aggressive, and attacking style of play.  It picks up tempo and it requires quick adjustments.  While these days most of us are over-scheduled and living moment to moment, how could this help any of us?

Eddy Morgan, is the new baseball coach at Concordia, He’s Mr.Acronym!  And my favorite expression he uses is G.R.I.N.D. (Get Ready, It’s a New Day!)  That little seven second phrase helps me get going when things are dragging, like weeks of preseason practice with no games or day after day of shuttling the kids everywhere.  It’s a grind, but every day is new!  While I looked at the concept of playing faster, Seven Seconds in my personal life is really a call to slow down.  In seven seconds, I can turn my attitude around and in seven seconds, I can quickly connect with the ultimate power source in God.

MosesMoses knew something about the grind, too.  We tend to think of Charlton Heston leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, but just think about the GRIND the real Moses dealt with!  Wandering around, trying to lead a group of complaining people through the wilderness?  Talk about monotony!  These days, I fight the monotony of mid-life, which is right where Satan wants me.  Have I accomplished much in my life?  Am I using each day to show God’s love?  Am I bored?  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters about “the long, dull, monotonous years . . are  excellent campaigning weather for the Devil.”  But, like Moses, all I need is a quick prayer, a quick connection with God.  In the middle of the wilderness, Moses prayed a remarkable prayer we now know as Psalm 90 which begins with this incredible little seven second gem

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (vv. 1-2)

That’s all I need – a quick little reminder that God is God and He always has been. For me, that breaks up the monotony.  That helps me get through the mid-life grind by acknowledging God’s purpose and design.  I have no right to be bored or frustrated with life.  That certainly is not why He created me!

My spiritual takeaway from the Seven Seconds or Less philosophy is to equip myself with short little prayers that I try to use throughout the day.  They may be from the Psalms, from a popular Christian song, or more personal like “God, help me love this person who is really frustrating me right now!”  My challenge to you? What can you do in Seven Seconds or Less?

And for basketball fans, here’s a quick flashback to how amazing Steve Nash was in 2005-2006 as depicted in the book.  It’s still incredible!