Can Basketball Teach Work Ethic?

It’s a never-ending endeavor – teaching players to work hard.  In fact, it seems like a battle that never ends.  New players. Different histories. Different expectations.  As coaches we deal with different practice times, changing injury reports, and whatever our team record is at the moment; but through it all, we set a standard of what it means to work hard.  It’s not simply about putting in extra time or diving for loose balls, but more about developing an attitude and an accountability about work.  The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about working hard, too, and its words often remind me of a team manual for practice expectations.  In fact, let’s look at a few of those Proverbs, consider work in our lives, and then bring it back to basketball.

FAITH – God will pour out His favor on those who work diligently and honestly.

Remember, the Book of Proverbs teaches moving beyond smart to becoming wise in all areas of our lives.  It’s not a list of things we have to do to get to heaven (which isn’t possible anyway).  It’s more a list of suggestions for living successfully in this world in a way that pleases God.  The Proverbs are common sense statements on the surface, but when you really unwrap them and apply them, you will find them to not only be practical, but more importantly, essential elements of living as God intended. Look at Proverbs 10:4, 12:24, and 22:29.  Clearly, being a diligent worker is the way to go!  Once again, I was challenged by Pastor Bill Hybels in a sermon given at Willowcreek Church entitled Wiser in Our Work in which he unpacked what it means to work diligently – It’s well worth the time to listen to, but I’ll share a few summary notes in a moment.  The bottom line is that if you truly embrace the words of Paul:

 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, (Colossians 3:23)

. . . you’ll find greater joy, influence, and success in the workplace by working diligently.  In fact, when Paul left the church that he diligently worked with in Ephesus (Acts 20:13-38), the people wept and mourned over his leaving.  Now, that’s having an impact!

LIFE – The diligent worker.

With so much uncertainty in our world today, the workplace continues to change.  Changing jobs and even careers happens to most of us.  The idea of earning a college degree and actually working in your field doesn’t always work out.  Every year I see young people scrambling to find whatever work they can, but in fact, it’s true for a lot of us, at any age.  I often feel the way Norm Peterson felt on the hit show Cheers (Listen to all of them, but the first one is my favorite . . .)

As Martin Luther once said, “If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there!” – but, since it is a dog-eat-dog world, being a diligent worker is one way to make a difference.  Too often, though, many of us hold back on diligence waiting for the right job or the right circumstances.  It doesn’t matter if it’s for a class you don’t enjoy, an unpaid internship, a temporary job, a commission-only sales position, or a six-figure salaried job, working diligently will set you apart.  And it’s not just in the workplace.  It’s in your marriage, your parenting, and in reaching out to other people.  Diligence will pay off.

BASKETBALL – Apply diligence on the court.

Can you teach players work ethic on the basketball court?  Absolutely!  It’s one of the most important things we do and even though there’s no guarantee that the hardest worker will be the most accomplished player, learning to be diligent is essential for improving your skills. In The Diligent Worker, I’ve summarized the attributes that Bill Hybels described in his sermon and related them to basketball players.  The challenge for players and coaches is to evaluate yourself on how diligent you are.  Do you work on your skills like this guy?

While you have to respect him and be impressed, it still doesn’t capture all of what it means to work diligently.  It’s not just about the effort.  There’s so much more that has to be taking place that we can’t see in this video.

What about in the NBA?  Do a quick internet search for the hardest working player in basketball and guess who you’ll find?  While I’m not a fan, I have to respect him – Kobe Bryant.  And, if the article is accurate, Kobe gets a little closer to the idea of diligence because he not only works hard individually, but he takes it further by recognizing his impact on his team and those around him.  Hopefully, he’s truly interested in making his team better.  And that’s what Proverbs suggests.  Work diligently in a way that your coaches and your teammates will say “that guy sure works hard!”  Would they say about you?  Would you leave the kind of impression that Paul left in Ephesus?