Leave Nothing

With a week left before our college team starts practices, we are feverishly making practice plans and adjusting our approach.  As I get in practice mode, there a few things that give me pause to consider.  Last week we talked about learning from failure, but the focus this week is on the concept of quitting.  I hate to even bring it up, but it’s a troubling concept.  I hate it when I quit.  I regret times when I’ve quit.  I’m embarrassed.  Most of us are.  And most of us feel so bad about it that we often confuse it with failure.  We want to explain why we quit or explain why we needed to quit, rarely admitting that we simply quit.  I’ve seen players quit and teams quit – some, I’ve coached and some I’ve coached against – and every time it leaves a bad feeling in my gut.  Quitting is not simply a rational decision to stop doing something.  Too often it’s an emotional, irrational response to failure, and that form of quitting is a problem.


Just to be clear, there are times when quitting the sport is acceptable or reasonable and each of us at some point must go through the process of determining if sticking with the sport is the right thing to do, for a variety of reasons – but the quitting I am talking about occurs when teams, players, or coaches fail to respond to competition and the variety of circumstances that basketball dishes out.  It often involves little things that happen at critical times and many times, the only one who truly knows when quitting has occurred is the individual.


Last night, the Minnesota Lynx had every reason to quit in the final minutes of their deciding Game 5 WNBA Championship battle against the LA Sparks.  Lost in most of the recap of the victory, was a scramble play in which a crafty veteran player, Lindsay Whalen, who has built an amazing career by using heart and desire to overcome what some would label as an athletic or physical deficit, had every reason to quit.  LA was in the midst of 9-0 run in which they repeatedly trapped the Lynx and converted baskets to trim a comfortable lead down to two in the final minutes.  With the Sparks scrambling again and the shot clock winding down, Whalen lost control of the ball amidst a scramble and fought off a defender to not only retain possession, but also to spot and connect with Sylvia Fowles in front of the basket for a critical score as the shot clock buzzed.  Whalen had every reason to quit.  They were being swarmed over by the Sparks.  She could have fallen on the floor and quit, but she didn’t.  Back in her high school days I had the chance to recruit her and saw her do the same thing many times throughout a summer of AAU ball.  She rarely quits and I was thrilled to see her doing it again in the later stages of her career.

Does she ever quit or give up on a play?  Probably – but my hope for any player or team that I’m involved with is to limit those moments of quitting.  As Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson relate, the habit of quitting is never acceptable.  Moments of quitting I’ve observed include:

  • Rushing shots against a great defense or aggressive defender instead of executing to get a good shot.
  • Failing to deny position to a dominant or physical post player.
  • Giving up on a transition play and assuming a lay-up will be made.
  • Not taking an extra slide step on defense to keep a player from penetrating.
  • Coasting in a conditioning drill.
  • Hiding in a practice drill or not taking a rotation on the court.
  • Avoiding difficult situations like help defense, rotating or switching, or drills that stretch a  weakness.
  • Failing to communicate – both as a talker and a listener.
  • Allowing stressful competition to impact focus, concentration, and execution.

Don’t quit.  You will be surprised at how much more you can do and how much better you can play!

LIFE – Settling

Last week I mentioned Erwin McManus’ terrific book, The Last Arrow, which takes a biblical look at quitting in life.  In it, he recalls a scene from the unheralded film Gattica, a futuristic film involving the relationship of two brothers, one genetically groomed for advantage and the other, a “natural” with no benefit of bio-engineering.  The only way that Vincent, the natural, can compete with perfection (Anton) is to never quit and to never settle, as evidenced in this climatic scene,a swimming challenge:

Vincent leaves nothing.  He doesn’t worry about saving anything.  He doesn’t settle.  What about us?  Do you ever settle and give up?  Do you ever hold back your best?  Think about it – relationships, competitions, jobs, or possibly in your beliefs, your moral standards, or your worldview?  I don’t know about you, but I’ve had those moments where I have held back.  Maybe I could have trusted God a little more?  Maybe I could have prayed a little more?  Maybe I could have held on a little longer?  May I could have controlled my tongue or changed my attitude?  Maybe I could have left nothing?

FAITH – God’s Plan

Another obscure story is found in 2 Kings 13 as the prophet Elisha nears death.  The struggling king of Israel, Jehoash, relied on Elisha’s connection to God and asked him if God would deliver them from an advancing army.  In a bizarre little exchange, Elisha tells Jehoash to shoot an arrow, which indicated that yes, God would grant victory, but then told him to take the rest of his arrows and strike the floor.  After Jehoash struck the floor a couple of times, he stopped and the prophet got visibly angry.  Why did he stop? And as a result, just before he passed away, Elisha scolded the king that he would never see the entirety of God’s blessings and a complete victory, because he should have struck the arrows six or seven times.  I know it seems strange.  Why would God withhold victory over Jehoash failing to read Elisha’s mind about how many times to strike the floor?  It’s worth considering, but one thing I realized right away is that too often, like Jehoash, I’ve been left holding my arrows, ignorant of the plans God has for me and as I ponder that, I realize God has given me this life to use for His glory right now – no holding back, no leaving anything behind.  What about you?