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.

BASKETBALL – Don’t Quit

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.

AARON LAVINSKY, STAR TRIBUNE

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?

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Why Am I Not Playing? Examine Yourself!

With our players back on campus, I’ve already been asked, “Coach, how do I get more time this year?”  Everyone wants to play, but on an expanded Division III roster like ours, not everyone will get to play and so that question will be asked excessively in the next few months.  Our guys love to play and they all hope that this year they’ll play more.  It doesn’t matter the level, all players want to play, even when they know it’s impossible for everyone to play.  In the same way, I had my own humbling experience as I recently pursued a possible career change – not out of coaching, but in a new position to supplement my career.  When I was told they were moving on to other candidates, I felt like our players who hope to play more – it’s disappointing and leaves one with a multitude of questions.  Let’s examine that process and find a different way to address the inevitable questions that arise.

BASKETBALL – Patterns of Failure

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer:

When it comes to advising players, I’ve changed my tune a bit.  Most coaches advise players to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses and to focus on what they bring to the table for a team.  That’s really important.  For example, if a player can shoot, they need to strengthen that ability and be ready, willing, and able to shoot when they play.  And guys who rebound hard or can lock up on defense need to use those strengths so their coaches can rely on them.  In the same way, players can increase their opportunities to play by improving the weaker aspects of their game like ball-handling, passing, help defense, or conditioning.  That can also improve a player’s playing time.  Here’s where I’ve grown a bit, however.  It’s not simply about a player’s strengths and weaknesses.

Playing time often comes down to fit.  How do you fit into what your team is doing on the court?  And in many cases, that’s not always obvious.  It’s not just about what a player CAN do.  It’s often about what they WILL do or even more importantly, what they won’t do.  I think it’s healthier and more beneficial for players to look beyond their strengths and their weaknesses to patterns, to those things they tend to do and those things they tend to avoid.  And by looking at the patterns, particularly the patterns of failure which most of us tend to repeat, a player can examine their game and make adjustments.  Here are a few common areas that many players have a pattern of weakness or failure:

  1. Taking Good Shots – Too many players use their own interpretation.  Listen to what your coach defines as a good shot .
  2. Making the Extra Pass – Break the pattern of selfishness by making the extra pass when appropriate.  HINT:  It’s more appropriate than you think!
  3. Knowing What’s Going On – Pay attention in practice and team meetings, make adjustments, know the plan for each opponent, and understand plays and responsibilities.  If you don’t know, you can’t play.
  4. Consistent Effort in Rebounding – NBA teams track every player’s response to every loose ball because it’s critical to team success.  How do you respond?
  5. Utilizing Space – Effective offense requires moving as the ball moves or as teammates move.
  6. Handling Pressure – Are you tough with the ball?  Do you handle your emotions?  Does the crowd or situation get to you?  What about bad calls?
  7. Communicating – Do you say the right things at the right time and just as importantly, do you listen and respond?
  8. Being a Great Teammate – Do other players play better when they play with you?  Do other players like to play with you?

If you want more playing time, look beyond your strengths.  Examine your patterns and do something about it!

LIFE – The Job Interview

For some reason, many people are often intimidated by me.  For some reason, I think I’m engaging, passionate about serving others, and willing to express my faith.  I did that in a recent interview with three women, two who were half my age.  I thought my strengths as a caring mentor, an experienced parent, and a ministry-minded servant would overcome my weakness of specific experience for the job – but it’s not about my strengths and weaknesses.  It’s about my patterns – my patterns of weakness.  So, the next step is for me to examine my patterns of failure and then it’s up to me the make the necessary changes.  Too many of us, especially in mid-life, want to fall back on saying “I am who I am,” but that’s not helpful and it won’t help you improve in any area of your life.  Erwin McManus’ new book The Last Arrow is havin a huge impact on me in this area right now.  Take a look at it, and if not, expect me to share more about it in the coming months.

FAITH – Examine

I recently read a devotion from Rick Warren that left an impression with me, despite not being able to track it down in my inbox.  The message, though, has stuck with me the past few days as I’ve considered ways to help our players prepare for the season and as I’ve examined my own career.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NLT).

Look at your past and consider your patterns of failure.  When we ignore the mistakes of the past we are likely to repeat them. That was the problem for the Israelites in the wilderness. Their trip to the Promised Land should have only taken a few weeks, not 40 years. But they refused to learn from their experiences and God’s tests. Each failed test meant more time in the desert.

The Bible says in Job 32:7, “The longer you live, the wiser you become.” That verse is a possibility, not a promise. There are plenty of people who are old and dumb. Wisdom does not automatically come with age. Maturity is when you find meaning from the everyday patterns of life.  Like our players who need to examine their patterns, I intend to examine my life and look for the patterns that have held me back from being the faithful person God wants me to be.

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SOAR Losers

AP Photo/LM Otero

As we considered the officiating from last week’s NCAA Men’s Championship game, Gonzaga’s Mark Few fielded questions from the media with dignity and humility (see last week article Inconsistent Officiating). Fortunately, most high-profile coaches and players handle the spotlight well, but I’m sure most of us have witnessed our share of sore losers, whether it’s coaches, players, parents, or fans.  In a culture that places the highest priority on winning and with a public hungry to sensationalize any outrageous behavior, too often we look to find people when they are most vulnerable.  We’re drawn to the failures of others, many times just to feel better about ourselves.  In addition to Mark Few, we were reminded this week by Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma and NBA coach Monty Williams that there is a better way to handle losing.

BASKETBALL – SOAR

If you watched the ladies from Mississippi State end the amazing 111 game winning streak of the Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA Women’s Final Four, you may have seen something odd.  As Morgan William hit the buzzer-beating decisive shot, Geno Auriemma reacted with one of the biggest grins ever recorded on a losing coach.  While some might expect it was a cynical response, Auriemma actually had some incredible perspective about losing:

It has often been said that you can learn more from a loss than you can from a win.  I believe there is plenty to learn from both, but we tend to neglect the good that can come from losing.  You can either be sore by playing the “blame, complain, and explain” game or you can SOAR. Auriemma helps point the way for how a team, and each of us, can better handle a loss, which can be summarized in this way:

– Stick together.  Losses can divide a team or they can unite a team.  Losing reminds us that everyone has to be on board.

– Own it.  Not everything is under our control, but by controlling what we can control and taking responsibility for mistakes, we can grow stronger.

A – Appreciate it.  Winning is never easy and losing helps us to understand better what it takes to win.  Through losing we gain perspective on winning.

R – Resolve to use it.  Losses are only hurtful when we fail to learn and grow from them. Winners take a closer look at how they can use a loss to stretch further and choose a determined and more intelligent path to pursue a win.

LIFE – Life is Hard

Sports Illustrated reminded us this week through its feature article Monty Williams Stares Down Tragedy about the tragic death last year of Williams’ wife, Ingrid.  Williams, the former head coach of the Pelicans and also a former All-American at Notre Dame who played professionally despite a pre-existing heart condition, suffered the traumatic loss last year during his first season as Billy Donovan’s associate head coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder.  When Ingrid died from injuries suffered in a car accident, Williams and their five children were left without a beloved wife and mother.

Williams inspired all of us with a truly remarkable remembrance of his wife.  It’s worth watching:

Life is hard, with plenty of losses.  None of is exempt from trials, in basketball or in our lives.  Williams continues to display a true passion for following Jesus no matter what this life may throw at him and just showed us beautifully how we can approach the losses we experience.  If you look hard enough, you can find ways to soar rather than to be sore.

FAITH – God Will Work This Out

Williams eloquently stated that God will work things out and those of us who follow Jesus treasure the words of Paul:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

But all of us lose.  Life is hard. Things happen.  We not only make mistakes, we choose to make mistakes in our words and actions.  We’re selfish. We neglect others and we repeatedly put ourselves first.  We ignore our God and we miserably attempt to justify our actions.  We all do it – all of us. Not one of us is undefeated and without loss.  So, how does God, our Creator and our judge, work everything out?

That’s what this weekend is all about.  God suffered the greatest loss of all by offering up His only Son to take on all of our mistakes, our faults, our sin and nailing them to a Roman cross.  And Jesus took the loss for us.  Consider that.  God gave up His only Son to pay the ultimate price for our sin.  And after we appreciate what that loss means, we can turn to what happens next.  Jesus conquers death and asks us to soar with him:

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

The significance of Easter is that not only did Jesus pay the price for our losses and failures, but He teaches us and invites us to soar above the miserable losses of this life. May God bless you as you consider the price He paid and as you celebrate the truth that God loves you and through the victory claimed through Jesus’s resurrection, you can soar with Him to heaven!

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