2017 NBA Playoffs: The Attitude of Monks

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I listened to a recent Hardwood Hustle podcast on analytics during which Steve Shea from Shot Tracker discussed his study on whether teams with balanced scorers were more successful than teams with one or two dominant scorers.  I thought I knew the obvious answer, mostly because it lines up more with my “ball view” of unselfish team basketball, but did a double take as Shea mentioned that the teams with superstar scorers often win more than teams with total balance.  I’m going to ponder that for a while – after all a coach can always keep learning new ideas – but as I watched the Spurs dispatch the James Harden-led Rockets, I remain skeptical and once again, I have to give Pop (San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich) his props.  The man can coach and he certainly knows how to build a culture of team unselfishness.  It’s an attitude similar to Christian monks and has relevance for each of us.

BASKETBALL – Team Culture

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San Antonio lost veteran leader Tony Parker in Game 2 and then lost MVP candidate and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard near the end of a tight Game 5, but found a way to collectively persevere against the Rockets to win in overtime and then completely ran away with Game 6 to win the series. Houston had “do-everything” Harden who did nothing, while San Antonio had reserves, aging veterans, and a unified team approach that methodically dismantled the full throttle offense of the Rockets.  The Spurs overcame losing Parker and Leonard with unheralded Dejounte Murray and Jonathon Simmons posting off-the-chart plus-minus stats, a slow-footed Paul Gasol protecting the rim against Houston’s relentless drives, and the aging Manu Ginobli taking over in crunch time of Game 5 – all made possible by Pop’s team culture (Fox Business outlined four aspects of Pop’s culture).  While he takes heat for resting players in February, his bench players solidify their roles.  While he’s considered crotchety with the media, his players learn from his example of caring for them and showing interest in their lives.  And while the Spurs strictly adhere to the discipline of his system or face his wrath, Pop listens to and invites their observations and input. (Read more in The Business Insider and take a look at Pop speaking at a clinic on The Spurs Philosophy).

For most of us, the image of a monk conjures up images of a solitary, lonesome figure living a highly sacrificial and penitential life.  But the Spurs players are like monks in that not only are they disciplined, but they know their roles because Pop has simplified it.  The monk’s life is simple – depend on God.  For the Spurs, their simplified rules are to work hard to care for and support each other, placing the focus on their teammates rather than on themselves.  While they hold each other accountable, they don’t expect teammates to carry their load or do things they cannot do.  The Spurs keep it simple and because they care about each other and know that their coach cares about them, they do all they can to help and support each other.  They know it’s not about “me.”  It’s about the team.

LIFE – Marriage Expectations

I actually read the idea of having a monk’s attitude in a devotion from Gary Thomas about marriage.  How much better would my marriage be if I didn’t place unrealistic expectations on my wife to meet all of my needs? Wait a minute, isn’t that what marriage is all about – meeting each other’s needs and expectations?  In strong marriages spouses know exactly what each other needs even without them saying anything, right?  Uh, no, it’s not.  While the goal of the Spurs is admirable, it’s not completely possible.  No one can meet expectations – none of us.  In basketball, in marriage, and in this life each of us fails.  The only one who can truly meet all of my needs and truly love me is God.  And, that’s not a knock on my wife.  It’s simply a reminder that I shouldn’t place unrealistic expectations and my burdens on her.   But what I can do is accept God’s perfect love for me and allow it to help me serve her and support her as best as I humanly can.  Rather than resent her when she doesn’t respond as I would want, I can be overwhelmed by every act of love she expresses.  A monk’s attitude in marriage expects nothing, depends on God for everything, and is sincerely grateful for whatever a spouse chooses to share. And as a result, one is free to focus on the other person rather than one’s self.  Just imagine how that can improve a marriage!

FAITH – A Monk’s Attitude

I continue to see God working in my life through what I learn through basketball.  If my life, as a coach, teammate, husband, and father needs to be validated by others, I will be continually disappointed.  Some may say that is pessimistic, but why would I expect others to do things we as mere humans are incapable of doing?  We cannot rely on and expect that other people will validate our purpose and existence,  Last year I shared a bit about Robert McGee’s classic book, The Search for Significance, as we considered Damian Lillard and the Search for Respect.  A major takeaway that has stuck with me is the concept that we should never put complete faith and expectations in other people because they will only let us down.  And when we do, we give all the power to other people – spouses, teammates, and colleagues – to direct our outlook in life.  Why would we do that?  Only God can meet those expectations:

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.  (Psalm 146:3 NLT)

I don’t want to run off to a monastery and I don’t want to teach players to live solitary lives, but I do think we could all use a little more monk in our attitudes – depend on God to meet your needs and lighten up our expectations for others by getting the focus off ourselves and putting the focus into showing appreciation for God’s love for us by how we treat each others.  It’s starts with me, but it can’t be about me.

Can You Mandate Unselfishness?

I’ve written before that during the college basketball season I merely keep an eye on events in professional basketball.  I watch an occasional quarter or two of my hometown Bucks and I’ll look in on teams with coaches I respect like Popovich, Stevens, Rivers,and Kerr, but most of my attention stays focused on college basketball and the high school games of my son and of our recruits.  But occasionally something from the pro game will strike me and jog my brain or stir my heart.  In these days of ESPN saturation, you may have heard about it and it probably flew right by, but I wanted to revisit what happened last week when Klay Thompson went off and scored a record 60 points in 29 minutes against the Indiana Pacers.  Thompson certainly owned the spotlight, but Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr is the one who left an impression – an impression that can be helpful for all of us! Continue reading

Get to Know Your Coach

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

For the past three years I’ve been presenting my ideas about basketball and a variety of issues in life and faith, mostly from my perspective as a coach.  We’ve explored trends in coaching, styles of play, practice planning, and leadership and have found applications for daily life and for living out a Christian faith.  As the season approaches and many of us return to the court, I’d like to speak directly and honestly to players and as I do, I hope that you’ll see once again the many ways that basketball is a tremendous gift from God in helping us navigate life in a confusing world.

 

BASKETBALL – Spend Time

download-1It’s the first day of practice and players will step onto the court in a completely new situation You see, even if you’re playing for the same team as last season and even if that team is coached by the same coaches, it’s a new year. Coaches adjust.  After evaluating the past season and after being evaluated by their superiors, coaches often adjust.  And if you are playing for a new team or playing for a different coach the lesson is still the same:  Don’t wait for your coach to get to know you. Get to know your coach.  Successful teams value relationships, but relationships are a two-way street.  One of my lasting impressions from this year’s U.S. Men’s Olympic team came from watching a video of one of the team’s first practice sessions.  As the players walked onto the court, almost all of them walked in with a coach or some other support person for the team,  It was obvious they’ve learned the lesson of taking the time to build relationships!  Here are a few suggestions for getting to know your coach once you hit the floor:

  1.  Actively Listen:  Stay involved when a coach explains a drill or teaches technique. Too many players zone out and try to catch up while watching other players. Listen to hear what points are stressed and listen like it’s the first time you’re being taught.
  2.  Follow-Up:  There’s a fine line between being an inquisitive pest and confirming what you’re hearing from a coach, but take time to ask clarifying questions. Genuinely seek for background explanations on your coach’s methods and philosophy – just do it without interrupting the flow of a practice or meeting.
  3.  Exchange Opinions:  It can easily begin with basketball, like what happened in an NBA game or about what’s happening on the college coach or transfer carousel, but having conversations with your coach on a variety of subjects will help you get to know their perspective, but also express who you are as a player and as a person.
  4.  Open Up:  Unloading on your coaches may feel a bit threatening, but players who wear a false front often struggle with their relationships with coaches.  Be who are and let your coaches know why you’re playing the game.  That helps your coach find the best ways to keep you motivated.

LIFE – Spend Time

downloadAs the busyness of life consumes us, the quality of relationships can easily take a hit. One of my biggest regrets in my life was that as a Division I coach I allowed far too many of my closest friendships to fall by the wayside.  Let’s face it, it was difficult enough to focus on my marriage and a growing family. But taking the time to truly invest in nurturing friendships was too often overshadowed by professional networking, which can often be superficial,or in the typical church social settings in which so many people rarely scratch the surface of what is truly going on with others.  I’ve been challenged in this area recently through Craig Groeschel’s book Dare to Drop the Pose: Ten Things Christians Think but Are Afraid to Say.

Many of us hate to admit it, but as life becomes more complex many of us can feel extreme loneliness.  As Groeschel suggests, we might conclude. that we have to perform for others, we can’t trust others, and that other people do not truly care about us.  That may seem extreme and pessimistic, but many of at various points in our lives may feel that kind of loneliness.  The only solution?  You have to spend time and take the risk of reaching out to others, rather than wait for them to reach out to you!

FAITH – Spend Time

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I’m amazed when I hear Christians, including me, say “I really want to trust God more, but why doesn’t He speak to me in more obvious ways?  Why can’t I hear Him?”  Like a player who wants his coach to understand him better and to relate to him more, we need to spend quality time getting to know God.  If you want to know God, you have to be near God.  If you want to hear God, you have to clear out the distractions, open up, and actively listen.

The Bible tells us:

“Be still and know that I am God”   Psalm 46:10

That’s how you get to know Him.  You take the time, you open your Bible, and you talk to him about your perceptions, your concerns, your ambitions, and your challenges.  And then, you follow-up.  You act on what He tells you.  If you make the effort, God will respond.

Next week, I’m anxious to get to know our players – both on the court as players, but also as young people finding their niche in a difficult world.  The best relationships I have had have grown from players who are willing to get to know me, just as I extend myself to them.  For some, it’s not an easy thing and can take a while – but like our father in heaven, I’ll patiently keep after them.