Your Focus Needs More Focus

One of my greatest joys in life is being a parent and I am watching with anticipation to see how God is working in the lives of my kids.  Our oldest son, Caleb, is carving out his path as a high school teacher and coach and volunteered to once again provide some insights from his early coaching experiences . . .

In one of Coach Cain’s recent posts: Waiting in Basketball, my dad detailed the importance of patience in a sport that often seems geared towards tempo, speed, and instant gratification.  After reading it, I was reminded of a few personal experiences that also pertain to speed of the game and the pressure that can result from it.

Basketball – Dealing With Havoc

When I last wrote for Three Point Wisdom a year ago, I detailed my experiences coaching Lake Country Lutheran’s freshman girls’ basketball team.  This year I am coaching many of those same girls as sophomores at the JV level, as well as a few new faces.  It has been a joy to see the girls progress in their talents and basketball IQ’s, but this year has had its share of challenges.

After winning our first three games of the season, we faced two schools who frequently use full-court pressing styles to speed up their opponents, force turnovers and prevent them from getting rhythm. Suffice to say these game plans worked against us as we easily succumbed to the pressure from our opponents and lost both games. Frustrated, I began researching the many presses and trapping philosophies in basketball, how to break them, and how to prepare for them.  In particular, I came across Texas coach Shaka Smart’s full court 1-2-1-1 HAVOC defense from his days coaching at VCU:

Shaka was very clear that the purpose of his press was to speed the offense up to get them out of control and force turnovers, which was EXACTLY what happened to my team.  I watched a number of VCU’s games to better understand this philosophy and saw Smart’s team ride the pressure all the way to the Final Four.  That’s where they faced Brad Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs. Butler defeated VCU by eight and throughout the game (which you can watch in its entirety here), it’s clear that Stevens and his players were well prepared. Despite VCU’s pressure and havoc, Butler players kept their heads and TALKED through every situation.

In addition to all this research, I of course talked extensively with the smartest basketball mind I know, my Dad.  Coach Cain reminded me of how important communication is in pressure situations and how I had to instill focus in my players.  He suggested I use one of his favorite drills, which I can vividly remember him using during my time at CUW.  The drill is called “chaos,” and it is actually a combination of passing, shooting, transition, and defense drills.  The coach tells the players that they need to focus and pay attention for the next few minutes.  Then, the coach rapidly jumps from drill to drill (and back to drills) all while trying to speed the players up with voice and verbal pressure.  Chaos was a hit with my team, because they realized what I was doing. I sped them up just like those two schools did.  I have to credit my dad with all of this and even used the same Mr. Miyagi Karate Kid II quote that he uses with his teams: “your focus needs more focus.”

In basketball it’s vital that a team learns how to respond when things go wrong, they can always talk it through and help each other focus. Since regularly implementing chaos in my practices, the girls have communicated more and responded better to pressure situations in games. Chaos was a major turning point for our season!

Life – Communication

We all know life gets chaotic.  For me, there is pressure every single day.  Whether it’s the pressure of creating engaging lessons and helping my students learn the content they need or preparing my players for their next game, the pressure can start to build.  In many ways, life can throw us a 1-2-1-1 havoc full court press.  The demands of a career, family, and whatever other circumstance can leave one feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.  As a young teacher I’ve found that one of the best tools for handling life’s pressures is the same for handling presses and traps in basketball: communication.  At Lake Country Lutheran, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with a supportive group of fellow teachers.   My second year has presented challenging issues, but I’ve found that conversation with fellow teachers can help me overcome such pressures.  The same is true with communication with my dad.  It’s not always about basketball, but I always feel better after seeking his advice.  I hope that whoever is reading this has a support system of people in their life who can help talk through life’s crazy full court pressures!

Faith – Focus and Communicate

As life’s pressures weigh on us, it becomes easy to either lose sight of God or question where He is in the chaos.  With responsibilities mounting and the need for rest pressing, it becomes logical to skip out on worship or Bible studies.  But Scripture has some great insight for dealing with pressure.  A great example of this can be seen in all four Gospel accounts, when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The night before His crucifixion, Jesus was struggling with the extremest of pressure from what He knew He had to do and provided the perfect example of how to attack pressure:  communication.  He prayed.  Jesus spent the night in conversation with his Father, receiving the strength he needed to fulfill the task at hand.  While sin likes to attack us with a full court press every day, we can get through it just like we do in basketball, with focus and communication.  Prayer is vitally important, as it helps faith and our relationship with God to grow.  I’ve found that prayer provides me with comfort and focus and eases the weight of everything that hinders me.  Additionally, one of my favorite sections of scripture comes from James 1:2-4. James details the following regarding life’s challenges:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

While it may not seem like it, maybe God is putting these pressures in our lives to strengthen us and trust Him more. It sounds cliché, but everything does happen for a reason, according to God’s plan.  As pressure extends towards you, you do not have to succumb.  Accept it, but attack it with focus and communication.  Chaos will happen, so prepare for it and talk it through!

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You Can Always Learn to Play Defense

hi-res-158282241_crop_northAs our players step onto the court this weekend, far too many come in with a faulty sense of what they need to do to earn playing time and a faulty sense of what they can contribute. Many will assume that it’s all about scoring, while few will focus, even though we’ve been emphasizing it throughout the preseason, on learning how to defend. That’s a standard for most programs – you have to play defense!  There’s also a standard from God that never changes, but few of us are willing to think about it, talk about it, or follow it.  Let’s explore what players can do at the start of the season to become better defenders and then relate that to the taboo subject of sexual sin.
BASKETBALL – All D, All Day
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A while back, I suggested that players in the preseason should spend as much time working on defending a ball-handler as they do working on their shot.  My suggestion fell on deaf ears.  Why would players want to do that?  It’s hard enough to get them in the gym, why would they do that on their own?  I would hope that it’s because they want to play, but for most players, it’s all about scoring.  While I spend most of my time coaching offense, I still believe that defense is the key to consistent winning. My encouragement for players beginning practices soon is to let your shooting and scoring come, but take the time, right now, to be come a better defender.

Consider the NBA’s Tony Allen.  Playing behind Paul Pierce with the Celtics early in his career, Allen found the only way to get on the floor was to become a supreme defender. He parlayed that skill into becoming one of the most respected defenders in the league playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.  His passion for defense, as outlined in a Sports on Earth article from 2013 entitled All D, All Day, provides several keys for all players to become better defenders.  Here are five aspects of defenders like Allen:

  1. Focus – Admit you can get better and focus on getting better, every day and in every drill.
  2. Strength – Defending requires physical strength.  Don’t forget the weight room – ever!
  3. Study & Prepare – Allen studies his opponents – on film, in games, and even against teammates in practice.  Go to school!
  4. Control – Take control of the player you’re defending.  Force them our of their comfort zone and don’t leave it to referees or teammates to bail you out.  Take responsibility.
  5. Overcome – When you give up a score, bounce back.  When you make a mistake, make up for it.
LIFE – Defend the Standard
istock_000017356047small_wide-59a19304fd5e7a5819f1bf20f9796caa43b1fbf7-s6-c10The culture we live in has not just weakened, but in many cases, has abolished moral standards that apply to all of us.  As the presidential campaign unfolds, constant attempts to cover up and spin past indiscretions or to self-righteously accuse the other side of moral failure without looking at one’s self indicate how completely absent moral standards are in our culture.  Though it may seem old-fashioned, moral standards do matter and they are true for all of us.  They don’t change – and most of us know that.  We know right and wrong.  We know what is sin.  But rather than stand up and fight, we allow the culture around us to tell us, “do whatever is right for you.”  And before you know it, we have rationalized our irrational behavior. We put the focus on “consent” or “tolerance” or “individual rights,” rather than on the simple question of right and wrong.  So where do you stand?  Are you defending moral standards or are you allowing the culture around you to entice you into diminishing standards?
FAITH – Defending Morality
God gave us the gift of sex, but also clearly defines throughout the Bible the acceptable role that sex plays within marriage.  There’s nothing confusing about that; but yet, throughout time, we’ve manipulated moral standards to make sex a private, individual matter and try to take God out of the equation.  I’m sorry to offend, but we can’t do that.  God is always with us – in our thought and in our actions.  He knows all of our excuses and our justifications.  Deteriorating sexual morals and our quest for sexual freedom is no different now than it was in the Old Testament, in the Roman Empire, or in the 60’s.  Yet, he still commands:
 “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality . . .”  (Eph. 5:3)
In God’s creation, premarital sex is unacceptable. That doesn’t change. Objectifying women or lusting after a man are hints of immorality.   Adultery, being unfaithful in your marriage, is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Pornography is unacceptable to God. It’s not just a hint, it’s immoral.
: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Just like Tony Allen’s approach to being a great defender, each of us can learn to responsibly handle sexual temptation within a culture that is in complete contrast to God’s plan.  How do you do that?

  1. Focus – Admit you’re in a battle.  Don’t rationalize it or excuse it.  Work at it – now.
  2. Strength – Condition yourself by staying in God’s Word and surrounding yourself with others who recognize the difficulties of living responsibly.  God will provide all the support you need.
  3. Study & Prepare – Recognize your opponent is temptation and prepare to do battle everyday.  Understand the messages of our culture.  Read Lay Aside the Weight of Lust, a terrific discussion from Desiring God for more encouragement and understanding.
  4. Control  Make a commitment to live morally pure by God’s standard from this day forward. That means having sex only with the person to whom you’re married.
  5. Overcome -When you do act irresponsibly, God is waiting to forgive, cleanse, and restore you. He’ll release you from the shame, regrets, the hidden hurts, and the pain that come from your sin so you don’t carry them into your relationships.
The beauty of God’s story is that He forgives and he helps each of deal with the troubling area of sexual sin. God gives you a chance to come clean and start over.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV)
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Sleepwalking Through Basketball Practice

(Don McPeak / USA Today Sports)

(Don McPeak / USA Today Sports)

Throughout my years of coaching, I’ve seen my share of downer practices and I’ve seen countless players, at both the Division I and Division III levels, lose focus and fade throughout a practice.  It happens.  With the high demands of school life and outside influences, even the most motivated and highest character players can have their moments – but what happens when it becomes contagious and the dreaded malaise seeps into your practice? Continue reading

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