Revisting Blind Spots

As our team struggles through a rough start to our season, we are having difficulty establishing some of our core principles with a new group. For some reason, it has been difficult to help our players be more aware of what is happening to them on the court. It drew me back to a topic we discussed in the past and thought it was worth taking a second look!

bleacherreport.com

bleacherreport.com

My only chance to see Magic Johnson play in person was from the upper deck of the Summit in Houston against the Rockets in 1985.  It turned out to be a perfect view of his ability to see things that no one else could see! Check out this NBA video:

Observers would say that Magic seemed to have eyes in the back of his head, but like any player he had some flaws or blind spots – those weaknesses or habits that were difficult to see in himself.  The good news is that while even the great players have blind spots, if you’re willing to stick with it, most of us can do something about our blind spots.  In fact, living in a world in which so many changes occur in rapid fashion, we have to learn to deal with our blind spots.  Thankfully, God gives us wisdom for just that!

BASKETBALL – What’s your blind spot?

Few of Johnson’s observers report flaws in his game, but it can be pointed out that Johnson’s perimeter shot was inconsistent and his impatience with teammates could often get the best of him.  More widely reported, though, were his blind spots off the court as his self-admitted promiscuity led to his battle with the HIV virus.  To his credit, he’s used the consequences of his blind spot to be a major voice in educating society about responsible life-styles.

I confess that I have so many blind spots as a coach, I need corrective lenses to evaluate myself!  One of my blind spots, something I fail to see, is my tendency to lose my patience when teaching a new offense or set play.  I think I’m getting better.  I take questions and I re-explain, but when players make the same errors over and over, I tend to get short.  I lose my patience.  On the flip side, I encounter players every year who have similar blind spots – not using their weak hand, hugging their man on the weak side, over-dribbling in the paint, and rushing on the FT line.   No matter how many times an issue is addressed, some players repeat the same mistakes.  They seem incapable of seeing and correcting a weakness they may have.  In our system, we teach an unselfish style of offense based on doing whatever you can to help your teammates score.  By doing that, we hope to utilize the unique strengths of all of our players.  Each year, we have a player or two who really struggles with seeing that his style of play is selfish.  Helping players through that is one of my favorite rewards in coaching!

LIFE – We each have our own blind spots.

Think you’re immune to blind spots?   Psychologists have studied our tendency toward blind spots as shown by this fun test:

Judith Glaser helps CEOs of major companies consider the strategies involved in competitive markets.  In her article “Blind Spots – A Wake-Up call to Reality” she shows us that there are seven common blind spots:

  1. Denial of Reality Feeling so strong about our own beliefs that we deny the beliefs of others, or deny facts right in front of our eyes.
  2. Control Seeing ourselves as being more responsible for things than we actually are, or having more control over things and events than we truly do.
  3. Made-Up Memories Making decisions based on memories that did not happen. Often we confuse our imaginations, or our dreams, with reality.
  4. Reality Distortions Distorting reality to conform to preconceptions.
  5. Know it All Thinking that we know more than what we really do. (We simply don’t know what we don’t know.)
  6. Listening Only to Validate What We Know –  Failure to listen to others.
  7. Undervaluing What We Do Know Listening too much to others, and allowing others’ beliefs to talk us out of our beliefs.

So, I guess there’s more to these blind spots that we may have thought!  What are yours?  Do  things in your life prevent you from seeing reality?  For many of us, coming to grips with these blind spots is the only way we can learn to see and deal with reality. Check that list again.

FAITH – God has a way to help you with your blind spots.

Earlier in my coaching career, one of my blind spots involved letting coaching become an idol in my life.  At times, I was so wrapped up in my identity as a coach that it took priority over my marriage, my growing family, and my faith walk. Even though I felt called to coaching as a ministry, it became an idol in my life.  One of the things missing in my life while I was moving in the world of Division I coaching was having true, reliable friends who understood the demands of coaching, but also the responsibilities of being a Christian husband and father.  I went several years without having any colleagues with similar circumstances and my blind spot was not seeing how important that was for my accountability as a Christian.  That’s why God tells us that we don’t need to go it alone.  He is with us and through his word He reveals our blind spots, but he also encourages us to share our burdens:

 Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively.  If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. (Eccl. 4:9-10 GN)

Coaches and teammates can help a player see his blind spots.  A trusted college advisor can help students see weaknesses and a loving spouse can help a father overcome mistakes.  That’s how God created us – so, who helps you with your blind spots?

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When Your Game Smells

Have you or your team gone through a stretch where something is just off?  Maybe it’s the early season and players have not gelled or possibly your team is dealing with injuries or adjusting to a new style or players in new roles, but getting your game to where you want it to be can be a struggle.  As a player, have you hit a stretch where shots aren’t falling or you’re turning the ball over?  Sometimes, it just smells – like something’s rotten.  Ever been there?  How about in your life or in your relationship to God?  Do you ever feel that something is just off?  And more importantly, when it is, what do you do about it?

BASKETBALL – The Smell

As our coaching staff walked off the court the other night after dropping our second conference game in two tries, our head coach said “I think I could handle it better if we were playing really well and just came up short, but we are so close without even playing well!”  Something is just not right.  We’re playing hard, we’re scoring above 80, and we are even or ahead in almost every statistic, yet we’ve lost on turnover margin, loose balls, and allowing paint touches.  It just doesn’t pass the smell test.  We need to snap out of it and dig ourselves out of a hole, which is not easy, but is definitely doable.  I’m not referring to a complete losing culture as discussed in The Stink of Losing in which an entire system needs to be overhauled, I just want to address that smell before it grows into a stink that can’t be eliminated.

Our plan to deal with the smell right now?

Stay the Course – In our scramble to prepare for upcoming opponents, our focus has become a little distracted.  It is far too easy to get caught up in what our scouting reports say, rather than focus on our overall plan for our team.  Game prep is important, but not at the expense of instilling our philosophy, especially with young players.  We have one senior who plays!

Focus on What We Can Control – Our effort and attitude are the most important things we can daily control.  I sense our team may be a little inconsistent with both, especially when it comes to defending and taking care of the ball in both games and practices.  Things would look, and smell, a lot differently if we did a better job with both.  We control our approach.  We control our willingness to focus.

Recommit to Core Values – It seems redundant, but we also must remind our staff and our team of the principles of play that we value most.  On defense, we have our set of Falcon Five which focuses on our five main objectives on defense, regardless of our opponents’ attack and personnel – we deny the paint, contest every shot, rebound the first shot, stop the ball, and prevent the corner 3.  And on offense, we strive for tempo, spacing, and sharing the ball.  Most of the smell we sense stems from losing sight of those values.

Celebrate the Good – And even if things don’t smell right, we are doing a lot of things well.  We have talented shooters who often bail out some of our bad decisions, a group that plays extremely hard, and incredible depth on our bench.  These will all pay off and can go a long way toward removing the smell.  We also have tremendous young men who have great chemistry and are a pleasure to be with each day at practice.  It is vital that we recognize the good and use it to get us back on track.  When things don’t smell right, it becomes so easy to ignore the good.

LIFE – Don’t Ignore Your Sense of Smell

I once had a friend who tragically after an extended illness, lost his sense of smell.  He literally could not smell anything.  Imagine experiencing that physically, but also symbolically in your life.

I can’t always put my finger on the cause, but I know I’ve gone through some times in my life when things just didn’t feel or smell right.  I know it has happened in relationships with friends or family, in some job situations, and certainly in my finances, but just like our approach on the court, I can’t ignore the smell.  The bad smell can serve as a wake-up call to get things on track.  If you can sense it, don’t ignore it.

FAITH – When Life Smells

I have often been moved and inspired by a relatively unknown prophet in the Bible named Habakkuk.  In fact, there is very little biographical information about him and his name appears once in his short little book, yet when I look at scripture I find him to be a voice that often reflects my own thoughts.  He openly questioned God about why He doesn’t do more about the injustices of this world (Habakukk 1),  but he also sets a beautiful example of how to handle life when something doesn’t smell right:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV)

I love those verses!  Habakkuk could say, “Everything in my life smells (dying crops, rotten fruit, dead animals), but I can be grateful, because the Lord is my Savior.  While there are certainly steps we can take to alleviate the smells in our life, the best thing we can do is to be thankful and trusting of the one who made us.  Want to find the good?  Even when life smells a little off, God still loves you.  He is with us and He has not abandoned us.

Our team’s play doesn’t quite smell right, but we have a hard-working tremendous group of young men.  We will find our way and God will be with us, win or lose.  Nothing like today to change the smell!

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Offensive Flow With the Golden State Warriors

Photo: Ben Margot, Associated Press

Let me begin by saying that our Division III college men’s basketball team is not the Golden State Warriors, nor do we expect them to be.  However, with the Warriors at the top of the basketball world, many of us in the coaching profession have attempted to emulate or at least find applications from the Warrior offense – and our staff is no different.  We don’t have Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Green, but we do have some terrifically gifted young players.  The Warriors’ style of play, which has often been called Flow, fits our team well and over the past few years we have adapted many of their actions into how we play.  Not only does it work for us, but it aligns very well with the attitude we want for our team.  We want to spread the ball around, play unselfishly, and allow each of our players to find a role in our offense – much like we strive for in our lives off the court and in our faith.  The challenge, though, is to make it flow. Continue reading

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