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?


Cavs & Warriors: Beyond the Talent

  • While the NBA attempts to maximize revenue by waiting over a week for the Finals to begin, we have heard quite a bit about the “talent” that will be on display.  Is LeBron better than Jordan?  Are the Warriors better because of Durant?  All we hear about is the talent. Make no mistake, there will once again be plenty of talent on display in the rematch we are about to witness, but talent is only part of the equation when it comes to winning a championship.  Let’s consider three elements beyond the talent that often determine champions and consider how those same elements are the keys for each of us to maximize our own God-given talents and more importantly,  our God-given faith. Continue reading

2017 NBA Playoffs: The Attitude of Monks


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


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.