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?


No Ball Stopping and Other Important Basketball Team Essentials

I’ve mentioned before that we have a young team.  We are very talented and are in the thick of our conference race, but at times we still play like a young team. From an offensive standpoint, I find myself repeating the same messages in our practice and in our pre-game discussions over and over.  Part of that still involves finding new methods of teaching a new generation of players, but most of it is that the essentials of team offense rarely change.  As I reviewed notes and ideas from the past decade of coaching to determine if I was missing something, I found that our coaching methods may change, but the essentials never do.

BASKETBALL – The Essentials

CBS Sports

Since many basketball concepts filter downhill from the pros to college and to high school, I keep an eye on the NBA and international game.  I enjoy watching the free-flowing style of the Golden State Warriors and many European and South American teams and often incorporate many of their entries and sets, but conceptually, I find myself continually aligned with the San Antonio Spurs and the system Gregg Popovich has built over the last twenty years (see What Makes the Spurs Different from 2014).  And from that, I’ve identified seven essential elements our team must understand and master to run truly great offense.  When we have lapses, no matter what defense or opponent we are facing, they often result from a breakdown in one of these areas:

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Damian Lillard and the Search for Respect

Craig Mitchelldyer / USA Today

Craig Mitchelldyer / USA Today

I try to stay up on all things basketball, but this year, the NBA All-Star Game blew right by me as I was focused on our own season.  I heard about the outrageous score and was disappointed I missed seeing Klay Thompson beat out Steph Curry in the 3 Point Shootout, but for the most part I didn’t keep up.  I didn’t even know who played in the game, other than Kobe Bryant making his final appearance.  So when I was discussing with one of our players about the game Portland’s Damian Lillard had against Golden State last Friday, I was shocked to hear that once again, he hadn’t been selected as an All-Star.  I knew something had to be behind the 51-point bomb he dropped on the Warriors and his subsequent run of 30-point games this week.  As it turns out, Lillard felt disrespected, again.  Last year he had this to say, despite being a late-addition for the game:

“I am not one of those guys that says ‘I should be in over this guy or that guy’ because I’m not a hater.  I got respect for each guy that made the roster and I think they deserve to.  But at the same time I feel really disrespected.  That’s honestly how I feel.  I’m definitely going to take it personal.  I said I’d be pissed off about it, and I am.”

hqdefaultIn my opinion, his assessment is totally accurate and by all accounts, Lillard is a stand-up guy who the NBA should be proud to have in its line-up. This season, Lillard is one of only three players to be in the top ten of the league in both scoring and assists, but it’s hard to suggest who he should have replaced on the West team – Curry, Thompson, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden?  So, Lillard is now taking it out on opponents and it’s a reminder to all of us how much our world is driven by “respect” and our unceasing quest to gain respect or what most of us are looking for, significance.

BASKETBALL – Respect for Lillard

It may not count with Lillard, but I respect his game.  In today’s NBA, the ball screen is king and I consider Lillard and Steph Curry to be the two best at creating off it.  BBall Breakdown did a terrific job of comparing the two scoring masters in their match-up last Friday:

As I coach, I’m not going to disrespect Lillard.  I love his game and I want the point guards on our team to learn from him, and from Curry – but I also realize that Damian is caught up chasing his significance at the highest levels of basketball and is no different from the rest of us who do the same things in our careers and our personal lives.  We live in a world where respect from other people is everything, but the quest for respect is also the greatest source of conflict in our world.

LIFE – Confession Time

51-FijsrD1LHow much of the conflict and negativity in your life comes from the need to be respected – to know that others value you and think that you’re important? It’s not just Damian Lillard who wants respect.  It’s all of us.  Our country wants to be respected as the only true super power, presidential candidates are using every trick they can to gain the respect of voters, and most of us spend our working lives craving the respect we deserve from bosses, colleagues, and competitors.  Our quest for respect is a fundamental drive, even in our relationships with family and friends.  As a dad, I fight the battle of not just showing my kids that I love them, but also knowing that they respect me. It’s self-centered and self-serving, but it dominates my thinking.  I’m not proud of that.  I want my kids to value me.  I want my players to value me and too often, I want other people to notice.  Fortunately, I’m reminded each day that no matter how much I chase respect and significance, it means nothing toward my eternity.  And at just the right time in my life, Robert McGee’s book, The Search for Significance, helped me see that.

Last night, our team was upset in our conference tournament to bring our season to an abrupt end. While dealing with a final loss is always difficult, I find it more difficult to know that I won’t get to work with our seven seniors who will be moving on and I won’t have a daily opportunity to remind them that their true significance does not come from the respect they gain or lose on the basketball court.  They will find so much more happiness and contentment in trusting that their basketball experience is just one part of who they are and who they were made to be – just like Damian Lillard and just like me.

FAITH – True Respect

True and lasting respect can never be found in our accomplishments – on the court, in the office, or with our families.  It doesn’t come from all-star selections or championships or records.  It doesn’t come from a logo on our shirt or the size of our house.  It doesn’t come from how entertaining we are when we’re out with friends.  It can’t be found in sex or any other pursuit of pleasure.  True respect and true significance comes from knowing that God walks with us, sets us apart, and then leads us in serving and loving other people.

When God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the land that He had promised to them, Moses worried that God’s people would be disrespected and asked:

 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

Moses is like most of us.  We forget that God goes with us.  Significance and true respect from others comes when God walks with us and gives meaning to our lives:

 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:16-17)

Our God, the one who created us and loves us so deeply that he gave up his Son to pay for our sins, goes with us.  And that makes us significant!