Why Am I Not Playing? Examine Yourself!

With our players back on campus, I’ve already been asked, “Coach, how do I get more time this year?”  Everyone wants to play, but on an expanded Division III roster like ours, not everyone will get to play and so that question will be asked excessively in the next few months.  Our guys love to play and they all hope that this year they’ll play more.  It doesn’t matter the level, all players want to play, even when they know it’s impossible for everyone to play.  In the same way, I had my own humbling experience as I recently pursued a possible career change – not out of coaching, but in a new position to supplement my career.  When I was told they were moving on to other candidates, I felt like our players who hope to play more – it’s disappointing and leaves one with a multitude of questions.  Let’s examine that process and find a different way to address the inevitable questions that arise.

BASKETBALL – Patterns of Failure

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer:

When it comes to advising players, I’ve changed my tune a bit.  Most coaches advise players to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses and to focus on what they bring to the table for a team.  That’s really important.  For example, if a player can shoot, they need to strengthen that ability and be ready, willing, and able to shoot when they play.  And guys who rebound hard or can lock up on defense need to use those strengths so their coaches can rely on them.  In the same way, players can increase their opportunities to play by improving the weaker aspects of their game like ball-handling, passing, help defense, or conditioning.  That can also improve a player’s playing time.  Here’s where I’ve grown a bit, however.  It’s not simply about a player’s strengths and weaknesses.

Playing time often comes down to fit.  How do you fit into what your team is doing on the court?  And in many cases, that’s not always obvious.  It’s not just about what a player CAN do.  It’s often about what they WILL do or even more importantly, what they won’t do.  I think it’s healthier and more beneficial for players to look beyond their strengths and their weaknesses to patterns, to those things they tend to do and those things they tend to avoid.  And by looking at the patterns, particularly the patterns of failure which most of us tend to repeat, a player can examine their game and make adjustments.  Here are a few common areas that many players have a pattern of weakness or failure:

  1. Taking Good Shots – Too many players use their own interpretation.  Listen to what your coach defines as a good shot .
  2. Making the Extra Pass – Break the pattern of selfishness by making the extra pass when appropriate.  HINT:  It’s more appropriate than you think!
  3. Knowing What’s Going On – Pay attention in practice and team meetings, make adjustments, know the plan for each opponent, and understand plays and responsibilities.  If you don’t know, you can’t play.
  4. Consistent Effort in Rebounding – NBA teams track every player’s response to every loose ball because it’s critical to team success.  How do you respond?
  5. Utilizing Space – Effective offense requires moving as the ball moves or as teammates move.
  6. Handling Pressure – Are you tough with the ball?  Do you handle your emotions?  Does the crowd or situation get to you?  What about bad calls?
  7. Communicating – Do you say the right things at the right time and just as importantly, do you listen and respond?
  8. Being a Great Teammate – Do other players play better when they play with you?  Do other players like to play with you?

If you want more playing time, look beyond your strengths.  Examine your patterns and do something about it!

LIFE – The Job Interview

For some reason, many people are often intimidated by me.  For some reason, I think I’m engaging, passionate about serving others, and willing to express my faith.  I did that in a recent interview with three women, two who were half my age.  I thought my strengths as a caring mentor, an experienced parent, and a ministry-minded servant would overcome my weakness of specific experience for the job – but it’s not about my strengths and weaknesses.  It’s about my patterns – my patterns of weakness.  So, the next step is for me to examine my patterns of failure and then it’s up to me the make the necessary changes.  Too many of us, especially in mid-life, want to fall back on saying “I am who I am,” but that’s not helpful and it won’t help you improve in any area of your life.  Erwin McManus’ new book The Last Arrow is havin a huge impact on me in this area right now.  Take a look at it, and if not, expect me to share more about it in the coming months.

FAITH – Examine

I recently read a devotion from Rick Warren that left an impression with me, despite not being able to track it down in my inbox.  The message, though, has stuck with me the past few days as I’ve considered ways to help our players prepare for the season and as I’ve examined my own career.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NLT).

Look at your past and consider your patterns of failure.  When we ignore the mistakes of the past we are likely to repeat them. That was the problem for the Israelites in the wilderness. Their trip to the Promised Land should have only taken a few weeks, not 40 years. But they refused to learn from their experiences and God’s tests. Each failed test meant more time in the desert.

The Bible says in Job 32:7, “The longer you live, the wiser you become.” That verse is a possibility, not a promise. There are plenty of people who are old and dumb. Wisdom does not automatically come with age. Maturity is when you find meaning from the everyday patterns of life.  Like our players who need to examine their patterns, I intend to examine my life and look for the patterns that have held me back from being the faithful person God wants me to be.

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Misinterpreting Rules Again: Faking It!

ballslife.com

ballslife.com

In the past few weeks leading up to the college basketball season, we’ve discussed some of the coming rule changes and points of emphasis that officials will be tasked with implementing.  The proof will be in the pudding to see how well officials respond, but I wanted to discuss one final point the rules committee addressed this year that has long been a frustration of mine and makes an official’s job even more difficult – intentionally faking contact to entice or trick an official into making a call. For the first time the NCAA intends to address the issue, and the message relates to each of us in our own personal integrity and our own spiritual relationship with God.

BASKETBALL – Faking It!

Some would call it gamesmanship, some would call it being court-savvy or crafty, while others would call it cheap or unnecessary, but many coaches instruct their players to do whatever they can to entice an official to blow his whistle – grunt, throw your head back, fall down, whatever it takes to get the call.  There’s no doubt that it adds to the drama of a game and puts extreme pressure on officials, but what does it say about integrity?  A few years ago I addressed the issue of “flopping” to draw an offensive foul in my article The Big Flopand even though the NBA has attempted to address the issue with fines for obvious flops, faking fouls and skirting the fine line of integrity and competition continues to be a part of the game.  Unfortunately, the NCAA Rules Committee is only making a somewhat feeble attempt, as explained in the rules summary on NCAA.com:

Faking fouls – During the use of a video review to see if a possible flagrant foul occurred, the panel approved a rule that would allow officials to penalize players who fake fouls. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee felt that players trying to draw fouls by deception is a growing issue.

NCAA-Basketball-Logo-e1395230333501 – Feeble, because it only comes into play when officials use video replay.  That pretty much leaves us at the D-III level out!  But hopefully it’s a step in the right direction. Honestly, I hate battling the temptation to teach our players to fake fouls.  I want to play and win with integrity.

Ironically, “faking” is often one of the most important concepts we teach – shot fakes and pass fakes are essential to effective offense and teaching players how to jab and fake on defense is often overlooked.  “Fake a pass to make a pass” is one of my go-to comments. And, as explained in this video on Dwayne Wade, faking  certainly plays an important role in the game:

Faking it is just one of those complex issues we all face – on the one hand, it’s important to have it in your arsenal, but if it becomes a part of your character, that’s a whole other story!

LIFE – To Fake or Not to Fake

flavorwire.com

flavorwire.com

I have the same issue with faking things in my own life.  My wife is proud of me any time  when I can quote Shakespeare, but it doesn’t happen very often.  There’s no need to fake it – I am not a Shakespeare expert, but my favorite line to pull out comes from Hamlet, “Assume a virtue if you have it not.”  In other words, fake it.  Those words have helped me many times in my life with public speaking, becoming a better leader, organizing my time, learning how to serve other people, and even in asking my wife out for the first time!  Acting how I see people with those virtues act often helps me develop those virtues as my own  But at the same time, faking things can take you down a tricky road when it becomes part of your character.  When your attempts are to deceive and mislead others, the consequences will surely catch up with you!

FAITH – No Faking It!

sports.yahoo.com

sports.yahoo.com

A major issue with faking things is that in most cases, the only one who truly knows when you’re faking it is you. Just as a basketball player knows when they’ve truly been displaced or hit or whatever and just as a child trying to avoid school knows when he’s conjuring something up for Mom the nurse, we all know when we’re attempting to mislead.  And it gets even more problematic when we even start to believe or justify our own faking!

Sadly, the issue of faking is often on display in matters of faith.  While many of us realize that only God can truly know what is in the hearts of each of us, judging the faith or absence of faith in others is a futile trap into which many of us fall.  Many believe their religious traditions, such as being baptized as an infant or having a conversion experience, secured a spot in heaven for them, or that their good works and acts of kindness secure God’s favor in their lives.  And of course, some believe church attendance alone guarantees salvation. The point is that many who profess to be Christians are not Christians at all. Yet they complacently remain convinced that all is well with their souls.  In reality, though, the true problem is that you really can’t fake being a Christian.  As Jesus tells us:

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”  (Matthew 12:30)

You either are or you’re not.  There is no such thing as a fake Christian. How can you know?  Paul tells us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test.”                 (2 Corinthians 13:5)

So, don’t try to fool yourself or convince others and certainly do not think you can fool God.  There’s no faking it!

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CIT: A Taste of the Big Time?

CIT LogoTo the uninitiated, it’s difficult to explain what happens each year at the Concordia Invitational Tournament.  Many of you might be skeptical when I tell you that the intensity and passion of play rivals the high school state championship games and NCAA postseason games that I’ve been involved in, but it’s true.  Year in, year out we witness the highest level of competition at the CIT, even though all four teams on the men’s side this year are battling through .500 or lower seasons!  It’s difficult to explain.  It helps to know the ties and connections between schools, teams, participants, and fans, but quite simply you have to experience it.  I’ll try to clue you in, but to understand it, you have to experience it.

Photo by Jordan Vredeveld

Photo by Jordan Vredeveld

BASKETBALL – The Big Time?

After a hard-fought 68-64 loss to Concordia Nebraska in the championship, the Bulldogs celebrated at the middle of our floor.  Last year we did the same thing on their floor!  The rivalries are intense, as many of the fans and participants have multiple connections to the teams.  Families are often split with alums and students who attended different schools.  High school classmates and fellow church members are often wearing different colors, but in the end, all of us sit down to wrap up the tournament with a short devotion, worship song, and prayer.  It unifies us, despite the intense competition we just took part in.  This year, though, I was unsettled by a closing comment that suggested that for one brief weekend, our athletes get to feel the “big time.”

Photo by Jordan Vredeveld

Photo by Jordan Vredeveld

The intensity and the passion certainly match the big time of college athletics, but in my coaching opinion, the big time is not created by the circumstances surrounding a couple of games between rivals and sister schools.  To me, just getting to play college basketball is big time.  We don’t need to tell our athletes that for one short weekend they’re big time.  That puts all the focus on the exterior things like hyped-up student sections and fired-up alums.  You can be big-time in whatever situation you play.  Each time players step on the court they can determine if they’re going to be big time by the passion and intensity they’re willing to bring.  That’s what makes you big time!

A few years back when I was recruiting at the Division I level, we talked to an all-state player from Indiana who told us she wasn’t interested because she was going “big time.”  We were coming off a conference championship and our program’s first NCAA tournament win, but we weren’t big time enough for her.  At the same time, we were bombarded with requests from hard-working, passionate players who just wanted a shot at Division I, thinking that it was the holy grail of big time college basketball.  I remember advising some of them that there’s nothing wrong with trying to play at the highest level, however, you can still have a “big-time” experience playing Division II or Division III.  You see, big time is all about giving everything you have to compete in whatever situation you find yourself.  The external things shouldn’t matter.  You determine if you’re big time by your approach.

LIFE – The big time requires focus.

The problem with the concept of “big time,” is that far too many of us compare our life situations to those of other people, rather than focusing on our own.  Too many of us fall victim to the old “grass being greener” saying, rather than embracing the concept of watering the grass we have.  Things in life don’t always meet the society’s standard of big time.  My checking account certainly isn’t big time, nor is my social calendar.  My clothes aren’t big time and I certainly could drop a few pounds, and big time abs probably aren’t in my future.  Do you know what is big time for me?  Helping my son figure out a All Pro Dadway to stay out of major league debt as he works his way through college, listening to my daughter as she sorts through the demands of her high school activities to identify her life passion, and teaching my youngest son to learn what it means to eat right as he takes on high school athletics next year.  Being a Dad is the big time!  Not for one weekend every year, but for a lifetime.  That’s one of the reasons I love the group that Tony Dungy is involved with called All Pro Dad.  It helps me stay focused on what truly is the big time in my life.

FAITH – The real big time.

Playing in big time games and even striving to be a great Dad, though, pale in significance to the big time available to each of us. Jesus offers each of us forgiveness for our sins and a true purpose for this life.  Whether you play D-III basketball, play in the NCAA tournament, or the NBA, Jesus makes you big time.  Unfortunately, many of us will twist that up as well.  If I’m not careful, it becomes so easy to listen to Satan’s lies telling me I’m not big time enough for God.  After all, God doesn’t speak to me through a burning bush or blind my sight.  He hasn’t favored me with a grand ministry or mission opportunity and he hasn’t blessed me with extraordinary skills or finances. Yet Jesus considers me to be just as significant as Moses or Paul or that guy in church who is the nicest and most generous man I know.  Jesus makes us all big time and all I have to do is take a closer look at my life, my circumstances and my relationship with Him and I’ll see it:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.      Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you . . . (2 Corinthians 13:5)

As you look at your own story, I think you’ll see that you’re big time, too!

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