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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2016 NBA Playoffs: We Just Gotta’ Trust Brad

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www.ooyuz.com

After college basketball wraps up and the NBA Playoffs heat up, most basketball fans focus on the superstars and their teams, but my attention is drawn to the coaches. While the NBA Playoffs showcase the amazing talents of the world’s greatest athletes, the constant media attention often gives us a much closer look at the strategies, motivational techniques, and off-the-court sparring of the head men on the bench. While Gregg Popovich remains the most-respected and experienced (See Michael Pina’s article Foxsports.com), and Steve Kerr garnered Coach of the Year honors during what he calls “the hardest year of my life” (See ESPN.com), the respect that the youthful Brad Stevens is receiving in Boston, despite a 18352626-mmmainfirst round, injury-plagued loss to Atlanta this past week, is something for all of us to consider.  When players like Isaiah Thomas suggest “We just gotta trust Brad” I am reminded that the most important function of a coach is what he does to position his players to win – on the court, but also in life.  And as I consider Stevens, I also consider the ultimate mentor we have in Jesus.

BASKETBALL – Trust Your Coach

Prior to the playoffs, ESPN Senior Writer Jackie MacMullan wrote a wonderful piece, including a terrific video, about the growing respect for Brad Stevens titled The NBA’s Next Superstar CoachShe shares numerous examples of how the young phenom has seamlessly transitioned to the pro game, a feat that many terrific college coaches have found difficult to master.  If you’ve been with me on this journey, you may recall that Stevens is one of the coaches I follow most closely (see Does the Butler Way Lead to Celtic Pride?) and with what MacMullen reports, he has certainly impacted the Celtics and the entire league as evidenced in comments from LeBron James and others. Listen to Stevens’ take on his transition:

And for a look at the impact he has made through his X & O’s consider this terrific look from BBall Breakdown:

And finally, if you follow the league closely, you’ll also know that besides his leadership style, his effective communication skills, and his willingness to make non-traditional changes to his defense, Stevens has built his reputation as the master of end of game situations.  This collection is a must-watch for coaches:

Stevens has gained the trust of his players – not just in his handling of those late game situations and the adjustments he makes, but in how he relates to his players.

LIFE – Who Can You Trust?

Mark Duncan/Associated Press.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press.

I’m happy for the Celtics who feel they can trust Stevens, but I’ll confess that too often I’ve lost trust and faith in people. We live in a world that teaches us to look out for ourselves and most people do just that. We tend to make our decisions with only regard for how it affects us.  I realize that’s a pessimistic view, but it’s also reality.  The human condition is limited. Even a coach like Stevens, or Kerr, or Pop will let down a player or two. It’s inevitable and unfortunate, but finding people to trust is essential for navigating though this world. I found my wife.  And I’ve found various people at various points in my life whom I could trust.  It doesn’t always last.  Good people whom we trust may let us down and hopefully we can forgive, grow from the experience, and restore the relationships. The healthier and more productive way to look at trust, however, is from the other side.  Rather than asking ‘Who can I trust?” ask “Can others trust me?”  While we can’t always trust politicians, bosses, or friends who say they have our best interest in mind, when you place more focus on being trustworthy yourself, you” find it much easier to roll with the shortcomings of others.

FAITH – The Only One You Can Trust

When I consider the many times I’ve trusted others who’ve let me down or, on the other hand, people who’ve trusted me only to have me let them down, I quickly realize the only one I can truly and confidently trust is the one who made me, the one who knows me, the one who saves me.  All of the problems we experience in life are derived from a lack of trust in God – just consider our country and the trust we place in politicians!  Or it may even be within the world of the church.  Well-meaning spiritual leaders may ignite a movement or belief system that filters through the community of believers only to be misinterpreted or confused.  Satan has influence and he works really hard to have influence over all of us, and as human beings in a falling world, he often does.  That’s why David said in Psalms 18:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. (v. 8)

nba.com

nba.com

There certainly are those around us, like coaches, or spouses, or pastors whom we can trust, but we can’t take refuge in them.  We can’t be completely safe from the danger, disappointment, and evil in our world. There is a limit to the trust we can put in others, but I don’t see that as a negative.  I take comfort in knowing that God is my only refuge. People will let us down, but through prayer and regular study of His word, we find true comfort and guidance from the only one who can redeem a fallen world. You just gotta trust God.

 

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Throwback: Does the Butler Way Lead to Celtic Pride?

SBNation.com (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

SBNation.com (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When I’m able to get caught up with the NBA, I’m usually checking in on the progress of our young Bucks’ team in Milwaukee and my two favorite teams to learn from, the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, but when I can, I also want to follow the progress of two young coaches who made the jump from college basketball, Brad Stevens with Boston and Billy Donovan with Oklahoma City.  Both of them are not just so technically sound in their coaching, but both are master organizers who can teach all of us about leading any type of organization!

So, for our Throwback article for today, let’s focus on Brad Stevens.   Please check out the 3PW article from 2014 when Stevens first took on the Celtic job:

Does the Butler Way Lead to Celtic Pride?

And then for added information on how he’s been doing, check out these articles on his progress:

Brad Stevens is the Celtics’ Biggest Reason for Hope from SBNation.com

Celtics’ Plans to Build in Brad Stevens’ Vision Will Pay Dividends from the Boston.com

Can Coach Brad Stevens Put the Celtics Together Again? from Bostonmagazine.com

You Learn Every Day: Brad Stevens’ Experiment Nears End of First Year With Celtics by Justin Barrasso of GreenStreet.weei.com

The Way a Sports Spectrum article about Stevens’ Christian faith from 2011.

Once again, I’m thankful for so many faithful readers who have joined me on this journey to find wisdom in life and faith through the game basketball!  Last week was one of our most active weeks on the website!  Thank you!

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