Monday, January 19, 2015

Competitive Excellence v. Winning in Youth Sports

Will Ferrell in "Kicking and Screaming." Based on
a true pretty much every city in the US.
Happy 2015! I know its been quite a while since the last post, and I promise (resolve, perhaps?) to do better in this, the new year. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, here at The Winner's Edge, I am all about analyzing and understanding what winners do. However, I feel compelled to write about when winning no longer matters.  Personally, I am as competitive as it comes. Let's make that very, very clear. I do not like to lose, it haunts my dreams when I do. 

When does winning really make a difference? We can point to business, or politics.  In school, when competing for grades and college admissions. Elite level athletes focus on winning, since that's what they get paid to help their teams do. Notice that most of these things are high-teen/adult endeavors, and those skills are cultivated through development as youths (13-under). Additionally, at this point, winning is the expectation, since requisite skills have been developed, as has a winning psyche. The question is, however: can we hold these expectations for youth athletes? I certainly do not, nor do I think anyone who is involved with youth athletics should.
This, from the ultimate champion John Wooden.

Consider for a moment your experience in school. When you were studying math, did you multiply before you could add? Did you do fractions before you worked with whole numbers?  Of course not, that's ludicrous...but why? Most of you will probably say, "well you need to know how to do addition before you can multiply!" Yes, exactly. How can we expect young people:
  • who do not have the fundamentals mastered, to pass their tests?
  • who are not confident in their abilities to perform, to be able to work independently and learn from their mistakes?
  • who are from different backgrounds to work together to solve a complex problem at varying, low, skill levels?
Now, that's a very loaded set of choices and a very loaded question. Now, consider this - substitute youth sports in for school, basketball in for math, etc. Are you getting the point? If we don't expect our kids to master material the very first time they see it in school, how can we expect them to WIN if they have no fundamental skills?  That's like expecting a kid to ace every single math test without having a strong understanding of the material. Probably not going to happen. 

Kids have a strong disposition to want to please, and to want to learn. We as coaches, parents, administrators, and supporters, have a responsibility to teach competitive excellence as a substitute to a "win-at-all-costs" mentality. We are responsible for developing people first, because believe it or not, one day the kids we coach/parent/support will be impacting society with their choices and how they react to situations.  If all we've ever done is teach them what winning is and that it is of utmost importance, but not HOW to compete to win, we have failed them.

If an opponent (read: adversity/obstacle) is bigger, faster, and stronger, it is about rising to the challenge of playing that opponent, and being resourceful enough to face that challenge head on. When a young person is 10, putting in a zone defense for them because they can't compete man to man is not helpful. It hinders their ability to learn competition and perseverance. They'll get their head beat in 10 times, and that's OKAY. But, on that 11th time, they'll realize they really do need to take a deeper angle and work their butts off, and that by being one step ahead they can negate their opponent's advantage. 

"Failure" is a relative term - I don't consider it failure if one of my young kids gets beat off the dribble, or can't multiply because they've never been held to high standards of personal improvement and accountability. I consider it a learning experience, and by teaching the skill and drilling it (just like in school), kids will respond and raise their level.  Only when those students have those requisite skills can competitive excellence be the ultimate expectation. And when students/athletes are held/hold themselves to that high standard, winning can follow.  BUT, winning must NOT be the focus for young student athletes - it robs them of their developmental phase as players and people.

Learning to persevere, to show grit, and to keep a positive, upbeat attitude throughout competition is truly what winning is about. If we can show our young people how to compete with class, work tirelessly on their fundamentals, and believe in themselves, we can create a new generation of winners. Pain today = pleasure tomorrow. Toughness is not developed by winning every single game or challenge. Toughness is developed by enduring pain, knowing you're doing everything you can to improve so your days of pleasure can commence.  

More to come...leave comments, let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Look at Me" Leadership

What makes an individual great -- is it their work ethic, their natural talent, or their unwillingness to relent to adversity or failure? Could be one, could be all, could be a combination.  When the individual is called upon to lead, whether by hiring, vote, or appointment, they have accepted a duty to support the interests of others before themselves to achieve a desired outcome.  Do they extend traits that made them great individuals because they are now "leaders," or do they extend those traits to achieve those outcomes?  BIG DIFFERENCE! Recently, it seems many leaders have lost (or in some cases, never developed) the art of quiet servitude.  This has been replaced by what I like to call, "Look at Me" Leadership.

"Look at Me" Leadership consists of noticeable traits and actions, which, in any combination, can prove ruinous to an organization or team.  Feel free to comment with more than what I have listed here:

  • Inability to see beyond their own time and placing actively a lack of importance on others' time demands
  • Consistent and forceful overtures regarding their power, clout, position, and journey to "leadership"
  • Over-delegation for the purpose of lightening their load (i.e. "Here - I need to get this off my plate.")
  • An expectation that their needs are above all others' and they must be catered to FIRST and at all times
  • Charitable activity when it is beneficial for their perceived image
  • Charlatan and convivial behavior in the presence of other power brokers
  • Outright dismissal of perceived "unimportant" people or people perceived to be below their standards (i.e. service staff)
  • A desperate need to be accompanied in public (i.e. running interference) for extension of power and ego
  • Taking pleasure in being seen and/or heard even the expense of those they lead
These traits are not only harmful to the team dynamic, but will, if enabled, ruin any determinable chance for harmony.  When we, as teammates or leaders in our own right, choose to enable these behaviors, WE become part of the problem.  By disallowing, respectfully, these behaviors we can change a culture and further our shared visions.  

While the leader may set the vision for success, it is up to them to serve the needs of those they lead without expectation of repayment or blind loyalty.  When a "Look at Me" leader exhibits these traits and begins to overtly demand loyalty, respect, and admiration, they have failed as a leader. Instead of leading, they are merely exhibiting the perceived power and authority afforded to them by the nature of their role.

Can "Look at Me" Leaders be successful? Sure...but I urge you to define success.  Wealth? Notoriety? Power? Sounds like what a super villain wants, and if that's what you want, then by all means go for it. But WINNERS are those who, despite amassing fame or material goods, serve with the utmost care for the needs of those around them.  The greatest riches are not found in your pockets, but in the true intentions of others toward you and yours in kind to them. Blind loyalty to the role and trust cannot be demanded, they must be earned through action.  Only then will a leader be a winner, and will organizations flourish TOGETHER.  

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Essential Eleven

This past weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Felicia Hall Allen and Associates' A STEP UP symposium. WOW! What an event. There were so many great minds in the room that had nothing but wonderful ideas and great passion to share with one another. The people in the room wanted so badly to uplift not only themselves, but the game of women's basketball. The creativity, the enthusiasm, and the overall sense of community was evident and it TRULY made for a wonderful weekend, one that I certainly will never forget.

One of the featured speakers, Danielle Donehew (Associate Commissioner, Women's Basketball, Big East Conference) inspired us to understand our definition of success and develop our compass.  These are ideals that are meant to guide us through our daily decisions, and serve as a centering force in our lives.  Upon returning to the group the next day to share, I had developed 10 (I added another one while people were talking!) points to guide me.  Felicia so graciously asked me to share them with the entire group, and now I share them with you.

The Essential Eleven
Be there in mind, body and soul
Live present
Feel for others as if it happened to you
Believe in your and others’ ability to be great
Read as much as you eat; you must feed your mind 
Live with undeniable and indefatigable enthusiasm
Share your gifts with others; it is your responsibility
Never take more than you are willing to give
Live with pace and with peace; know when to speed up and slow down
In the quest to serve others, never forget about yourself
If it takes two minutes, just do it

Full disclosure: this is much easier said than done, especially for me!  But, we are all works in progress that must be molded just like an potter's clay.  Just as we try to mold our student-athletes and people in our lives, we can make a difference in others by adopting a compass for ourselves.

If you feel so inclined, please leave some feedback as to what your compass looks like and other ideas.  I'd like to make this an open forum for us all. 


Where Does Your Compass Take You?

Friday, February 24, 2012

A throwback to the haters?

Haters. Naysayers. Negative people. Everyone has them in their lives, and believe it or not, everyone needs them.  Those folks that make life a little "harder" because they "hate" you for what you do or who you are?  They are the reason success stories exist.  Everyone has/had someone tell them they couldn't, or they can't, or they won't.  Yet, we continually find a way to make it happen.  Here is something I wrote nearly 5 years ago, figured I'd post it here for you all. Enjoy.


You can hate the way I live my life.
You can hate the way I deal with my strife
You can hate that I’m better than the best
But, just remember—it’s always been me helping you pass life’s test.

It’s hard to understand why people do what they do
You would think that, along with their bodies, their minds also grew
People will envy those with any semblance of success
Because they themselves know their own lives are a mess

Pressure is nothing but barometric change
No number on it is ever out of my range
I’ll take the weight of the world off your shoulders; I’ll pick up the slack
I’ll take the weight and put it right above the target you put on my back

This poem is dedicated to anyone and everyone who has been criticized for being better, being right, or being themselves.  Keep your character, even if others do not.  Life will test you, but above all else, if you believe in your abilities, there is no limit to what is possible.  


P.S. Here is a bonus video for ya:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Never Take a Holiday From Happiness

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit; Never completely forget about it. :)
How many of us have encountered feelings of the following in the past year?

  1. Disappointment in ourselves or our choices
  2. Lack of motivation at work, in school, sports, etc
  3. Constant lethargy or tiredness
  4. Deteriorating relationships/pushing others away
  5. General sadness or malaise
Sounds like an Abilify commercial, right?  Let's be honest, we've all felt this way and it is perfectly natural.  It happens.   We get into a rut, or we feel we are up against something bigger than ourselves and we can't make it out of it.  Well, in this, the Holiday season I can honestly say we need to change a few things.  Let me take you on a journey to Africa, where I went about six years ago.  At the time, I was a kid going through a lot.  Parents were recently divorced, brother away at college, mom finding a way to make it happen for us.  I did not realize it at the time, but I should have been the happiest kid on earth.  Luckily, I met happier kids and happier people.  Come with me to Africa, let me show you what I found.


The people in this picture are Maasai, one of the oldest indigenous tribes in Africa (link is to my pictures from the trip).  They are dancing, excited to see new people, and also to engage in their customs for one another.  The Maasai, as a little bit of background, are cattle raising semi-nomadic people.  They do not believe in "modern comforts," such as electricity and indoor plumbing.  Rather, they make their homes from crude materials such as cow dung, mud, and sticks.  They travel 24km to buy water from a local market...and by travel I mean walk.  They are largely patriarchal, and do not believe in capital punishment.  Rather, their disciplinary system consists of cattle trading.  The elders in the families are the decision makers, and they believe firmly in understanding people and those that came before and those that will come after.  These people have "nothing," yet act as if they have everything.  They happily told us their stories, showing us their homes and their neighborhoods:




They told us their stories with smiles on their faces, as if they had no care in the world about trivial matters.  Their homes were made of cow dung, sticks, and mud.  One bedroom for families up to eight or nine deep.  A bed for the father, and rugs made of animal skins and hand-made cloth for the wife and children.  They had never heard of a cell phone or video games, and never once asked us for any of our possessions.  They found happiness in each other and in small things, such as their children learning to walk or falling down in their attempts to do so.  They took joy in expressing their gratitude for someone helping them patch a hole in their walls.  What I took for granted then and still do now to some extent is something from which they derived joy. 

Speaking of their children, the young members of the tribe were one of a kind.  Think of your grade school.  The place that you hated going because it smelled like pee or the other kids were mean to you on the playground.  Now look at the children's expressions in the picture below.  That is their school, a crudely made hut with porous walls and benches.  The tables were scratched, because without pens they had to use sticks and sharp utensils to write their names.  We gave them a bag of pens from various sources, most of them the free ones from hotels and trade shows.  These same children cried tears of joy to have something to write with so they would not "ruin" the school by scratching into the tables.  Happiness in a plastic bag of pens. 


While the Maasai culture is "primitive" by today's standards, what can we learn from their way of life?  Here is an example...have you ever seen a child tear open a present and be so excited to play with...the BOX?  We all joke about it, but we've all seen it.  Those kids are not crazy, nor are they thankless.  They really do not care about the toy that is inside the box, but rather the box itself because it gives them something to call their own.  When you're a kid, the box is YOURS and it is the coolest thing in the world; when you're an adult, the box is your LIFE, and its the coolest thing in the world unless you allow yourself to think otherwise.  That is exactly what unhappiness is, you allowing yourself to think that YOUR LIFE is not the COOLEST damn thing in the world, and finding a million and a half ways to have fun and be happy with it and bringing that joy to everyone around you.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that happiness has forgotten me in the past, and that I forgot it.  But as soon as I realized that I have control over my attitude and my effort towards this life, I immediately became a happier person.  I found my strength in people, people who helped me become who I am.  My family, my friends, my loved ones--all of those people who have made an impact for me are the same people that can make an impact for you in your own lives.  Your life is the true social network, isn't it?  You have all these people, and they overlap with one another, and create bonds and friendships and experiences that define who you are.
Ask me what is the greatest thing in the world, I will reply: It is people, it is people, it is people!

Like the Maasai, the Maori in New Zealand (an even older tribe of indigenous people) have a saying, "Ui mai koe ki ahau he aha te mea nui o te ao, Māku e kī atu he tangata, he tangata, he tangata!"  It means "Ask me what is the greatest thing in the world, I will reply: It is people, it is people, it is people!"  Not possessions, not what silly rap songs are about, no--PEOPLE.  We look towards THINGS to make us happy, but really it is PEOPLE and the experiences we share with them.  Going home is not a THING, and home is not a PLACE.  Home is an experience to be shared with people you love, it is a personal/people experience, not something to be taken for granted.  Let's be honest: would mom's house be mom's house without mom AND the familiarity of the house?  Spending time doing anything with someone you really care about?  It is not a THING one does, or an ACTIVITY, it is a personal/people oriented EXPERIENCE, regardless of what it is, from which one derives happiness.  Valuing each and every minute you spend with that person and knowing (or hoping) they do the same: that's happiness.  Find those people, and hold on to them, for they are the ones that make life a lot easier!

The next time you wish someone "Happy Holidays," or "Merry Christmas," think about the words you are saying.  Does happiness forget the Maasai and the Maori?  Could be.  Would they tell you that? Probably not.  Believe in the goodness of yourself and bring value to others' lives.  I've inadvertently made it my life goal to do such a thing, and I'm not sure how successful I am at it but I can guarantee I'm happier now than I ever have been.  I make a little over $10,000 a year, drive a pretty nice car, and have my own place.  I'm fortunate to be where I am, even though sometimes its a struggle to make ends meet.  BUT, the happiest I am is when I am creating new memories and experiences with people I truly care about and that I know, for the most part, care about me.  This holiday season, understand why people say "Happy Holidays." Who are you with? What are you doing? 

Happy Holidays folks.  Now let's make it Happy Life. :)

P.S. Here's a glimpse at happiness at my mom's house:

The back yard.  Reminds you to take a break and appreciate it all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How will you spend your dash?

A great friend sent me this poem today, and I found it too powerful not to share..

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.


For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

 So think about this long and hard;
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

I'm not sure who wrote this, but the author definitely understands what is important.  Do not lose sight of what matters in this life.


Monday, November 21, 2011

I.M. Pei or I.M. Me?

Build your foundation.
Every month, I choose a new quote or saying and put it on a whiteboard in plain view.  All who enter my place are greeted with words of wisdom from various sources.  This month (albeit a little late!) I decided to post this one, by Robin Sharma.  When I saw it in Sam Glenn's book, A Kick in the Rear to Get You in Gear, it sparked my interest and I knew it had to be my quote of the month.

Consider this: what in your past has happened that you feel still defines who you are?  Parents' or your own divorce, educational experiences or lack thereof, socio-economic status, being laid off, etc.  Who cares?  It happened and there is literally NO way to change the event (unless time-travel is real, in which case disregard this post!).  Instead of trying to change the event, focus on changing your mindset to achieve a better result for the future.  It is easy to crawl into bed and lay there bundled in your safety blankets in the fetal position after something bad happens.  Don't be ashamed, we've all done it, but the point is to ask ourselves why?  Does it really accomplish anything, or are we just wallowing in our own self pity? How many high-success-percentage decisions can you really make from your state of self-pity? Really, there's only one that works, and that's to get out from under the covers.  The world does not stop for you or anyone else, and if you're not moving with it, then it is passing you by every second.

If you're allowing yourself to look backwards at something you have no power over, are you exerting power over what you do have control over, or being consumed by something that doesn't matter?  You have control over two of the most powerful entities in this world, YOUR attitude, and YOUR effort.  Those are the building blocks that you use as an architect of your own future, they are all you have.  Everything else comes as a byproduct of those two things--they are the foundation to YOUR future and present. They must be reinforced every day with the steel of your will power.  Allowing your past (whether its 20 years or 20 seconds) to define those two things weakens the foundation of your present and future.  

Find your special reason, break free from the vices that bind you in your past, and create with your enthusiasm, effort, and attitude, a positive and worthwhile present and future.