Sunday, 24 April 2016

Lessons from Kawhi Leonard

My favorite player to watch right now is Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.   I have been a basketball fan since the mid 90’s and this is the first time I have bought a player’s jersey.  This should illustrate how impressed I am with what I am seeing in him.  With so many scandals that happen with players in the NBA I have been burned in the past with selecting a favorite player so I have been incredibly cautious with this decision.  I had to make sure it was the right type of player for years before committing to getting his jersey.  Here are some of the key lessons to learn from Kawhi Leonard: 

Kawhi is a team first kind of guy.  If you ever watch interviews with he is incredibly soft spoken and is a man of few words.  He is positive but also calls things as he sees them.  He doesn’t act boastful, rude or conceited.  He doesn’t seem to be interested in flashing the money he has after signing a maximum $94 million deal with the Spurs.  Although it has been reported that he owns an expensive car he often drives a Chevy Tahoe that is 19 years old.  He says because “it runs and it’s paid off.”  He also uses coupons to get chicken wings at one of the local San Antonio businesses that sponsors him. If he runs out of coupons he gets upset so they ensure he is well stocked.  There is something incredibly refreshing about that mentality.    

       Defence First
Kawhi has been identified as the best two way player in the NBA.  When he started with the Spurs they used his defensive skill set to shut down his opponent. He is often assigned to the best player on each team they play against and often absolutely frustrates them.  He denies them the basketball and makes it very hard for them to get comfortable scoring.  Coaches often preach “good defense leads to good offense” and Kawhi’s skill set definitely lends itself to that.   

      Insatiable Appetite to Improve

Kawhi Leonard was a sophomore at San Diego State when he was drafted to the Pacers and then traded to the Spurs.  Some would say that selecting him 15th overall was a gamble.  His coach Greg Popovich said he felt nauseous when they selected him because it was an unorthodox choice.  His work ethic and insatiable appetite to improve has really been something to see.
There is an elite group of NBA players that belong to the 50-40-90 Club which means the player for the season shoots 50% from the field, 40% from the 3 point line and 90% from the free throw line. Players that belong to this club include Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.  Over the last couple of years Kawhi’s offensive mentality has really flourished to a point where he is now closing in on that group.  His free throw and 3 point percentages have increased by about 10% each this year alone. When you add that to his defensive presence he possesses it really makes him such an incredibly unique player to watch.    


One of the most important things that great players need to do is be consistent day in day out night after night.  Kawhi definitely has shown that level of precision in the last couple of seasons.  He started out with playing impeccable defense and then continued making his offense presence known in small ways at first then building further as his confidence as well as skill set grew.  Now he is at the point in his career where he has earned the trust of his teammates and where the coaches have decided to run the offense through him.  In 2014 when the Spurs won the Championship Kawhi was the Finals MVP.  I just can’t wait to continue to see the heights he reaches in his career. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Chain

Goals are often set years in advance.  How you are able to reach these goals has so much to do with the habits you have in place.  The items you work in daily will establish long term success.  As many of you already know, I really enjoy reading articles about self improvement and getting better.  James Clear is one of the people that I really like to learn from.  He is a motivational speaker that studies masters of their craft and shares things that have helped make them successful. These are items that have helped these individuals reach the top of their game. 

Before sharing these things I always like to implement them into my life to test how successful they are.  This is the link to the article that James Clear wrote about Jerry Seinfeld   For those of you who want to know the gist of the Seinfeld Strategy it has to do with Jerry Seinfeld and how he has established himself as such a successful comedian.  

As most people realize one of the most important things to a comedian’s success is their material.  Seinfeld prides himself on working on his material every single day.  Once days start being strung together it gets to a point where you really don’t want to break the chain.  Missing a day feels like you are letting yourself down or you want to save it for a good reason not something you can easily overcome.  

So I have tried this element in two places of my life and have noticed big strides over the last few months.  One area has been when it comes to working out. I have established that I want to get a work out in every day.  The parameters are that it needs to be at the very least 20 minutes in length and can be longer if I want it to be.  The other thing is that it can include things like weights, cardio or even yoga.  I want to be able to incorporate active rest in so that I can ensure I am not over doing it.  The important thing to me is that it be sustainable and consistent.  

My goal has been in the past to get 25 workouts in during the month.  I find this idea of not wanting to break the chain has become so much more powerful though.  It is psychological because I really don’t want to skip a single day and have to start over back at one.  The higher the number gets the more I really dig in to keep it going.  

The other area of my life I have been using this concept in is getting to work earlier.  I track every single day that I get in and it has really helped using the Seinfeld Strategy. I find myself really pushing to keep that streak going and I really strive to leave my house earlier by accounting for traffic or weather so that I can have integrity about reaching my goal.  No one is watching or keeping track but me, however, I have to say it feels great to push myself and to keep the momentum going.  

In the future I will definitely be expanding this to other areas of my life. Whatever your goal is it is a good idea to figure out what the most important things that will help you get there are and then just keep working on them each day.  Start small, get the momentum going and then do your best not to break the chain.  

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Is Your Kid's Coach a Bully?

I just want to make sure to make it clear that I did not personally write this blog below.  It was taken from an organization I watch very closely called Changing the Game Project.  I read this blog and thought they brought up some very valuable points. Please see their website if you are interested in more information about what they do
Coach Marla 

Is Your Kid's Coach a Bully?
“I think my kid’s coach is a bully, and I don’t know what to do,” a distraught parent named Dan said to me the other day. “My kid hates a sport he used to love. He has been called things by his coach that no kid should ever be called. Forget sports; this is trickling into every aspect of his life!”
“I’m a teacher,” he continued, “and if I treated my students like that everyone would go to the principal. But it is his coach, so we all stay quiet. I am afraid if I say anything to this coach, or to the school, my son will be the one who suffers. What do I do?”
Have you ever felt like Dan did in this situation? 
Have you felt that your son or daughter was being treated in a way that had potential long term consequences far beyond the sports field, yet felt helpless to intervene because you were afraid it might even make the situation worse? Has your child told you “just forget about it” even though you see negative effects from the behavior on and off the field?
Could there be a more difficult situation in youth sports for a parent and an athlete?
Sadly, bullying behavior by coaches is not uncommon. Far more worrisome, though, is that it is often overlooked in the sport arena, by the very same educational administrators that would never tolerate such behavior by a teacher. In the club sports world, with far less oversight, I fear the problem may even be worse. 
A year ago I set out to write this very article, and instead ended up penning one called Are Great Coaches Becoming an Endangered Species? I did so because in my experience people often misunderstand bullying, or mischaracterize tough, challenging coaching as bullying. Without rehashing that entire article here (and before you go off on kids getting soft and this is competitive sports, etc., I encourage you to read it as we are all for coaches who hold kids to a high standard when done the right way)
Here is a  partial list of items that are often mistaken as bullying, but are in fact why coaches are so necessary in the life of a child. A great coach improves sport performance and teaches life lessons by:
  • Positively pushing your child out of his or her comfort zone to improve performance; 
  • Demanding focus and effort each and every day, whether at practice or competition; 
  • Playing your child in an unfamiliar position to stretch his or her ability to handle adversity;
  • Does not feel pressure to start your child every game to appease you, the parent;
  • Having higher expectations for your child than you or your child has
  • Having a different opinion of your child’s potential than you do;
  • Expecting commitment and following through with reasonable repercussions for players who do not fulfill it, applied equally for every player;
  • Expecting your child to adhere to team rules and standards;
  • Holding your child to a standard that you might not hold him or her to, regardless of the effect it may have on the outcome of a game.
So what makes a coach a bully? 
First of all, in this article Signe Whitson gives an important explanation of the differences between being rude, being mean, and being a bully. Being rude is inadvertently saying or doing things that hurt others. Many coaches use sarcasm in their coaching, and they unintentionally hurt their players. While these actions might seem to be bullying, according to Whitson, in context they are actually “incidents of rudeness that are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone.”
Some coaches are downright mean, in that they intentionally say and do things to hurt others once or twice. Mean coaches are different from rude coaches because of the intent. “Why did I ever pick you for this team Johnny, you are a waste of a uniform.” “Jenny, you are so slow, and you are 20 lbs overweight, you really shouldn’t be out here.” These comments are downright mean, and not appropriate for a coach. Yet by definition, they are not bullying if they happen once or twice, according to Whitson (sadly, that one comment could still be one that makes a child quit).
Bullying, as defined by Whitson, is intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. Bullying entails three key components: 
  1. An intent to harm, 
  2. A power imbalance
  3. Repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior.
This behavior can be physical (which is usually caught and dealt with), verbal, even technological. It happens time and again even when the athlete demonstrates hurt and asks for it to stop.
Football Coach Preparing His Young Player For The Field
Sadly, many coaches are mistaken that their insulting teaching style is fine because their results justify a style of coaching that may cross the threshold from rude to mean to bully. The most fascinating and disheartening aspect of this type of coaching, according to author Linda Flanagan in this 2015 article for The Atlantic, is “the persistence of these coaching methods [given] America’s cultural intolerance for threatening or demeaning language in other public spheres, especially schools.” Forty-nine states have passed anti-bullying laws and others have passed laws promoting good sportsmanship, yet, according to Flanagan “Ridiculing your own team, apparently, remains permissible.”
This is unacceptable and plain wrong. It is damaging to kids, and actually produces far poorer results than a culture of love and respect for athletes. As this 2015 paper by researchers with the American Psychological Association found, positive, ethical leadership from coaches promoted healthier team atmospheres. The researchers concluded that “Coaches who provide high levels of encouragement, support, and autonomy are more likely to foster positive psychological responses in their athletes and ultimately lead to higher levels of performance.”
Two years ago, I was introduced by a mutual friend to Jennifer Fraser PhD., author of the excellent book Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom. Fraser was a teacher at a prestigious school where her own son was bullied by some of her colleagues. As she tells it:
Our sixteen year old son was competing at the 2012 Provincial Basketball Championships in British Columbia when one of the boys on the team texted his parents to say he “couldn’t take it anymore.” The coaches were calling the team “a bunch of pussies”, “hopeless” and “retarded.” For my husband and me, that was the point of no return.”
When we heard those words,” Fraser continued, “we knew we had to get our son away from those coaches. No matter what it took, we could not let our son be spoken to like that. This wasn’t the first time we’d seen or heard there was something wrong on the team with how the coaches were “motivating” the players, but this time, there was no going back. We could no longer excuse or forgive. The basketball court, that our son loved so much, was becoming a place he dreaded and hated.”
Fraser has since gone from a teacher and mom to an advocate and spokesperson for bullied athletes across the globe. She has become a voice in an arena where we are far too quiet (check out this article and fascinating video on her son’s situation).
The tide may be turning in high visibility sports, especially for college athletes. Disgraced former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was fired once video of him screaming, insulting, and physically assaulting players came to light. (It makes one wonder how many coaches behind closed doors are verbally and physically assaulting athletes.)  Other coaches have been similarly dismissed. The NCAA has even enlisted Dr. Ben Tepper of Ohio State, a world renowned expert in abusive behavior in the workplace, to study its coach/athlete relationships. What he found stunned him, as he discovered that abusive relationships in college sports were two to three times as prevalent than in the regular workplace.
While college coaches have far more scrutiny, and thus may be called out for their behavior, I fear that youth coaches and high school coaches operate under a far less powerful microscope, and point to their won loss records and the softening of the millennial generation when justifying their coaching styles. It is these coaches that worry Fraser the most:
“At the school where our son played basketball,” said Fraser, “at the request of the Headmaster, fourteen students gave detailed testimonies about how the coaches were treating them. The police said that there was a ‘definite pattern in the complaints, all pointing to verbal and emotional abuse.’” However, the police could not intervene, as emotional abuse is not in the Criminal Code. Over the course of three years, Fraser and a dedicated group of parents appealed to school administrators, the Inspector of Independent Schools, BC School Sports, the Commissioner for Teacher Regulation, the Ministry of Education, and the Ombudsperson. “To date,” says Fraser, “no one has done anything to hold the teachers to account for bullying conduct.”
As difficult as it seems, the worst thing you can do in a situation where a coach is truly engaging in bullying behavior is to do nothing. Much like situations of sexual harassment in the workplace, all too often bullying behavior is allowed to continue because people fail or are afraid to act. They think if they keep their head down and avoid the bully it will pass, and they do not want to draw unwanted, additional attention to themselves. But this only allows the environment to exist for others. We must be courageous and say something.
So what is a parent or athlete to do in this situation? Here are a few ideas, and I hope below this article in the comments some of you will share additional thoughts regarding this very difficult situation. 
First, before you do anything, take a moment and realize how much pressure is on a coach. This does not excuse bad behavior, but It is very hard to be a coach these days. There is balancing playing time, recognition, parental expectations, the pressure to win or be fired, on and on. Broaching a conversation about coaching style in a respectful, non-confrontational way is much more likely to get the best results. 
Parents, most importantly, talk to your child, listen to your kids and what they are saying to you about the situation, and come to an agreement about the next steps. Do not immediately try and solve the problem, but instead engage in a meaningful conversation and get all the details about what is going on. Listen, give feedback, and help your child realize that doing nothing in a true bullying situation is not OK. 
Collect as much information as possibleSometimes, kids exaggerate, so unless you have witnessed the behavior in question, talk to other parents to see if the story is the same. What one kid sees as bullying another may see as a “tough” coach that follows through with appropriate consequences. Do not be afraid to enlist outside expert help if needed, and determine if the situation is really bullying, or just a rude/mean coach (if that is the case, it may even be an opportunity for your son/daughter to have a conversation with the coach and stand up for himself/herself). 
Next, set up a meeting with the coach and an additional person, either an athletic director, club director, or the next in the chain of command. Bypassing a coach and school AD and going straight to the superintendent, for example, immediately puts everyone on the defensive against you and your child. You may have to go there eventually, but at least start with the coach and his/her immediate superior. All the athletic directors I have spoken to, the vast majority whom are great people who only want the best athletic experience for your child, tell me how frustrating and insulting it is when the first they hear of an issue is from the school board, the superintendent, or the lawyer, and not from the parent or athlete. 
When you have that meeting, it is not a time to discuss playing time, tactics, who made the team, how your child’s private skills coach says he is destined for stardom, etc. It is a time to address the exact intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power as bullying is defined above. Feelings of abusive treatment towards your child is not as strong as video proof. Hearsay will not get you very far.  If other athletes have suffered the same type of treatment, hopefully they too have all agreed to either participate in this meeting or have signed a statement attesting to the behavior. Be prepared that the coach and his/her superior might be defensive, even a bit confrontational, and do your best to be unemotional, and open-minded. Every once in awhile, such a meeting might help a coach see the light and change his/her behavior forever.
Finally, be sure that the meeting ends with concrete actions and dates for a follow up meeting to discuss what steps have been taken. If these things are not forthcoming, then yes you may have to take the complaint to the next level. If nothing happens in a club sport situation, it may be time to leave that team/club. 
In an ideal world, these steps would change coaching behavior, but we do not live in that world. The fact is by taking these steps to confront a potential bully coach, you and your athlete may be jeopardizing playing time, a starting spot, even a place on a team, as happened recently in New Jersey. But you still must act, for the simple reason that if not you, than who? The behavior is not going to end when your child moves on. It will continue until someone decides to act. As sad as this situation is, it is also an incredible opportunity to demonstrate to your athlete that in life there is right and wrong, and that at times it takes courageous people to take a stand even when it is unpopular. Bullying persists when good people fail to act. 
There is no way 2000 words could do justice to this topic, but I do hope that it starts an important discussion about the men and women charged with developing our kids on and off the field, the court and the ice. Yes, there are some bad ones, but the vast majority of them are good people who are trying their best. 
Let’s empower the great coaches and help to change the rude ones and mean ones.
Most importantly, let’s take a stand against the bullies that have no place in sport, and no right to call themselves coach.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Homemade Hoop

Buddy Hield from Oklahoma had an incredible March Madness with his Oklahoma Sooners this year.  It is unfortunate that it came to an end for them in such a polarizing fashion this weekend when they were completely dismantled by Villanova. It was a big Final Four victory when Villanova defeated Oklahoma 95 to 51. This doesn’t change the fact that Buddy had an incredible tournament and he really was a standout player in this tournament.

I came across a picture that got me thinking.  This is the homemade hoop Buddy used to shoot on when he was growing up in the Bahamas.  I find it completely breathtaking and incredibly inspiring to look at.  There is something very raw but also so compelling to me because I can see the dream he had playing basketball using this crooked old hoop made out of scrap wood and a milk crate.  


So many athletes want to have all the best conditions to work in.  They want all of the advantages often times without the sacrifices.  When I am working with athletes I often hear complaints like “this ball is too flat”, “the floor is too slippery”, or “this hoop is too low”. They seem to have an excuse as to why things don’t work out well in advance.  

Optimal conditions make mentally weak athletes.  It is important to learn to deal with what happens when things aren’t going well.  There is something special about athletes that aren’t bothered by conditions that are less than favourable. The kind of athletes that show mental toughness and are un-phased by tough circumstances.  These athletes seem even welcome these challenges and also have the purest form of love for the game of basketball.   To some degree they almost seem to enjoy when other athletes struggle with these distraction so they can dig in and find a way to dominate.  

I have a documentary that I often like to watch about basketball which is called “One Love”.  In one of the segments they talk to a group of older Jewish guys that used to play basketball in the streets in Brooklyn.  They would tell their moms to pull the laundry in of the line so it wouldn’t be in their way.  They would make a ball out of crumpled up newspaper and string that they would only pass as it wouldn’t bounce at all so they couldn’t dribble.  Their “hoop” was the lowest rung of the ladder on their fire escape.  They played for hours and ended up making up a team when they got older that was very good.  I really enjoy hearing stories like this. Basketball was so pure and simple at that point in time for them.  

The biggest thing I take away from players like this is seeing how much the game has changed.  It has gone from playing for fun for hours on your own time with friends and older players to scheduled and completely structured programming.  There is something so significant about how it would be with older players teaching younger players how to play.  Sometimes waiting hours to get your turn again after losing a pickup game.  This allowed players to just sit, watch and learn. When you got your chance to play again the level of play increased so that you could win and stay on the court otherwise it could be a long time before you got to play again. 

Since basketball is so structured now many players don’t know how to practice or play on their own. They depend on someone to tell them what to do at every turn. That is truly disappointing to see but not surprising. It is hard to find public places to play and so many people hold a lot of fear of letting their kids go out on their own to play without supervision.  Learning to play when no one is around and making mistakes then figuring out your own solutions is critical to the personal development of great players. It is such a different part of learning and sometimes I am not sure the way it has evolved is better. However, the picture of this hoop really makes me think about simpler times.