Sunday, 25 September 2016

Find A Way

Sue Bird is one of the best WNBA players ever.  She is a point guard for the Seattle Storm and has won at every level she has played at.  In high school they won a State Championships at Christ the King located in Queens New York.  She captured a couple of NCAA National Championships at UConn and then a couple WNBA Championships with the Seattle Storm.  This summer her and her team USA teammates dominated in Rio winning gold by huge margins each and every game they played.  

At 36 years old, Bird has an incredible feel for the game and is the best point guard in the WNBA.  Her play has been characterized as unselfish and she owns who she is.  Sue isn’t the the biggest player as she stands about 5’10”.  She is certainly not the fastest player in the game but she had evolved in order to find another way to win. She knows how to get her teammates involved and will do what it takes to get her team there.  Perhaps the greatest gift she brings is her feel for the game.  She knows when to oscillate between getting others to do it or controlling the flow of the game herself. 

After studying Sue Bird for years it is obvious she is contagious to watch.  The biggest lessons to take from her is the gift of authenticity because she speaks her mind when she is leading and to enjoy how much she plays in the moment.  She doesn’t get too far ahead or behind she just tends to stay right at her level of peak performance even as her career comes towards its end.  Her ability to find a way to win is one of her greatest gifts.  If there is a way to win Sue Bird will make it happen.  Her Basketball IQ is through the roof she will see things before they happen and anticipates what the next move will be.  It is very fun to watch her play!

Over her 14 year career Sue Bird has been true to herself in that she can hit big time shots. She also finds her teammates to help them rise to the occasion as well.  You see there is a big difference between being a scorer and a playmaker.  A scorer is someone that can make a tough shot, nail a buzzer beater or put themselves in a position to be successful.  A playmaker can do all the same things as a scorer but as an added bonus they can do the same things for their teammates through their contributions.  They know when someone else is open or when to take the game into their own hands.  They understand there is a time and place and have a clear vision of what is going on in the game at that moment.  

From a defensive perspective shutting down a scorer is easy compared to stopping a playmaker.  Scorers are capable of hitting you with a single blow or a couple of blows whereas a playmaker is similar to delivering death by thousands of paper cuts in that they are that hard to stop. It can certainly be much harder to be a playmaker especially when the group isn’t on the same page. However, if everyone is on the same page it is incredibly hard to stop. Bird is a playmaker and watching her for any amount of time makes you realize that her skill set is impressive.  

Here are a couple of videos that will give you an idea of what her style of play is like.    

Watch this one to catch Sue at from 1 min mark 

Finding a way to win is an invaluable asset that is incredibly impressive.  When you see a player that wants to win by any means necessary it is such an amazing talent to behold. Evolve your game with this in mind.  Players can be big, they can be fast but there is so much more to basketball than that.  Figure out what makes you special and use that to your advantage as best as you can.      

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Ways to Get Mentally Tough

Mental toughness is a huge difference maker. The higher the level of competition the more mental toughness makes an impact on the performance. Mental toughness isn’t just critical in sports it is useful in work and in life. It is the ability to focus and remain in a state of mind where decisions can be made when the pressure is on. It’s about bouncing back and working through adversity. When you can execute in highly stressful situations that is a very useful skill. Decision making is the difference between success and failure. Depending on your job or life event it can also be life and death. Being mentally tough is a skill that can always be worked on, perfected and practiced continually. The more life throws at you the more you get to practice. Adversity be can welcomed as a way to get tougher. 

During the Olympics in Rio this summer the crowd played a huge role in some of the sports that weren’t used to fans having a huge impact. Since Brazil is largely a soccer supporting nation they thought that crowds behaved that way in all of the events. Brazil was often rallying for the underdog in some of the matches and it was influencing the outcome. This happened in fencing, track and field as well as other events. Take Renaud Lavillenie who was reduced to tears while he was pole vaulting. He was the gold medalist in the 2012 Olympics and the crowd started booing him because he was going up against Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva. Lavillenie ended up with silver and even when he was on the podium accepting his medal the crowd was still booing him. Is it unacceptable behaviour? Yes but the difference is how it was handled. Lavillenie crumbled under the pressure which gave Braz da Silva a chance to capitalize and win the gold medal. 

Here are a few ways to work on your mental toughness in work, life and in sports. I got this from a guy by the name of Jon Gordon. 

1. When you face a setback, think of it as a defining moment that will lead to a future accomplishment. 

2. When you encounter adversity, remember, the best don’t just face adversity; they embrace it, knowing it’s not a dead end but a detour to something greater and better. 

3. When you face negative people, know that the key to life is to stay positive in the face of negativity, not in the absence of it. After all, everyone will have to overcome negativity to define themselves and create their success. 

4. When you face the naysayer’s, remember the people who believed in you and spoke positive words to you. 

5. When you face critics, remember to tune them out and focus only on being the best you can be. 

6. When you wake up in the morning, take a morning walk of gratitude and prayer. It will create a fertile mind ready for success. 

7. When you fear, trust. Let your faith be greater than your doubt. 

8. When you fail, find the lesson in it, and then recall a time when you have succeeded. 

9. When you head into battle, visualize success. 

10. When you are thinking about the past or worrying about the future, instead focus your energy on the present moment. The now is where your power is the greatest. 

11. When you want to complain, instead identify a solution. 

12. When your own self-doubt crowds your mind, weed it and replace it with positive thoughts and positive self-talk. 

13. When you feel distracted, focus on your breathing, observe your surroundings, clear your mind, and get into The Zone. The Zone is not a random event. It can be created. 

14. When you feel all is impossible, know that with God all things are possible. 

15. When you feel alone, think of all the people who have helped you along the way and who love and support you now. 

16. When you feel lost, pray for guidance. 

17. When you are tired and drained, remember to never, never, never give up. Finish Strong in everything you do. 

18. When you feel like you can’t do it, know that you can do all things through Him who gives you strength. 

19. When you feel like your situation is beyond your control, pray and surrender. Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. 

20. When you’re in a high-pressure situation and the game is on the line, and everyone is watching you, remember to smile, have fun, and enjoy it. Life is short; you only live once. You have nothing to lose. Seize the moment.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Female Version of…

I just wanted to mention that it has officially been a year since I started writing my blog on a weekly basis.  I wanted to thank those of you who read it regularly.  I really appreciate the feedback that you give and I hope that you are still finding value in the topics and items I write about each week.  It has been a challenge keeping up with it and finding interesting things to say but I really am enjoying the process of writing about the game of basketball.  I like practicing my commitment to getting an article out each week and am very proud of how many times I was able to reach the deadline.  It definitely stretches me to continue to think about something to share each week and when I will make the time to write it.  Here is to another year of embarking on this journey of expressing my love for this wonderful game!  

This past weekend Sheryl Swoopes was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.  For those of you that don’t know Sheryl Swoopes is a former Olympic Gold medalist with the 1996 USA Women’s National Team.  She was the first woman to have a signature Nike shoe called the Air Swoopes.  Sheryl went to college at Texas Tech and was the first woman to sign on to the WNBA with the Houston Comets.  Her team went on to win 4 consecutive WNBA Championships. She was an incredible player and still continues to be an ambassador of the game.  

In 1996, I had the privilege of seeing her play leading up to the Olympic games in Atlanta because Canada played Team USA in Calgary right before the Olympics started.  I travelled up with my high school team to watch.  I have to say it was an incredible fan experience.  Sheryl had a silky smooth shot and made her impact on both sides of the game.  The way she elevated her teammates was impressive even to my less educated basketball mind at the time.  I would love to see that game again now.  Back then Sheryl was given the nickname the “Female Michael Jordan”.

I am really proud of Sheryl Swoopes’ accomplishments but I can’t help but wonder why are we still doing that?  Saying that a female athlete is a male version of so and so.  Women have been playing sports for a long time now and I understand that male sports are more prevalent but honestly it is time to let women stand on their own.

Nancy Lieberman who is a basketball trail blazer in her own right was known as “Lady Magic” and I think the reason it is done is to make it easier for people to be brought up to speed quickly on who someone is without having to think too much.  However, I think it is incredibly limiting thinking that male sports are the only thing that matters still.   The WNBA just celebrated its 20th Anniversary this year so women have been making a contribution for decades now.  It is time to lose that “female version of…” moniker.  On some level it would be interesting to see someone labelled as the “male version of Diana Taurasi” or the “male version of Serena Williams”. I am glad that isn’t the case though because letting athletes stand on their own is so much more empowering.  

This seems to happen in other sports too.  For example, a few months ago I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto.  I haven’t been there in a long time and I was so excited when I saw Geraldine Heaney and Angela James up on the wall in the Great Hall.  As I started to read their plaques I was so disappointed to see the description saying Angela James was the “Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey" and Geraldine Heaney was the “Bobby Orr of women’s hockey”.  In other areas of the Hall there was a spot indicating that women started playing hockey at the same time that men did. It is so disappointing.  I left thinking they were reduced to a comparison to someone else.  

Also consider they would never do that to a male’s plaque at the Hall of Fame because men are allowed to stand on their own. They are able to let their game speak for itself because when they reach that level people know them and they are glorified for their own abilities.  It needs to be the same for women as it simply isn’t enough to allow her to be in the Hall of Fame if another person’s name is referenced on her plaque.  It is time to empower female athletes completely and unapologetically making it normal as well as acceptable for them to be there in the first place.     

I am sure the thought of being compared to someone who has reached the pinnacle of the game is very flattering.  Jordan, Magic, Gretzky and Orr are not bad comparisons.  Heck if someone compared me to Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich I would be elated but still allow me to be my own person.  Don't box me into that or put it on a plaque to make it “easier” for people to identify what was accomplished.  That practice is just very much out of fashion today. To some degree they did the same thing when the media started looking for “The Next Michael Jordan”.  There is never going to be another Michael Jordan. Let people be who they are by allowing them that space of expression and freedom.   

During the Rio Olympics I came across this video that I absolutely loved.  It was a realization to me that times are changing because Jimmy Butler and Deandre Jordan were arguing about what player they wanted to be like on the Women’s USA National Team.  It was a first time I have ever seen men talking about female players in this way.  I really enjoyed it! 

Congratulations to Sheryl Swoopes on her Hall of Fame Induction! As well as the rest of the 2016 Class of Inductees.  Well done!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Changing the Game Project - An Open Letter to My Dad

This is an article that was posted on Change the Game Project that I wanted to share with you because I thought it was very thought provoking and timely as we go into a new season.   

Dear Dad,
I was afraid to say this to your face after the game today, but I was thinking that maybe you could stop coming to my games for a while. It doesn’t seem that fun for you anyway, and I know it’s not fun for me when you are there. I used to love when you watched my play when I was younger, but now, I wish you weren’t there. I think I am starting to hate playing soccer. I might quit. I bet you are wondering why. 
I heard you in the stands today during my soccer game. I was going to say I heard you cheering, but that wasn’t really what you were doing. You were coaching. You were yelling about the other team, the other coaches, and at the officials. I also heard you yelling at me every time I got the ball. 
I believe you think you are helping, but you are not. You are confusing me. 
It’s confusing when you coach me from the sideline. When I play soccer, I feel like I have to make so many decisions at a time. Should I dribble or pass? Should I cross or shoot? Should I step up or stay back? Where are my teammates? Where are the defenders? I am trying to figure all these things out while out of breath, and fighting off defenders. With all this going on, you want me to listen to you, too? It seems no matter what I do, whether good or bad, you continue to yell at me. It is impossible to listen to you and play the game at the same time.
It is confusing when you and the coach shout instructions at the same time. I can’t listen to both of you. Many times the things you say contradict what the coach teaches me at practice. My coach is trying to get me to pass it out of the back, but you keep yelling at me to kick it long. My coach encourages me to dribble past players, but you tell me to get rid of it when I try to dribble. My coach tells me to pass the ball to feet, but you tell me to kick it over the top and our forwards will chase it down. I either get yelled at by my coach, or by you. To make matters worse, sometimes the other parents join in and yell, too! I am so stressed out there. It’s not a very good feeling.
It’s confusing to me when you yell at the officials, especially since you teach me to respect teachers, coaches and my elders. Dad, some of these referees are kids that go to my school. I see them at lunch and in the halls and I am so embarrassed. Would you yell at me like that if I was a new referee? Even when the officials are right, and you are standing 50 yards away, you yell at them. I wish you would just let the game play out and let me and my coach handle what is going on.  
It’s confusing when you are still upset about the loss hours after a game. How long is it appropriate to be sad and angry? I mean, I am the one who played, right? We are supposed to win some and lose some if we play good teams, right? We got beat, but now we have to move on and get ready for the next game. I am not sure how staying angry will help me get better for the next game. I certainly don’t feel like learning much immediately after a loss. The best thing you can do after a game is tell me you are proud of me for competing, and showing good sportsmanship, and that you love to watch me play. What are we going to eat is helpful too. But that’s all. I can get better next practice.
It’s confusing when you talk badly about my coach in front of me. You tell me to respect my coach and listen to what he says, but then I hear you and other parents say he doesn’t know what he is doing. My friends say that their dads tell them not to listen to the coach, and they don’t know who to listen to anymore. No wonder our coach gets so frustrated with us.
It’s confusing when you talk badly about my teammates in front of me. I know some of my teammates aren’t as fast, or as strong, or don’t kick as well, but they are my friends, Dad. In school, they teach me that I should treat everyone with respect, but then you disrespect my teammates right in front of me. I wish you would try to see the good in my friends instead of pointing out their faults.
It’s confusing when you yell and scream at mistakes and act like playing soccer is an easy thing to do. I am not sure if you remember what it was like to be a player. Do you remember what it was like to be going through a growth spurt, and feeling awkward when you try to run and jump (never mind the sore knees)?  Do you remember how hard it was to learn to trap or pass a soccer ball, or for that matter hit a baseball, or catch a fly ball? Sometimes you try your very best, and still get it wrong. It doesn’t help or make me feel any better about my mistake when you yell at me for it, or tell me to “get my head in the game.” What does that mean, anyway? You yell things and most of the time I have no idea what you are talking about. 
Dad, I don’t want to tell you how to parent or anything, but sometimes I feel like your love is conditional upon how the game goes. 
I certainly appreciate all the time and money you spend to let me play. But sometimes it feels like we are out there playing just to entertain the adults. We just want to play. And we want you to watch if you can do so without yelling at the refs, screaming at other parents, and coaching from the stands. 
Could you do that for me dad? Could you just come, watch the game quietly, and then not talk about it on the ride home? If you can, I would love for you to come. 
But if you can’t, I would prefer if you just dropped me off and let me play.   
Dad, I love sports, I love my team, and I love my teammates. I want to play with these guys forever, but not if it makes you hate me and angry at me all the time. Not if it makes me feel worse about myself. 
Please let me know what you decide. I love you.
Your son,
Bobby, #10
(Every once in a while, we get an email or a post from a young athlete who has struggled with parental behavior in sports. These letters are heartbreaking, and very personal, so we do not republish them. This letter from “Bobby” is a compilation of the various stories we have heard from kids, not an actual letter we received. It is, however, an accurate reflection of the things we hear and see everyday on our sidelines. We ask all parents to please read this with your son or daughter, and share it with other parents you know. Ask your kids how they want you to act, how you can cheer in a helpful way, and when is a good time to talk about the game. When you ask, please listen to and respect their answer. And if you want a great blueprint on how to be mindful when it comes to your kid’s sports, check out this great new book by Dr Jerry Lynch called Let Them PlayIt is a wonderful addition to our parenting library.)