Instruction v. Exposure

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For anyone who works with youth sports, particularly high school aged youth sports, you’ve probably heard a player or parent ask: “How can I get more exposure to college coaches?” I believe that we should refocus this question to “Where can I get the best instruction?”

I understand and appreciate the desire to “be seen” by college coaches in your sport. I had the opportunity to play college basketball and it was one of the most impactful and important experiences of my life. I have seen, however, too many families who are only focused on the exposure they are getting once they have made it to high school and have started to dream about the possibility of playing their sport in college. Instead of enjoying the game and improving their skills, they focus on who is watching and how their individual play is being evaluated. Why is this a problem? In order to understand it, it is important to look at the roots of the words “instruction” and “exposure.”

The word instruct is simply defined as “to teach someone a subject or skill.” When you are receiving instruction in your sport a coach or other teacher is spending time teaching you skills important to the game. The environments that this teaching takes place usually are safe places where it is ok to make mistakes, it is ok to stop and discuss things with the teacher, and it is ok to ask questions of others. By nature, a teaching environment does not contain the pressure of a performance environment, thus allowing the student to learn at his or her own pace and focus on improving weaknesses. All too often, when athletes get to the high school level they believe that they don’t really have anything else to learn; they usually know the basics and their physical abilities have made them better than most of their peers. This false sense of security leads players to de-emphasize or completely ignore their need for skill instruction from qualified coaches and teachers of their game. The reality is that as your game advances, it becomes even MORE important to get quality coaching and instruction to get better. One of the coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp is Alan Stein and he shared his experience in working with Steph Curry, arguably the most skilled player in the NBA today. Continuing to learn and receive instruction will ensure that you continue to improve your game.

On the contrary, the word expose is defined as “to reveal something hidden.” If you think about this, how often do you really WANT exposure? Players and parents alike think that anything that is providing them exposure to college coaches and scouts is a good thing; the reality is that every one of those “exposure camps” or “exposure events” is designed to reveal something hidden. Every time you play in front of a college coach, they are looking for you to expose your weaknesses. If you can’t guard one on one, that will be exposed. If you aren’t a good teammate or aren’t coachable, that will be exposed. If you are one dimensional in your offensive skills, that will be exposed. The whole purpose of exposure events and the evaluation periods for college coaches is for them to determine which players they are going to spend time pursuing in a more personal manner. The easiest way to shorten that list is for your skills to be exposed in relation to others of your same age group. Once you step between the lines in games at these exposure events, your game is what it is and it will be exposed.

I get it, players and parents still want a chance to play their sport at the college level and our current system relies on exposure events to give college coaches a chance to see players who may be able to play at their level. I’m not suggesting that there is no value to exposure events and that everyone should stop attending them. What I am suggesting is that skill instruction SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED for high school athletes. It isn’t good enough to just get your teaching during your high school season and then go play on a club team or travel team to get exposure. Players who are serious about continuing to improve so that they can COMPETE at the next level, should seek out opportunities for instruction in the off season as well. This might mean choosing a club team or AAU team that is focused on teaching and improving your game. This might mean going to camps where the focus is on improving your skills, not showing off for college coaches. This might mean skipping a few ‘exposure events’ so that you can get some one on one instruction from a qualified teacher of your game. And it definitely means a lot more individual work on your own and small group work with your friends to improve your skills. If you focus more on INSTRUCTION, I can almost guarantee that there will be less to EXPOSE when you’re in front of those college coaches.

Airport Tips for the Amateur Traveler

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Every now and then, when I’ve got a busy week of travel, I start the week by reminding myself of the best practices I’ve learned over years of business travel and then I take a deep breath before I head to the airport because I know that there will be a lot of folks acting completely insane and irrational. I’ve learned there’s nothing I can do about them or any of the other myriad of frustrations at the airport. However, I can help inform my friends and family who read this that don’t travel as much about some often overlooked tips.

For your traveling pleasure, might I remind you…

  • If you don’t travel a lot and know your way around your home airport, don’t push it time-wise. It will take you longer than you think, so get there at least 1.5-2 hours before your scheduled departure.
  • Pack light: If you can avoid checking a bag by getting everything in a roller board or bag that will fit overhead, you’ll save yourself a ton of time on both the front end and back end of your flight.
  • Check in ahead of time. A few years back, Al Gore invented the internet. Despite their tardiness, all airlines have completely adopted online check in. I would encourage you to use it and either print your boarding pass at home or use their handy apps to get your boarding pass. If you heed the above mentioned light packing, you’ll avoid the ticket counters altogether.
  • In America, we walk as we drive, on the right side. If you can remember this, we’ll all move more smoothly in the airport and not have traffic jams. On a related note, if you see someone running, kindly move out of the way. They are in a hurry and are about to miss a flight!
  • Be kind and patient with one another. It has been my experience that gate agents don’t try to screw people over on purpose. They have a job to do and strict guidelines to that job. It probably isn’t personal and you attract a lot more flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Don’t line up until your group is called. Some of us travel a lot and we’ve earned the status that gives us the right to get on the plane first. Creating a big crowd of Zone 4 people right by the gate is actually slowing things down because I’m getting on before you one way or another and I’m not getting up and adding to that crowd until I hear “Now boarding Executive Platinum for Milwaukee.”
  • If the gate agent tells you to gate check your bag, gate check your bag. Some planes aren’t big enough for the giant Wal-Mart roll on you brought. And if you are in Zone 4 and have been standing there blocking things for everyone else, there probably isn’t any overhead room anyway. Just check it.
  • If you choose to dress like a slob, ignore everyone around you while you loudly talk on the phone, make a mess of the terminal, and act like an ass then expect to be treated like the unprofessional person you appear to be. If you want to be treated like a professional, dress like you’re not getting ready for a sleep over and treat other people the way you want to be treated.

I hope that helps all of my amateur travel friends. Happy flying!

Too Much Stuff!

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This is NOT the home of a hoarder. At least not the kind you find on A&E and grab your spouse to show them you’re not that bad. No, sadly this is my garage today.

I have an excuse, though!!!! We’re selling our house and the realtor and stager both told us we needed to ‘de-clutter’ so that potential buyers could see themselves in our home, not all of our junk. So we spent all of last weekend boxing and bagging, and eventually just tossing all of our overage into the garage. The house looks fantastic.

This morning, however, as I stepped out to the garage for a moment and saw this, it really got me thinking: Do we really need all of this stuff? Its been over a week since we put it out in the garage and we’ve been out to retrieve one thing – the binder with all of our favorite recipes so we could make Spicy Salmon.

I’d say there is a very good chance that we’ll pack all of this stuff up into a moving van and lug it to the new house without having the need to retrieve a single thing for weeks or maybe even months. We’ll unload many of these things on the other end at our new house and open boxes with a series of exclamations: “oh, I forgot all about that!” And THAT is where I’m going to break this cycle. I’m not going to sift through this mess in my garage right now, but I vow on the other end to NOT put things back into my new house that I both did without and completely forgot about for the weeks that it sat in my garage. I’m going to break ties with useless stuff in my life.

Sure, there will be pictures from the past that are important and we’ll hang on to; I’m sure there is some of the kids’ artwork that we’ve stashed in there for posterity. There are likely several dozen books that are important to us that will find a home on a bookshelf in the new house. I’m not suggesting flushing our memories.

But there are certainly pots and pans that we never use, or a few dozen beer glasses I’ve collected over the years. I’m certain there is 10 year old wrapping paper in that pile and there is bound to be a box of Franklin Planners from before 2000. My guess is that at least one of those boxes contains t-shirts I just can’t give up or toys the kids say they still “love.” These things all need to pass on to their next life. If they’re that important, they need to be used, repurposed, or displayed. If not, they are not going to add to the clutter of life anymore.

I’ll encourage you to look at your stuff today (before you have to box it up to move) and ask yourself if it is really adding value to your life? I think for most of us, me included, we too often equate stuff with quality of life. That is really backwards. What leads to quality of life is relationships, experiences, and learning. All the stuff does is block our view of the great relationships we have, hold us in place to avoid new experiences, and drag us into the past to hinder learning new things. So box some stuff up that is getting in the way this week and donate it to Goodwill or just throw it out. Let’s see how much space it frees up for people and other good things in our life. And if you see me between now and the time we move, remind me not to give in to the this pile of stuff!

Your Plate

Some mornings, I sit down at my desk to this:

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An empty plate is not a bad thing. I can attest to the fact that starting a day or a week with an empty plate can be both invigorating and challenging (particularly for goal oriented people like me). It can be fun to have to really WORK to make things happen in your business and get things moving. On a personal level, having an empty plate for me usually means things are clicking along with my family, our finances, and friendships without much conflict or stress.

Empty plates can also cause me anxiety if they stay empty too long. Here’s where the danger comes for me – when I sit in front of an empty plate too long, I start to put things on it; often without considering if they go together or not. Pretty soon, I end up with this:

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As I start my week today, my plate looks a lot more like this mis-matched pile of goodness. Lots of great stuff on there to work through. For me today, I’ve got both personal and professional opportunity on my plate. I’ve got big potential changes for our family. I’ve got two huge projects wrapping up at work in the next month and two great opportunities to pitch this week. On top of that, I’ve piled on some extra work by teaching a college class this semester and we’re in the final planning stages of this year’s Jay Bilas Skills Camp. My gravy is dripping off the side!

A full plate can often be overwhelming. I’ve had nights where I wake up at 3am just thinking about everything that needs to be done. I’ve looked at “to do” lists on Monday that seem never-ending and just wanted to procrastinate it away. I have felt the stress of family and financial pressure pushing in all at the same time as the “gravy” of life spills over.

And this is what I’ve learned: The only way to clear the plate is one bite at a time. Furthermore, it is important to enjoy and savor every delicious bite. This week, as I sit here today staring at my plate, I’m going to slowly work through this full plate of responsibility, opportunity, fear, and possibility until it is cleared and I am satisfied that I’ve tasted each task or challenge to the fullest. And I’ll take my roll and wipe up every last drip of gravy that life has poured on top.

Change Agent

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This past summer our family took a trip up to The Road to Nowhere in Western North Carolina. Besides being a really cool hike, the road passes under a bridge that has become a place of thoughtful graffiti for many, including the one above that I snapped with my son, Jack.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

There is some debate as to whether Mahatma Gandhi actually said these words, although they are ascribed to him regularly. Nevertheless, as I was moving pictures over to a new phone this week and came across this picture, it seemed relevant to me.

With all of the political “noise” going on in America today regarding the 2016 Presidential election, it is hard not to be impacted. To be honest with you, it has reached the DISGUSTING level for me. Part of me wants to just bury my head in the sand and ignore everything until the shouting is over in November when we can all go back to our regularly scheduled programming. But that seems like such a cop out. Instead, I’m going to recommit myself to being the change I want to see in the American political world. Here goes…

I want see people respect one another’s differing views and occasionally ‘agree to disagree.’

I want to see people who understand that ‘compromise’ is not a bad word, and in actuality is the way pretty much everything in the world gets done.

I want to see an actual debate where people follow rules of order, have prepared and researched the relevant topics, and conduct themselves with civility.

I want to see a person that puts others’ concerns before their own and is man (or woman) enough to put their ego aside when it benefits the greater good.

I want to see people live out their faith, not tell me about all the stuff they do that makes them “Christian.”

I want to see more servant leaders who ask what they can do to help instead of telling me how they’ll make things better.

I want to see a government that is actually for the people and by the people and understands that the needs of those people needs change.

I want to see people do the right thing, not just what they think others want them to do.

I realize this is a lofty list and I could easily go on. As with many things in my life, I look at politics and sometimes wonder “what impact can I really have?” Well, I know that I can be the change I want to see in the system and maybe my actions will affect a few and the actions of those few will affect many. When the many act, overarching change will occur. So if you want to see change in our political world as well, be the change you want to see.

Thank You Notes

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A simple thank you note has been on my mind a lot lately. So I’ll write a word or two here in support of this ‘old fashioned’ tradition.

After the new year, we forced (and I do mean forced) our 9 and 6 year old to write thank you notes for Christmas gifts and Christmas hosts. While extremely painful in the moment, it was well worth it when I got a text message from my aunt acknowledging that she had received my son’s thank you note and added…”You’re raising your kids right.”

I’m raising my kids right because my mom and dad raised me right and forced (and I do mean forced) me to write thank you notes. So I shouldn’t be surprised that my mom recently reminded me that I should send someone a thank you note. And I will, because thank you notes matter.

In a world of instant communication and instant gratification, the simple, hand-written thank you note perhaps carries more weight than ever before. Take a minute to think about the last one you received…they’ve probably been few and far between. Sure, we’ll tap out a “thank you email” in a heartbeat and that is certainly appropriate. But how many of us sit down and hand write a note to the people who really matter; to whom we are truly thankful? I don’t do it often enough.

So here’s your challenge for the day: take the 5-10 minutes it will require today and hand write someone a thank you note. And take the additional 30 seconds to put a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Thank a teacher who made an impact on you. Thank someone who interviewed you for a job. Thank a long time friend for all they’ve meant to you over the years. Thank your spouse for all the little things they do to make your family work. Thank a small business owner who always goes the extra mile. Thank a coach whose instruction you didn’t appreciate until you were older. Thank a mentor who has always listened during tough times. Thank a pastor who was a comfort in the midst of a storm. Or just thank your parents for raising you right.

Leadership that Lasts

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In a world of never-ending corporate sell-offs, sports organization shake-ups, constant political jockeying, and increasing religious in-fighting are we losing sight of the importance of Leadership that Lasts?

I’ve been reading my dad’s book, The Resilient Pastor, and came across a quote this morning that got me thinking about the staying power of leadership in our culture today. He says,

“In life and leadership, it is not so much about the beginning as the finishing. Many begin well; too few finish well.”

I’m not a pastor and I’m not reading my dad’s book just to be a good son. What I’ve found as I’ve worked through his practical ideas for pastors to put into place in their lives to weather the storms of leading a church is that if I replace the word “pastor” with “leader” throughout the book, the lessons and guidance are universally applicable. The fact of the matter is that today’s leaders – in business, in politics, in sports, AND in the church, are facing some serious challenges to their ability to LAST for long periods of leadership. While the details that create these challenges might be different, the core factors are the same:

1) Leaders are often unprepared or underprepared for the challenges of being THE LEADER.

2) Leaders often have a weak or faulty personal foundation.

3) Leaders succumb to unrealistic or false self expectations and try to take short cuts to meet them.

4) Organizations fail to support and encourage leaders through periods of challenge which limits a leaders’ willingness to take risk.

5) We, as a culture, have become enamored with brevity in our communication, our patience, and our view of change, expecting organizational change and growth to happen in that same brief cycle.

As I look at my own life, I see places where I have fallen victim to these challenges myself.

I look back on my hopes and dreams from just 10 years ago and I am thankful that I wasn’t thrust into more visible leadership roles. It is only with the gift of time that I can look back and recognize that I didn’t have the foundation that would have made me a great leader at 30. While I do believe my foundation is still being built at 40, I also know that I am much more prepared today for formal leadership than I was 10 years ago.

In much the same way, my own leadership ability has been shaped and strengthened by personal challenges. Having kids, buying and selling homes, working through marital struggles, persevering during lean financial times, and sorting through my own personal strengths and weaknesses has made me a more stable person with a stronger personal foundation. By going through those things I’ve been able to put solid bricks into that foundation.

It is the mark of a successful leader to be driven to succeed in their chosen field. What I have recognized, however, is that I can’t do it all. I was having a laugh a few weeks ago with a good friend of mine who has taken a position that I used to have. I was sharing with him some of the stupid things I used to do in that position because I thought I could, and should, do it all. Staying at the office at all hours of the night to put together a scorecard for the next game because I had sold it that way seemed like the right thing to do at the time. In my mind, I was being a good leader by making sure that our organization did what we told the sponsor we were going to do. As I think back on that now, it seems so silly. The only reason I put those unrealistic expectations on myself was because of immaturity. Thankfully, my friend is older and wiser than I was when I had the position and understands that if you’re majoring in the minor details as a leader, you’d better look at how you’re doing things because that is a recipe for burn out.

I’ve also been a victim of organizational management that created an environment of fear for its leaders. It is important for any organization – business, political, sports, religious to remember that expectations that you STATE and the actions that you TAKE have to be in sync. A few years back I was handed the reigns of a failing, dis-functional sales organization and told to rebuild it for long term success. Too often in both sports and business, the initial expectations that we lay out for our leaders quickly change to “Just win baby,” and that is what happened to us. As soon as the organization saw early positive results from the first phases of my re-building, the expectations shifted to setting sales records. The plan was derailed because the team wasn’t stable enough yet for that kind of pressure and we ultimately failed. My confidence as a leader was shattered.

Last, but not least, I’m guilty of not taking a long view. If you look back at the picture accompanying this post, it illustrates what I’m TRYING to do in my leadership life now. That picture is of my dad and my daughter standing on the top of Stone Mountain, GA a few years ago. Just like in this picture, my dad has been holding the hand of young leaders as they go through periods of fear and excitement, looking out on their possibilities for over 40 years. Before I was born, he was forming his own leadership foundation, making his mistakes, and faithfully leading where he was instead of worrying about what was next. It is my hope and prayer that I’ve reached a point in my life that I can start holding hands as well. I’m sure there will be times that I’ll have to run back to daddy for support when I get too close to the edge or have a scary stretch, but like my daughter in this picture, I’m going to keep my head up, looking at the long view of leadership and understanding that it isn’t so much about the beginning as it is the finishing.

Thanks dad for that great reminder today.