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I suppose golf becomes selfish when we get so engaged with our own swing thoughts, our good shots, or our bad shots that we miss the relational part of the game. Normally, I watch The Golf Channel to learn how to hit a fairway bunker shot or to catch tournament highlights. To my surprise, I have become a big fan of David Feherty’s new show Feherty–a weekly opportunity for the sometimes crass, but clever CBS golf commentator to interview various characters in and out of the game. The show is not about golf, but about life–the joy and heartache that shadow any journey. Feherty is very open about his past and his struggles with addiction and as a result, his guests are seemingly more transparent. They know they are having a conversation with someone who doesn’t claim to have it all together.
When President Bill Clinton first sat down for the interview, Feherty’s first question was, So Mr. President I have to ask you, Why the hell are you here? (It’s hard to do it justice without the Irish accent). Like with any of his guests, Feherty made no effort to hide the fact that he felt very lucky to have the 42nd President on his show–a humble approach no doubt. During one segment, Clinton touched on this idea of humility as he reflected on some of his recent relief work in Africa. In particular, an observation he made about their culture’s unique way of greeting each other. He said, “The people there do not simply say, hello as they pass each other, but they say, I see you.” He went on to characterize this custom as the ultimate sign of dignity and respect–to really see someone–to notice them. How many people did I greet yesterday, but did not really notice? Too many.
What does it mean to view ordinary, everyday exchanges through a lens that suggests each person God puts in our path matters? This week I definitely needed a reminder to get over some of my own swing thoughts–maybe it’s idolizing wanting life to slow down, a failure to let go of work when I come home, or just too much focus on what I have to do next – needed a people thought.
I’m on a plane right now reflecting on my recent trip to Atlanta where I coached my 17 and under AAU team in the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions–a high profile venue for high school prospects to be seen by college coaches from across the country.
As I was driving the big white team van to one of the games, I was reminded that each of the 12 seventeen year olds behind me had unique personalities, strengths & weaknesses, and a different set of issues at home–that’s a lot of variables.
Have you ever had a member of your team that was just not into it? As we got closer to the gym that day, I looked in my rear view mirror and couldn’t help but notice one of my players (we’ll call him Desmond for now) with his head in his hands. He looked like he was about to go to sleep as all the other players seemed quite alert, fully in tune with the rap music that was blaring in the van (did that lyric just say what I think it said — how is this stuff on public radio?)
Then, we get to the gym–everyone is warming up, but Desmond. He is sitting on the bench as if he is waiting on his mom to bring him milk and cookies–he’s clearly not ready to play. As I’m sizing up the other team at center court, I’m thinking, “What is he doing over there?” There are 25 college coaches sitting against the wall trying to decide if they are going to give him or anyone else in this gym a scholarship–where is the sense of urgency!?”
Desmond averaged over 25 points a game in high school this past year, but during this particular game, he barely saw the floor because I believe that body language is contagious. Our team can’t afford to have a player on the floor who is too cool to communicate–too cool to call out a screen or yell, “I got weak side help–I got your help.” It’s a privilege to put on a uniform and as Coach Prosser always told us, “Playing time for me doesn’t work like Halloween; just because you put on a suit, that doesn’t mean you get candy. Desmond received very little candy that day.
After the game, I explained to my players that some of them needed to change their behavior. I went on to tell them that scouts/coaches are watching every move they make–how they carry themselves when they walk into the gym, how assertive they are during warmups, what they do when they get taken out of a game. Do they cheer, do they sulk (sulking = selfish), DO THEY STAY ENGAGED? No coach wants to recruit a player that can’t get out of his own head.
Some would say, “Alan, you have to cater to these kind of players and just deal with the fact that a player might be ‘unengaged’. The reality is that people/players have to be willing to change. They have to be willing to do something different (not for the sake of making me happy, but for the sake of THE TEAM). The next game Desmond rose to the occasion and changed his demeanor. He went in the game and played at a very high level, playing through his mistakes, communicating with his teammates, and making it very difficult for me to take him out of the game.
With two seconds to go, we were down 2–Desmond knocks down a cold-blooded 3 and we win the game.
We’re about to land–time to put away all portable electronics–anything with an on and off switch. I wish my players didn’t have an ‘off’ switch’ — I wish they could always be “on”.
But then if they were always “on” / if they were perfect, they wouldn’t need a coach. Where are we taking this conversation anyway?
Bottom line–sometimes we have to be willing to change for our teams even if change means doing something that is not natural or uncomfortable. Change is hard–so is coaching.