7 Lessons I Learned From Playing Sports

I began playing sports at an early age. It began with soccer and distance running and then expanded into football, baseball, and basketball. I even played tennis for awhile. In high school and college, I focused primarily on cross country running and basketball, and I still compete in marathons today. I have always loved being an athlete, and I have always been appreciative of the lessons I learned from playing sports. These lessons have served me well in all aspects of my life including business and being involved in my community.

Basketball on floor of empty basketball court

I am a firm believer that sports serve as a great analogy for life. Here are 7 lessons that I learned from playing sports:

  1. To Become Better vs Bitter – Throughout my games, tournaments, and competitions, I had both major successes and disappointing setbacks. There were times when things did not go my way or in our team’s favor and also moments of frustration with outside forces like the competition or referees. Throughout all of those moments of highs and lows, the one thing that has been reinforced over time in my heart and mind is to not allow past events to make me bitter. I see so many people who allow bitterness to spring up like a root in the flower bed of their lives, and it eventually grows into a damaging disruptive force preventing them from becoming the best that they can be. They become anchored to the past and continue on a downward spiral and blame others for their losses and disappointments having an adverse effect on other people in the process. The Bible warns about this in Hebrews 12:15 to not let a “root of bitterness grow up to trouble you, corrupting many” in the process. Instead of bitterness, we must process the disappointment, learn what we can from it, and move on to grow and become better from the experience. It always comes back to what you can do to positively impact your sphere of influence. Focus on what you can control and become better, not bitter.
  2. To Play Every Possession Until The Final Horn – I have written about this in other blog entries, but this principle was instilled in me at an early age as I was usually the one who guarded the best player on the other basketball team. I did not focus on the size, speed, or any other characteristic of the person I was guarding or team we were playing. I only focused on myself and my energy and effort in the process and strived to influence and lead my teammates to do the same. Through experience, I learned to focus on what I could do to make a difference never giving up in the process. If someone was better than me on a certain day or a team beat our team, I wanted to walk away knowing I had given 100% on that day for the entire game or competition. I also learned that I played better when I performed with energy and effort. My high school basketball coach encouraged us and sometimes exhorted us to hustle and “to be quick but not in a hurry,” quoting the great John Wooden and Dean Smith. In working with and coaching athletes as well as business leaders and teams, I have found that when they don’t bring energy and effort to their roles or tasks, they tend to go through the motions allowing complacency and a “good enough” attitude to permeate their performance. It also leads to being tight and stiff versus loose and free, which is where every person needs to be to perform at his or her best.
  3. To Always Make A Contribution – I was fortunate to have some really great coaches in the sports that I played, and they always emphasized this point in some form or fashion. They reinforced the fact that there is always something I could do to make a positive difference and impact. It provided me the space to always find a way to contribute, even on nights where my shot was not falling. Everyone can hustle, play great defense, communicate effectively with teammates, give their best, and bring a great attitude to their team and competitions.
  4. To Take Responsibility And Not Blame Others – In all of the sports I have played and watched, I have never seen an official, referee, or competition judge make 100% of the calls correctly. This principle translates to other areas of life where we feel like someone has done something to affect us or we don’t like what they are doing. As a competitor in sports and in life, I have learned that it does not serve me well to lament the bad (or perceived bad) calls. I also don’t want to waste my emotional energy on using that to blame others in the process or complain about my predicament. As a competitor or coach, I would seek explanation (and sometimes justice) about a call that I did not like and then move on. I knew that it would have a draining effect on me and my team if I generated a spirit of blaming versus channeling our energy in the right direction, which was engaging in and doing well on the next play. I also learned to take responsibility for the things that I did in terms of owning my mistakes and playing with a competitive dignity and demeanor that represented myself, my family, and my coach and team well.
  5. To Move Forward From The Past – Tyler Perry survived a treacherous journey as a child to become an incredibly successful entertainer, actor, director, producer, author, entrepreneur, and positive and powerful influencer! I love what he says in talking about the moments in his life: “If you begin to realize every moment in your life happened for the greater good of who you are…it can really elevate you and change your whole trajectory.” You must remember that every moment in your life – both good and bad – makes you the person that you are. You have to leverage and learn from your moments in order to build momentum in your life. You cannot dwell on or live in the past; you must learn from the past in order to engage fully in the life you have been given.
  6. To Be A Leader And A Great Teammate – Through both individual and team sports, I quickly learned the importance of leading yourself well through preparation, discipline, and effective habits. I also learned how to lead and influence others around a common goal and discover what inspires and motivates them to greatness. As Pat Riley, former NBA player and hall of fame coach and NBA executive pointed out in his book The Winner Within, a true team is the result of a great coach who has the “ability to blend the talents and strengths of individuals into a force that becomes stronger than the sum of its parts.” I have definitely applied this at home, at work, and in my community and have truly enjoyed both being a part of and leading great people and impactful teams.
  7. To Strive For Excellence – Sports taught me a valuable lesson about giving my best on and off the court, track, and field of play. When I realized that excellence was not perfection but was giving my best every day and fulfilling the calling and role that I had been given, it helped me release my fears and unleash my potential. It’s a journey, and there are many times when I fail and don’t achieve excellence in my life, but the goal is to strive for excellence in every area of my life on a daily basis.

Every day, you have a choice about how you process events in your life. I hope that these 7 lessons from sports can help you to think differently about some area of your life and to choose to focus your life on making a positive difference within your sphere of influence. It is very tempting to get so tangled up in the distractions of the day that we miss the opportunities that present themselves to us. Choose to be a leader of influence and impact leaving a positive legacy for the next generation and making your life count for what matters most!

Question: What lessons have you learned from playing sports? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Live Your Life With Excellence

“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967, six months before he was assassinated

Martin Luther King Tombstone

There are definitely more high profile quotes and speeches that are attributed to Dr. King, but I have always loved this speech that he gave to a group of Junior High students six months before he was killed. Can you imagine the impact on these students both on October 26, 1967, as well as the days following his death? And as we think about our own lives, our sphere of influence, and the opportunities we have been given, I believe there are at least 3 lessons we can draw from his impactful words to this classroom of students:

  • You Have A Unique Calling – Dr. King was trying to dramatically impart to these students that they were created for a specific purpose at a specific moment in time and that their lives did indeed matter. Sometimes, we get into a rut and foolishly believe that calling and gifts are for the special talents, forsaking the opportunity to make an impact right where we are. Whether on a high profile stage or platform or kneeling by a desk in a schoolroom or waiting in a carpool line to offer a smiling and encouraging face to your child after a day of school, your life does matter, and you have a unique calling and mission to carry out. If you don’t do it, who will?
  • Carry Out Your Mission With Excellence – Mediocrity is often the norm in school, in business, and in life. Dr. King was trying to impress upon these students the importance of doing your best. You don’t have to have the so-called “best” job to do your best. Every person plays a role in life. We are called to perform in that role to the best of our abilities. Every day, you have the opportunity to leave your mark of excellence on everything you do. How will you sign your name on today?
  • Leave A Legacy – In the speech, Dr. King references several people of excellence in their respective professions and then challenges the students to do what they are called to in that same manner of excellence. Each of the people he speaks about left a legacy, and he exhorts them to leave their own legacy, whether they will be in the limelight or just a street light. We often falsely believe that the only people who can leave a legacy are the rich and famous who have their names indelibly inked on a building, statue, or plaque. Each day, we have the opportunity to leave a legacy in the lives of people who matter most to us. Your legacy can be an invisible hand that permeates and penetrates generations to come.

Strive to be the best wherever you are and in whatever you do. Your calling is indeed a high calling that demands your life and your commitment!

Question: What other lessons do you draw from this speech and from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

Holding Patterns

A few years ago, I was traveling with my two oldest sons. We were returning from a visit to see their grandmother in my hometown. As we approached our final destination, I noticed that we seemed to be circling the airport but never making any significant movement toward a definitive landing. As we circled again for the fourth time, the captain came on the intercom and indicated what we all knew to be true – we were in a holding pattern, and we would not be landing for an indefinite period of time. He actually said, “We would be landing shortly,” but we sensed that shortly really meant “indefinite,” “inordinate,” and what seemed to be “infinite” and “indeterminable.” Seconds turned into minutes, and minutes turned into hours.

plane in the air

I began to think about holding patterns in my life. Are there ever times in our lives when we are in a holding pattern? The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines a holding pattern as “a state or period in which no progress or change is made or planned.” Many times a holding pattern in life involves inactivity toward a specific and productive goal or opportunity. We wait, hesitate, and circle again and again over our desired destination. All the while, the most important people in our lives wait impatiently for us to “land the plane,” take action, and make a positive impact. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt can breed indecision and patterns of inaction on our part. The inevitable consequence of remaining in a holding pattern is running out of fuel and crashing, never reaching our intended destination.

As we continued to circle for our destination for what seemed like the 20th time, my mind drifted to think about the moment I first jumped off the high dive. When I was a kid, there were two diving boards at the pool I visited – the low dive and the high dive. The low dive was safe and secure while the high dive was dangerous and doubtful. I often jumped off the low dive but never ventured too close to the perilous steps of the high dive.

Then, one momentous day, I found the courage to bravely climb the countless rungs of the “other” ladder. Do you remember this journey and the way your heart felt along the way? Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. Indecision about whether to take the next step. As I reached the apex of the high dive and peered over the end of the board into the pool, my legs felt like I was in cement firmly planted in a holding pattern that was not going to proceed at any point in the near future. As I thought about the moment, a kind voice behind me reassured me that I would be OK. I heard the sound of a female voice below encouraging me to jump. Instead of being trapped by fear and doubt, I decided to take the plunge and found it to be an exhilarating adventure. As I got out of the pool, I saw my mom cheering for me, and I ran to jump off the high dive again – this time allowing myself to enjoy the journey.

All of a sudden, my oldest son shook me out of my trance of holding patterns and high dives, and I heard another female voice.  This time, it was the flight attendant on the intercom indicating that we would be making our final descent into our desired destination.

plan on the ground at sunrise

Are you currently in a holding pattern in some area of your life? Are you struggling to make a decision or take some action that would benefit the people around you? Are you wondering about your purpose and calling, afraid to step out in faith and take the next step?

Don’t allow holding patterns to rob you of the breakthrough moments in your life.  Consider your calling, develop a plan, step out in faith, and enjoy the life God has given you!  In other words, LAND THE PLANE so that you can take the next step and act! Don’t just talk about all of the great things you are going to do and the impact you are going to make. Act now, and take the next step. I am sure you will have a crowd around you cheering you on and so appreciative that you finally broke out of your holding pattern!

Question: What is the biggest challenge that you face when it comes to breaking out of holding patterns in your life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Here Goes Nothing…Here Goes Everything

“Never got anywhere by running away.

Never learned anything without a mistake.

Never loved anyone by playing it safe.

It’s a long way down, but I’m here right now… so…”

“Here Goes,” Song by Bebo Norman

Something is waiting for you out there. In fact, it is waiting for all of us. The key question is not, “What is it?” The more relevant question for our lives is, “Will we embrace it and go for it?”

In Bebo Norman’s song “Here Goes,” he challenges us to reach and jump for the thing that so often eludes us – our purpose and daily calling in life. We become so sidetracked with things, activities, and accomplishments that we forget why we are here and what we were meant to do. We become comfortably numb. It is much easier to play it safe than to take a step into the unknown. It is much easier to try and control the script of our lives rather than to submit to the author and perfecter of our faith.

Imagine Signs

Each day you have a choice to embrace the unknown of your day. The reality is that no matter how well you plan for the events of your day, you don’t know what the moments will always bring. My encouragement and challenge to you is to connect to the calling of your life by doing the following:

  • Identify the roles you play – For me, I am a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, son, entrepreneur, leadership and life coach, communicator, consultant, author, and board member. If I don’t realize the roles that I play, I will never gain insight into the priorities of my life and can never expect to fulfill my purpose.
  • Define your responsibilities for each role – There are specific responsibilities as well as opportunities that are associated with each of the roles that you and I play. A responsibility for my role as a husband and father is to provide for my family. An opportunity is to invest in their character and to help them develop into the people they were meant to be. Sadly, many people only focus on the duties of the role forsaking the personal imprint and legacy they could leave through opportunities.
  • Discern your strengths and passions – Develop a list of strengths and a list of things you are passionate about. Invest time in yourself to understand the events and moments of your life so far and what you have learned about yourself as it relates to where you should go next. Leverage your strengths, and let passion fuel the journey.
  • Create a Life Plan and Execute Daily – If you don’t know where you are going, you will be drawn to anything that beckons for your attention. A life plan keeps you on course and helps you make the best decisions even in the midst of uncertainty. Through workshops and coaching, I work with people to create a MAP for their future and to develop a compass as a filter for making effective daily and weekly decisions about how they invest their time. Michael Hyatt has also written a great blog entry on how to create a life plan. I also highly recommend his book Living Forward on this same topic.

Will you join in the anthem of this song to embrace your destiny? Will you sing, “Here goes nothing, here goes everything.” with the chorus of your life? Consider the consequences of not engaging in the moments of your life:

“I don’t want to turn around and wonder what happened.

Never lost and never found are one in the same.” (“Here Goes,” Bebo Norman)

Question: What do you need to pursue boldly this year? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Be = Do

As a new year rolls around, I am struck with the image of many people rushing to write down a list. This list is often referred to as “New Year’s Resolutions,” “Annual Goals,” “Some Things I Might Accomplish This Year,” or “My Annual To-Do List.” Based on the words that are used and the commitment level of the individual, they might just have a good chance of accomplishing what they put to paper. Research indicates that you are 4 times more likely to accomplish something if you commit it to paper. The percentage increases when you articulate your written goals to someone who will help keep you accountable. The problem with most New Year’s Resolutions is that they are never written down. Yogi Berra once said, “A plan in your head isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” You have to think awhile about Yogi’s quotes to understand them.

Be=Do Image

One of the things I do as a personal coach to business executives and professional athletes is help them envision their dreams and accomplish their goals. We also work on their “to-do” list. During a time of personal reflection over the holidays, I have been thinking that I focus a lot on my own “to-do” list. We can get so wrapped up in obsessing over what we need to accomplish for that day, month, or year, that we lose sight of who we are becoming in the process. We focus more on our “to-do” list than our “to-be” list.

My challenge to you as well as myself is to focus on your “to-be” list in this upcoming year. As a word of warning, this process will take a lot of deep thought and some time of personal reflection. Some of you may not want to spend the time to go through this process, but, trust me, the return is well worth the investment. To develop your “to-be” list, you will need to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Who am I?
  • Who am I becoming?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • What values do I stand for?
  • What is most important to me?

These 5 questions can become the start to unleashing a freedom to discover who we really were intended to become. The answers to these questions can provide a passion to pursue the life we always dreamed of living. The sad part is that some of us never realize we have the freedom to ask ourselves these questions.

Once you go through this process, you will begin to develop your “to-be” list. My father-in-law often jokes about sitting back and celebrating his “IS-Ness.” The end result is not just to relax in a recliner and celebrate your “IS-Ness.” The result of this process is that your “to-do” list begins to flow out of your “to-be” list. The new math becomes BE = DO. Getting in touch with who we were created to be allows us to pursue the things we really should be doing. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.” I hope you become all of who you are in everything you do!