Monday, April 7, 2014

9 Lessons We Can Learn from the 2013 / 2014 Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Team

9 Lessons We Can Learn from the 2013 / 2014 Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Team

1.    Give New People Time
A year ago, seven key members of this year’s team were finishing up HIGH SCHOOL.   
Six months ago, they became the topic of conversation, not only around water coolers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but also on nationally syndicated sports talk radio and television shows.  A less than stellar regular season had KY fans (me included) up in arms with disappointment and prompted criticism and judgment…mostly in a negative way.
The story of this year’s team reminds us that everyone is “new”, at one time or another; whether in school, sports, or career, we’ve all been “the new person”.  These young men just happened to be “the new guys”, at the ages of 18 and 19, on one of the biggest sports stages in the world – Kentucky Basketball, the winningest basketball program in the history of the NCAA.
As it turns out, all they needed was time.  The maturation process happens at different rates, for different people…and this team showed us that sometimes, all new people need…is time…to develop and blossom into their full potential.  

2.    Team Trumps Talent

They were the most highly touted group of freshmen recruits in recent history.  Their collective talent-level far exceeded that of any other recruiting class and really any other team in NCAA Division 1 Basketball.  However, everyone – including each individual on the team, the coaching staff, and the fans – found out during the regular season that merely having the talent wasn’t nearly enough to win, consistently.

The now proverbial “tweaks” Coach Cal made down the stretch are getting a great deal of press.  Among the many tweaks was a paradigm shift, almost a transformation of each individual, moving away from “me” to more of what’s best for “the team”. 
It sounds so simple and anything but profound…but this team may have learned this valuable lesson at an early age, and in doing so reminds all of us of the same lesson.  Their season reminds us that unless talented people work together, focusing on the greater good of the team, the company, the organization, or the family…really, nobody wins.  When people work as a team, everyone wins.

3.    Make Your Free Throws

During the regular season, this Kentucky team shot a less than stellar free throw percentage – 68%.  In the tournament, however, the Cats shot a little better – 71%.  Though only a 3% improvement, they seemed to make them when they needed them, down the stretch in close games.  Unfortunately they just didn’t fall for the Cats in the final game.   
In basketball, free throws – those free shots, with nobody guarding you, with the clock stopped - can make or break the team’s ability to win games. 
We can all learn from this, regardless of our roles, in any industry.  Think about the equivalent to a free throw, in your business or life… What are the easy-to-capitalize-on things?  Whatever and wherever the low-hanging fruit is in our lives, when and if we execute, taking advantage of those easy opportunities, we’ll win the close “games” against our competition. 

4.    Have Fun & Enjoy The Ride

Early in the season, we saw Kentucky players grimacing at each other, wincing at officials, and sometimes even at their coaches.  It was pretty clear that nobody was having much fun at all.   
However, as this group of talented individuals transformed into a TEAM, Kentucky fans began to see alley oop dunks, Three-Point Goggles, Hi-Fives, smiles, jubilation, and celebration.  We saw guys having fun, celebrating when their teammates got a steal, made a great move, or hit a game-winning shot. 
Sure, it’s easier to have fun and truly enjoy life, when things are going well.  However, this team reminds us that things in life or even at work tend to improve once we start having a little fun.  When this team relaxed and just went out to play the game they love, with guys they’ve grown to love…everybody enjoyed the ride of their life.
This team reminds us all to simply relax…and play.  Their talent is basketball.  For others, it may be teaching; some people are great at math, while some people were born to sell or lead or speak or write…whatever it may be, when we simply relax and enjoy theride, doing what we do best, good things happen.

5.    Don’t Be Afraid to Miss

A few tough road losses, combined with a couple disappointing performances at home during the regular season left these Wildcats a bit timid, on offense.  Guys that could score, at will, a year ago, as the stars on their respective High School teams, were seemingly afraid to shoot the ball.   
In a game when the objective is to score more points than the opposing team (by shooting the ball into the hoop), it’s fairly imperative that basketball players SHOOT THE BASKETBALL. 
Another one of Coach Cal’s “tweaks”, down the stretch, was this idea of “don’t be afraid to miss a shot…”  Once players adopted that new mindset, we saw them become more aggressive, offensively.  They took shots they weren’t taking a few weeks prior.  Their energy-level sky rocketed, which somehow seemed to elevate their play…sometimes quite literally – with more dunks, more lobs, and more three-pointers. 
The best illustrations, of course, were Aaron Harrison’s heroics versus Louisville and again versus Michigan and yet again versus Wisconsin, launching deep, game-winning three-pointers late in all three games.
The lesson we can all learn is to be aggressive and go for it.  We shouldn’t be afraid to take chances, speaking up when the time and audience is right…as long as we do so in good conscience, respectfully.  We should apply for the job, ask for the responsibility, and make the tough call.  Don’t be afraid to miss…if it doesn’t work out, no problem.  We’ll get another shot at it.

6.    Listen to Leaders, not the Public 

After several losses that were never supposed to happen, these young men could have folded.   
Fans (again…me included), talking heads on ESPN, sports talk radio shows, and article after article criticized their play, their character, their skills, and their attitude.   
They didn’t listen to the public.  Instead they listened to their coaches…and the leaders among their peers.
We’re reminded that people will always talk.  People on our teams, our competitors, our enemies, our customers, clients, and Guests…everyone will have an opinion.  Today, with social media, people will likely share their opinions in public forums, online and otherwise. 
The Kentucky Wildcats taught us all a lesson this year in staying the course.  They showed us that despite public opinion, we should pay attention to the opportunities tomorrow holds instead of dwelling on yesterday’s failures.  That’s what Coach Cal instilled in this young team, and that’s what kept them in the NCAA tournament all the way to the end of the road.

7.    Know and Leverage Strengths

After a few false starts, this team seemed to find a groove late in the season…especially throughout this NCAA Tournament.   
They found their collective mojo when each individual became comfortable with ‘that thing’ they brought to the table. 
Whether it was Julius Randle’s or James Young’s ability to score almost at will, against any defender, at any time…or Dakari Johnson’s ability to rebound…or Alex Poythress’s ability to jump over people to score or block shots…or the Harrison twins’ ability to set the tone with their ball handling, passing, and/or outside shooting – the Wildcats, as a team, were at their best when guys played within themselves, exploiting their strengths.
This Kentucky team reminds us all of a sentiment my Dad’s high school basketball coach, “Doc” Murphy, used to teach – “…keep your passers pass’n and your shooters shoot’n…”

8.    Everybody Matters

We watched this team pull together down the stretch…from the guys on the bench to the ones on the floor.  Everybody had a role and everybody mattered.  We saw players like Marcus Lee, Jared Polson, and Dominique Hawkins step into games and contribute in important situations.   
Even when Willie Cauley-Stein got hurt, his teammates insisted that he wear a jersey and sit with them on the bench, because he brings a certain energy with his presence on and off the court. 
I also noticed something very cool.  In the tournament, I noticed Jon Hood, a senior from Madisonville, KY, on the bench.  His playing time this season drastically decreased because of all the talented freshmen, but he stayed engaged.  Here is a guy who used to clock significant minutes and actually has an NCAA championship ring, from the 2012 season.   
He could have easily disengaged and sat at the end of the bench daydreaming.  Instead, I saw him making sure Coach Cal and the rest of the staff had what they needed – from clip boards to information during timeouts.  He was the first person jumping to his feet when the team was making big plays and winning games.  He was also the first teammate to offer encouragement, picking his teammates up when they needed it.  Once, as the telecast was cutting away for a commercial I caught a quick glimpse if him literally drawing up a play on a clipboard.
This reminds us that we all make a difference…the choice is ours as to whether the difference we make is a positive one or negative one.  

9.    Win or Lose, We Learn and Grow

The significance of 9 Lessons is that this would have been the 9th National Championship in the history of Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball…if they won the game.
The beautiful thing about sports that translates to life, personally and professionally, is that we don’t have to ‘win the game’ in order to learn and grow… 
Winning is great, but it isn’t everything.  What we learn and ultimately share with others is what it’s all about – in sports and in life.
I love Kentucky Basketball more than most things on planet Earth.  The Big Blue Nation and I would have loved nothing more than to be celebrating that 9th championship today.   
However, let us pause and celebrate these sixteen special college kids on the 2013 / 2014 roster who became young men, on one of the biggest stages in sports.  I’m sure they learned a great deal about basketball and life, but they also taught us some lessons while they were at it.  And that’s special, no matter how old they are.
To Coach Cal and the Cats, thank you not only for another year of memorable, Kentucky basketball, but also some valuable life lessons we can all apply to our own lives at work and at home.  
 (…and review Lesson #6 on this list…keep looking up…don't hang your heads one proud not only for what you've accomplished this year, but also who you've become...)
Have a great day
...and until the first game of the 2014-2015 season, in 7 short months - Go Cats!

(...Ironically, one expert poll has the Cats ranked #6 in Pre-Season NCAA Basketball Rankings for 2014-2015.  #Thread )

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Compro-My's and Work

Compro-My’s and Work
You’re wasting my time.
This is a waste of my money.
I hope this doesn’t ruin my chances.
How is this possibly good for my career?
I shouldn’t have to share any of my stuff.

Toward the end of last year, my buddy, Brady, asked me what the most important lesson I learned in 2013 was.  Without hesitation, I told him the ability to compromise.  Not that I have mastered it…but just that I’d learned -- Without it, relationships at work and in life are impossible, and they won’t work.
We know that to compromise means giving up something of our own – our time, our money, our stuff, or our own interests – for something or someone beyond ourselves.  It sounds magical enough, but we’d all agree it’s often difficult to do.
The reality is – it takes real work. 
We’re born selfish.  From the time we’re first learning to walk and talk, it’s all about us.  It’s all about mine…mine…mine... That’s ok.  We’re human.  However, if we wake up each day only thinking about the person in the mirror, we’ll soon only have…that person in the mirror in our lives. 
Here’s where the work comes in...
The difference between selfishness and selflessness is often the gap that prevents two sides of any type of relationship – romantic or otherwise – from prospering.
The mental OneMoreStep worth taking is to make a conscious effort to let go of the ‘my’ tendencies, obsessing over my time, my money, my stuff, and/or my career… Simple, but not very easy...because this doesn’t just happen naturally.   
In fact, it’s unnatural to lead with a Compro-My’s attitude.  It’s a choice available to us, however, in every single situation.  Either we want to put in the effort necessary to make the relationship work, or we don't.   
When we choose to do the work…to Compro-My’s; our relationships change for the better; in most cases, for good.  Something also happens to that person in the mirror.  When we Compro-My’s, that person in the mirror is also changed for good. 
All it takes is a little work.  And that work is waiting for us, within the gap between selfishness and selflessness. 
So the difference in relationships that truly work and those that don’t work is often choosing to go OneMoreStep:
For the relationships that mean the most, Compromise.  It works.
Have a great day.