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Tough love

It's been a few weeks now and I've taken some time off from writing. I've been crazy busy but I am happy to be back, and have learned a bunch during this brief hiatus - a lot about myself, the game and life. It's amazing how the journey here can be one continuous learning experience if you allow it to be.


I've previously mentioned basketball and its life parallels. I'm not sure where this is going to go, but I also know exactly where this is going... so just bare with me!


I love basketball, I always have and I know a lot who feel the same way. Whether it was/is your outlet, your safe place, your pure enjoyment like it was mine... it's hard not to love. It's smooth, rhythmic and, as Ray Allen once quoted, it's like poetry in motion. It's special when players buy into culture and embody it. It's special when coaches hold their players to a high standard and push them, and players respond. It's special when that ball moves, when the bodies move, when the communication is clear, when you win, the warm embraces, the connectivity, the life long relationships. All of it.


But so are the tough conversations. And as coaches, we're lucky that's a positive in our line of work. and I mean BEING a coach...Like, actually being one. Not just adopting the moniker, but living up to it. Being a true coach of a competitive sport gives you great perspective on life. Just the sheer nature of it - being on the sidelines, outside of the action, watching and analyzing- gives an objective point of view, which allows you to breakdown the totality of the game in front of you into segments; positives and negatives and where to attack weaknesses to improve. Personally, it has given me great perspective in many other areas in life off the court. And one of those is, in fact, having the tough conversations.


I'm an emotional guy. I'm fiery, passionate and when it comes to coaching, I'm obsessive. Sorry, wifey. When I got my first head coaching job, my AD said I need to cool down, to be patient, to not go in hooting and hollering... all before my first day. I agreed with her wholeheartedly, told her I was playing the long game. But then I did it anyways. I told her yes and knowingly did something else. You know, like a lie. Passion is part of who I am and I'm not sorry for that. I held our program to a high standard when we had no reason to. I love my players, my friends, my family. It's how I was raised. But there are certain situations, certain distinctions that are difficult to deal with, where there's a gray area- The tough conversations. The ones where you have the option to hold back because you don't want to hurt their feelings, or you might know their reaction. Usually, those tough convo's are centered around some of the other topics we've hit in this blog - accountability, bad behavior, buy in. We can't be scared of hurting feelings, the fall out, or telling the truth if it means a better future or a higher ceiling. In fact, you're doing a disservice to your players if you hold back. Being brutally honest with them doesn't mean we don't love them. If you can tell someone you love that their bad behavior is detrimental, it actually means you DO love them, and you want what's best for them. It just means they're doing something that is limiting their, or their team's, future and you care enough to get them back on track...even if you ruffle some feathers. Some people tolerate bad behavior from the talented players, but I don't play that. Live up to the expectations for being part of the program, and anything else will get called out. It's that simple.


There's a part of us that is always willing to believe what we want to, rather than what we need to and delivering the point during the tough convo's mirrors that. Not everyone can score 25 a game, so how do you tell the role player they're not the star? How do you tell the person who points fingers that they're actually the problem and the one in need of a change in behavior? How do you get the person who is shedding responsibility to own up to their shortcomings? That information can be crushing. Especially because it's not what they want to hear. But it can also be liberating because it's what they need to hear. Their choice then on what to do with that information can make or break them or the team.


So, who is going to deliver the information? Like, directly drive the point home. Usually, people talk about it quietly. Have conversations with others about what needs to happen but have little action or follow through. I think no matter the situation- life, sport, or whatever...the tough conversations need to happen. And being a coach gives us the advantage on how to be objective. But, ignoring the poor behavior, allowing it to continue because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings, or because they're talented or whatever, will just allow poor behavior to tear down the team. At that point, you're helping them make bad choices on the false hope that they will change on their own. Unlikely...and this approach may blow up your current season or many in the future. It can cause chemistry issues, communication issues, can affect on court play, cause kids to transfer or a fall out from the people bought in who are directly impacted by the problem, among many other things.


But there is also another side to it: The greats WANT to be coached. If you don't want to be coached, you don't want to be great...plain and simple.Those striving to be their best want to be aware of bad habits, bad behavior and they look at constructive criticism as a way to attack weaknesses and grow. Similar to teaching in school or in life, if someone doesn't want to learn, no one can teach them. If someone does want to learn, no one can stop them.


So have the tough conversations. Show the tough love. You're better for it in the long run, as is the recipient of the information, even if it hurts them to hear it in the short term. Deliver the point home, repeatedly. Being a coach isn't just a nickname. It's living up to it. Call people on their bullshit and make sure everything they do is deliberately to help the organization, program, team or teammates...on or off the court.


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