Thursday, August 28, 2014

Subtle Lesson in Leadership (VIDEO)

I attended a great professional basketball game on Tuesday night. It was the deciding Game 3 of the WNBA opening round, conference semifinal match up between the Eastern Conference's #1 seed, Atlanta Dream versus the #4 seeded Chicago Sky in Atlanta's Philips Arena.

The game included a classic individual match up pitting the Dream's leading scorer and two-time WNBA scoring champion, Angel McCoughtry, against last year's WNBA rookie of the year, Elena Delle Donne.

I expected a great game, but I did not expect a greater lesson in leadership in the Sky's 81-80 comeback victory over Atlanta to win their Eastern Conference semifinal series 2-1. The Dream had led by as many as 20 points and were up by 17 with just over 8 minutes left, at home, no less.

Turning Point

What all the news wire cover stories did not mention was the importance of an incident that, in hindsight, was the real turning point. Both stars struggled during the first half. As a team, Atlanta shot the ball well in the first quarter. Atlanta kept pouring it on in the second quarter and led by as many as 20 when Erika deSouza drove to the basket to give Atlanta a 44-24 lead with 5:46 left. The Dream was shooting 60% from the field and playing great team basketball.
The Sky looked beaten.  Delle Donne had scored only two points in the first quarter. Angel was doing a great job on her defensively.  The team was helping McCoughtry with stifling defense.  Delle Donne could have given up, she could have let frustration get to her; but, she persevered and scored an important 13 second-quarter points. She drilled a 3-pointer that cut lead to 52-41 just before halftime. A solid performance by the Sky's star, but her team was still behind. She showed great poise, grit and determination, but it wasn't looking like enough for an historic comeback.

However, lost in the Dream's big lead and forgotten by halftime, was an all too typical Angel McCoughtry meltdown near the end of the half.  Although McCoughtry had reportedly been displaying considerably more maturity this season, this was crunch time with playoff survival and advancement hanging in the balance.  With 3:20 left in the first half, McCoughtry was fouled by the Sky's Tamara Young, on a shot toward the basket. 

Young had been doing a great job of defending McCoughtry.  The Dream star had been frustrated by Young's physical, pesky defense.  McCoughtry got in Young's face and they had some words. The officials gave McCoughtry a technical foul for her troubles. McCoughtry's teammates, realizing that McCoughtry continued to talk to the referees, physically pulled her away from a second technical foul and automatic ejection. They realized that they needed their teammate to stay in the game and seal the win.

During the subsequent timeout, the entire Dream team surrounded McCoughtry to keep her cool and relaxed. Dream teammate DeSouza even resorted to rubbing McCoughtry's ears to keep her from flaring up again. Seemingly, it worked.  Despite the break in momentum, the Dream still led 72-55.  It seemed that the Dream had recovered.  

Delle Donne Sparks The Rally

Ever tenacious, though, Chicago scored seven straight points, including a three-point play from Delle Donne, to cut the margin to 10 points with 7:02 remaining. Sensing blood and following Delle Donne's lead, Chicago continued to attack and take advantage of Atlanta's increasingly poor shooting and passing. Still rallying, the Sky scored six straight points to complete a 14-2 run and trim the deficit even more to 74-69 with 4:27 left.

"We just got away from what we were doing so well," Dream coach Michael Cooper said. "We took some quick shots and bad shots and let it kind of get away from us." Without their poise nor the leadership of Angel McCoughtry, the Dream was in jeopardy of throwing away a clearly winnable game.  

It became clear that McCoughtry's tantrum had led to the entire Dream losing their team poise and focus. With the Dream looking for leadership, McCoughtry wasn't the same player who scored 39 points in the second game of the series in Chicago. On Tuesday night in Atlanta, she only shot 5-for-18 from the field and scored 17 points. Most tellingly, McCoughtry made one of eight shots in the cruicial fourth quarter. 

"I think we were playing to win," Dream player Sancho Lyttle said. "We just stopped executing, and all of a sudden it was a one-point lead and we wondered, 'How did that happen?'"

What happened was that the Dream's star player failed to accept the leadership challenge. She failed to keep her cool and deal with adversity. She failed to assert her will and lead the team to victory.   

Meanwhile, the quiet and poised Delle Donne hit a runner with 8.2 seconds left enabled the Sky to complete a 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback and beat the Dream by one point. The resilient Delle Donne posted a game-high point total on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor and 11-for-11 for the line. The 10 field goals matched her career high.  McCoughtry, who had drawn the defensive assignment to guard Della Donne, had been physical and somewhat effective, but Della Donne, kept her composure and continued work hard for her points.  

"We put the ball in her hands, and she made the plays," Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. 

"In the fourth quarter, they put the ball in my hands. The team trusted me," Delle Donne said.

The Comparison and the Future

By contrast, following a number of questionably poor shots after her meltdown, Dream forward Angel McCoughtry's attempt at a game-winning jumper from the right side bounced on the rim several times before falling away as the horn sounded.

"It was a resilient effort by my team," Chatman said. "They stayed the course, and when it got late, my star player stepped up."  The role model for that resilience was Delle Donne.  The difference was one point but the real difference was leadership. The Sky had it, the Dream didn't.

The Sky moves on and the Dream looks ahead after another season of disappointment.  Can Angel McCoughtry find maturity and develop the leadership that she and the Dream so desperately need?  Will Elena Delle Donne lead this #4 seed to a championship through grit and resilience?   


Excerpts from the Chicago Tribune and (August 27, 2014).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Po-ZZer: The Love of the Fame, not the Love of the Game

"Won't call no names cause that's not my job.  It just applies to whom it may concern.  You know who you are, but if you don't you never will."
 --Outkast, lyrics from "Mainstream." 

You all know the drill.  We live in a society of instant gratification.  We like swag.  We learn to posture and pose early. We have parents who have been brought up to believe that everybody deserves a medal just for showing up. You might even demand a medal even if you didn't show up. We perceive and expect success to happen overnight. We have few effective role models.  We never see all the hard work they did to achieve success. Often, those few role models we do have eventually, tragically, crash and burn. So, success seems sudden and short-lived and, thus, based on celebrity and fame.  Face time is important, substance isn't necessary.

We move and talk fast and often, perhaps to hide the lack of substance.  Sustainability and the long view doesn't matter.  The ice caps are melting anyway.  

A good buddy of mine talks about Po-ZZers.  Yes, that is how he spells it.  Po-ZZers are the guys who wear the t-shirts that have the slogans.  You know the slogans:  "Witness."  "Watch My Swag."  "We Are Gonna Shock the World."  "Shock and Awe."  As if the t-shirt is all they need to impress and intimidate. But, when it is time to perform, they don't, they can't.  They haven't earned the jersey, then just wear the t-shirt. Po-ZZers.

I get it.  If we work hard, it might not pay off.  The lizard brain rules.  Pleasure and satisfaction should be immediate.  I get how it should work.  But

However, success doesn't really work that way.  Excellence is achieved through repetition and the difficult and slow development of competence.  It takes time, it can be repetitious and tedious.  It's not exciting.  It's not fun.  The 10,000 hour rule is real.  What counts is the love of the game, not the love of the fame.  

Stanford University Psychologist Carol S. Dweck's 2006 book 'Mindset: The New Psychology of Success' focuses on the positive implications of what she calls a ‘growth mindset’ – the belief that success is determined by hard work. This contrasts with what she refers to as a ‘fixed mindset’ – the idea that talent is innate and there is nothing we can do to change it.
So, put the work in.  If not, it will show.  You will get embarrassed.  You can't  expect the outcome without going though the process. If you take the easy way when preparing,  it's probably because you haven't really seen anyone work hard to succeed or you don't really want the outcome.  You just want the attention that comes with being a Po-ZZer. 

So, do you just want attention or do you really want to win?  Do you want to achieve excellence?

Did you leave it all on the practice floor today?  Did you give it all you have?


Monday, August 04, 2014

Your Fitness Identity

All elite athletes and, the teams they play on, seek, refine and try to maintain an identity. The most successful are able to achieve greatness as a result of being successful in establishing and maintaining that identity.  Often, the difference between winning and losing is often a matter of the battle of identities.  A battle of strength and wills comes down to a battle of identities.  

This identity acts as a guide map that assists them to perform at the highest and most efficient level. It helps them stay on course and maximize focus.  It improves their ability to stick with their strategic vision as well as consistently make good decisions, even under the most stressful and extremely competitive conditions.

Even weekend warriors and other recreational athletes can benefit from developing an identity to help optimize performance.

For example, as an aging recreation athlete, I have had a more and more difficult time with physical conditioning, maintaining a healthy weight, and performing at a satisfying level.  I recently realized that despite my continued involvement with sports as a participant, fan, coach, and psychologist, that I had lost my identity as a fit individual.   

That lack of identity as a fit individual has greatly affected my performance as an athlete.  This crisis of identity contributed to a very subtle, but clear lack of vision that translated into an inconsistent workout schedule, sleep habits, and nutritional choices.  It also contributed to a unclear set of priorities and a lack of mindfulness in daily activities and behavior. 

It became easier and easier to believe that I lacked motivation and needed to find "it" fast.   What I really needed was to regain my fitness identity.   At this point in my life it is more important to have that fitness identity than to be an athlete, but without it I had no chance to continue to perform satisfactorily at any level (nor to regain any significant level of fitness).

My fitness identity serves as a basic component of a solid foundation on which "motivation" stands.  If I have a strong identity as a fit individual, motivation takes care of itself, because actions are not made up of micro-decisions that may or not connect with my mood or "motivation."  With a strong fitness identity, my actions flow and are consistent with my identity.  Conversely, without a fitness identity, I am leaving my actions to chance and a flow inconsistent with fitness.

Reconnecting with my fitness identity has quickly and dramatically affected my physical posture, my body language, energy level, and my exercise calendar.  It has also had an effect on the perceptions of friends and colleagues, who have noticed a difference.  Most importantly, I do not have to agonize about whether or not I am going to the gym..  I just go.  It is a part of my daily activities and I no longer put myself in a position to decide on a day-by-day basis.  It has affected my stress and relaxation level.  It has been a huge boost to my exercise routine in that it has affected the energy level that I bring to my workouts.

Fortunately, a majority of us had a strong fitness identity at one time (even if we have lost it). Youth is a natural source for a strong fitness identity.  However, some of us are not so lucky. A greater number of people in our digital, sedentary society, are no longer influenced, instructed, nor encouraged to develop a fitness identity early in life.  Many of us are not mentally or physically conditioned for a fitness identity.  It is much easier to develop a fitness identity as a child than it is to try as an adult to regain one.      

Do you have a fitness identity?  Have you lost touch with your fitness identity?  How helpful do you think it is to have a fitness identity?  What will you do to retain a fitness identity?