It was the 2007-08 basketball season, and I was going into my junior year at Emmanuel College. We had graduated five seniors from the previous year—a loaded team that not only won the most games in program history, but had also made the school’s first ever conference championship appearance. Riding that wave of success our head coach left, leaving myself and one other teammate as the two lone holdovers from the previous season. Needless to say, we knew the year was going to be an uphill climb. Not only did we lose so much, but here came a new coach and a group of freshmen who had no clue what it took to be successful at the college level.
In our first scrimmage of the year, we squared off against North Georgia and emotions began to run high. It had been a long preseason, and we were ready to compete against some fresh faces to see where we measured up. The ball is tipped to me to start the game, and it was on. I started a two-on-one fast break with one of our freshman, Chad Procurro, slightly trailing on the wing. I slowed down, drew the defender, and left my feet to finish at the rim. While in midair, I get a glimpse of Chad and see he is wide open. I drop off a behind-the-back pass for what I assume will be an uncontested lay-up. Unfortunately, Chad fumbles the pass, and it goes out of bounds.
As coach urged me to finish the play, I get lost in the heat of the moment and yell at the top of my lungs, “CATCH THE BALL!” When I yelled you would have thought we were playing in a library. The gym fell deafly silent, and everyone had their eyes on me.
At that point, my coach’s demeanor quickly changed too. He wasn’t mad at Chad; Chad was just a freshman. No, he was upset with me for how I responded to a mistake that even the most seasoned players will make from time to time.
Later on, I realized my outburst wasn’t coaching Chad. Rather I was punishing him through expressing frustration and not giving encouragement. I didn’t make him better in that moment. In fact, I probably scared this young freshman and potentially erased any progress he had made to that point. All from three simple words from an inexperienced leader.
After that game coach pulled me aside and gave me three nuggets that changed the way I have approached leadership. I hope they can have the same impact on your leadership game as they did mine.
1. Don’t yell when a whisper will do
Every teammate is different, and you have to know when to provide coaching versus when to provide criticism. Some of your teammates will want you to be direct, while others will need you to use a softer approach. Be conscious of when, where, how, and to whom you are giving coaching.
2. Leaders eat last
I was told to set the table for the guys around me before I set it for myself. For me that meant making sure my teammates were comfortable on and off the court. Be a teammate or coach who is always trying to find ways to serve your teammates/players and put their needs ahead of yours.
This is a simple—yet overlooked—action that can take your leadership to the next level. Show your teammates you care through your words, actions, and commitment. Invest time in getting to know them. Invest time in your craft. Invest time in your growth.
While I can’t guarantee that these three things will immediately transform you into the best leader to ever walk to face of the Earth; they will help you will be a better leader today than you were yesterday. Let your teammates know you care about them. Run through a brick wall for the athlete next to you, and they will run through a brick wall for you in return.
THINK THE GAME
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