“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
– Michael Jordan
I was never really a basketball fan. I played in the school yard and on neighborhood courts in my youth or as a young adult but basketball was never a sport I felt passionate about ever, nor even now. But there was a time in the early nineties when I noticed something special about the sport and one of it’s teams: the Chicago Bulls. It was one player - Micheal Jordan.
The guy had drive, focus, and all out consistent hard effort. These habits, combined with his talent and skill, have driven Jordan to become the center of the debate around who is the greatest basketball player of all time. It was these habits he executed everyday in practice and when playing games that not only made him great, but made almost every player on his team better. In fact, Michael Jordan was so good, that he forced his opponents to ‘play up’ which made even them better.
It is inarguable that without the positive daily habits, effective leadership, and consistent high effort of Michael Jordan, most of the Chicago Bull players of the nineties would not be looked at today as they are, nor would the Bulls have won six NBA championships.
Today these habits and traits in balance - skill, leadership, and high-effort - can be identified in great players across many different sports - most notably Tom Brady of the NFL's New England Patriots, Sydney Crosby of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, LeBron James of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, and Jose Altuve of MLB’s Houston Astros.
It’s clear that it’s takes a combination of skill, effort, leadership, and the right dose of plain old game intelligence to build championship winning teams - on and off the field, court, or ice. So how can we teach our kids this concept?
I know there’s this hidden taboo about driving our kids to win in sports. Yes, it is all about having fun and learning the game. But let’s be honest - we all want our kids to be successful. Winning, especially for our older kids, is one of many indicators used to define success. So, instead solely focusing on winning, rankings, and standings (....which often happens at ages way too young), let’s embrace how we can combine a winning mentality while still showing our kids how to really become better women and men through sports.
My wife and I are privileged to watch our two boys have fun playing a sport they love - ice hockey. It’s been nearly eight years since our boys, 12-year old JB and 11-year old AB, took the ice for the first time for countless practices and games. Since then, we’ve been to many tournaments and travel games all over the east coast including some in the best sports cities like New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, St Louis, Toronto, and Ottawa. We even had the amazing experience of watching our boys play on the same rink in Lake Placid where the USA Olympic Hockey team beat the Soviet Union, and ultimately Finland to win the gold medal in 1980.
All this has been great! But as last season was winding down, and as the current season picked up pace, I’ve seen both our boys grow an interest in things away from the ice. Acknowledging this change, I began to think about how I can show them the ways to connect effort and experiences in sports with competencies that carry-over to day-to-day life and to other interests. They both still love hockey, but my job now is to help them understand these connections and how they apply away from sports.
It was time I took a long look at my personal values to see what I can do to develop a specific purpose-driven statement that serves my boys in a way that helps them realize and develop positive habits and behaviors from what they do in sports. To do this I would have to really harness my skills and experience as a coach and business leader. I must mold those skills so that I could deliver the message with love and in a consistent way that made them understand that what they have been doing in sport is more that just a series of highly organized and scheduled playdates with 14 of their friends at the ice rink. I mean we’re paying quite a bit of money for a six-month long season of hockey; we’re not going to finish the season without picking up some effective behaviors.
I decided to think through and write down a list of comments or words I would want them to hear from me as they were about to play a game or head to practice. As I began to craft this list, I saw it grow to about forty or fifty comments. These all came from things I have actually said, wanted to say, wished I said, and comments my wife and I shared with each other as we frequently discuss the direction the boys may want to go with sports and life. After some deep searching on what of all these thoughts I had really meant, I landed on the six most common things that have come up in conversation with them this season.
Here are the six things I tell my boys before they get on the ice for any practice or game:
Sports can be a great way to keep kids focused on the actions and behaviors that create habits to help build success in life. Those six points above can be applied to everything our kids do - sports, schoolwork, community work, etc. We must look past our coaches and teachers alone to provide this guidance. It’s our job as parents to set the tone BEFORE our kids step on the field or into the classroom. If they learn this now, they will not need us to remind them when they’re older, when it’s too late.
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