It was frustrating to listen to my chiropractor. As I heard the cracks and pops of her adjusting my spine, I asked her how her son did this past weekend at basketball (both our sons play basketball, so it’s a common topic of our small talk.) She said, “they won, which is great; but I am not sure how much my son had to do with it.”
My first question was, “Why not?” Her reply, “Well, there are two kids on his team that are really good, and they do all the shooting.” My second question was, “How’s your son’s coach? How is he with your son?” “There are two coaches, and they’re the Dads of the two kids that do all the shooting on basket,” she replied.
Basically, from the likes of the direction of this conversation, you could deduce that my chiropractor’s son is not such a great basketball player — or at least he’s not as good as the team’s two dominant players.
My chiropractor knows that I am also a basketball coach (as well as baseball coach and professional coach). I told her about a player on my basketball team named Timmy (name changed to protect our player).
Timmy has asthma. When we make our players run to get them into good condition for our Saturday games, Timmy always stops courtside so his mom can administer his asthma medicine. His teammates keep running — most of them almost falling with exhaustion. I imagine they think it’s not fair that Timmy gets to stop. I also imagine that many of them think Timmy ranks at the bottom of our team’s depth chart. Timmy is not our best player. Timmy knows he is not our best player. Timmy’s mother told me he has a confidence problem. He doesn’t believe in himself.
Timmy, however, comes to practice and he always runs when we run as a team. Timmy always comes ready to play on gameday. Timmy is a player who most coaches would put in the game only for the two mandatory quarters that we are required to play a player.
I thought hard about Timmy recently, and his condition. I asked myself, “Isn’t Timmy working harder than all the other players”, because he has to work harder due of his condition. Timmy always shows up and he is always ready to play.
As Timmy’s coach, I decided to do “the opposite” of what most coaches (that want to win) would do. I put Timmy in the basketball game during the first quarter. Timmy was surprised. More importantly, Timmy’s teammates were surprised. And before the game, I looked Timmy in the eye and I said, “Timmy, you will start the game today, and you will play three quarters straight.” And instead of asking Timmy, “are you ready?;” I told him, “Timmy, we are starting you, and playing you three quarters straight, because we believe in you,” and I added, “you are going to be great today.” The look on Timmy’s face was a look of trepidation.
Timmy played the entire game. Timmy even surprised me. He had his best game of the season. Timmy was taking shots. Timmy had defenders all over him. Timmy was even fouled by the other team. Timmy took two shots from the foul line. He did fabulous. I was so happy for him. But, at the end of the game, I was really surprised. I was beaming with joy.
I asked this week’s outgoing team captain, “who should be captain next week?” We change captains each week. The current captain observes, who among his teammates exemplified and put-into-practice our team values; which are positivity, gratitude, empathy, sportsmanship, athleticism, and teambuilding. Our outgoing captain whispered in my ear, “Coach, Timmy should be captain next week.”
I imagine by Timmy’s performance, telling him he was “going to be great” and believing in him, changed his mindset. I am sure that Timmy’s teammate, who chose him as next week’s captain, had his mindset changed too. And, as you can see from this video of one captain presenting the “official captain armband” to his successor; we definitely changed the mindset of the rest of the team who were now thinking, I imagine, “Damn, Timmy made Captain!!!”
Our team, “ended the game with less points than the other team when the clock ran out.” That’s how I refer to our game when we lose. I never use the word “lose,” except when I say to them, “a team wins together, and a team loses together.”
The parents of most of our players did not look happy about the 41–12 score (we were 12.) The definition of coaching, however, does not deal with “winning games.” The definition of coaching is “unleashing or unlocking the potential of another human being,” according to Michael K. Simpson, author of the book, “Unlocking Potential: 7 Coaching Skills That Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations.” In our case, coaching represents unlocking (or unleashing) our players’ potential, and through them, our team’s potential.
To be able to unlock or unleash potential, you need to believe. You need to believe in people. You need to believe in Timmy, even more than Timmy believes in himself.
I am about to venture on a trip with my mentor and college Political Science professor, Dr. Greg Julian. We are heading to Iowa for the 2020 Iowa Caucuses, which will help decide the next President of the United States. As mentor and professor, Dr. Julian has always been remarkable. He has had a profound lifelong impact on all of his students (i.e. he was my professor more than 22-years ago; and we still get to talk by phone regularly and get together for trips like this one to Iowa.) I am not sure though if the impact that Dr. Julian has on people is called “mentoring” or “coaching” or both. I am sure, however, that Dr. Julian’s profound impact on people starts with him believing in the Timmys of the world. He always surprised me in college when I saw him inviting students (who no one else thought those students had the ability) to join our Model UN team.
As I have grown older, I have become certain that this — believing in students and seeing their potential –
is what Dr. Julian does so well. I am very sure that Dr. Julian is the one who taught me this value more than two-decades ago.
As for my chiropractor, after I told her the story of Timmy, she said, “My son needs a Coach like you!!!” I would say to her, everyone needs a Dr. Greg Julian in their life.