(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Setting the Bar Higher

Lately I have found myself saying the following: "If you set the bar low, many people will figure out ways to fall beneath it. If you set the bar high, you'll be amazed and how much people can accomplish." Perhaps that derives from John Wooden's, "If you aim for perfection, you'll achieve excellence," but I think that there's some truth to it.

I was working with my son on his overall basketball game, and he's worked hard on the form of his shot, and it's been great to see the improvement. The other day, I suggested that he work on his weaker hand. I asked him to go through a bunch of lefthanded layups, and it was very difficult for him. He had trouble putting the ball up consistently with his left hand. And, yes, he wanted at times to give up.

I got to thinking about people who learn foreign languages. While it's nice to be able to sit in a class room in the U.S., get taught a language and then go home and speak English and not reinforce it, we've all heard the stories of people getting some training on a foreign language and then going to live in a foreign country. They get immersed in everything -- and have no alternative but to learn more of the language in order to live life daily. So, gradually -- and probably with some tutoring -- they become proficient. Translated. . .

We kept going back to the gym, and day after day -- guess what -- my son's left hand got stronger in just one week. Why? Because he concentrated on it and he knows that to play against better competition he needs to develop both hands well. With that sense of urgency and focus, he not only showed improvement, but he looked forward to doing the drills and trying to improve daily. The alternative would be to tell him that he's terrific and doesn't need to change, but then, I think, that wouldn't be fair or honest. No, it's not because I want a superstar or delude myself that he'll be one, it's just about developing good habits, concentration and a sense of trying that understands that before you see gains, you have to put in the work to get there and, to use an overused phrase, you have to enjoy the journey.

So, each week when we coach our team, we set a brisk pace for the kids to keep up. We ask them to defend well, to protect the ball, to steal it and deflect it, to run the break where possible, find the open man and screen where there is an opportunity. We do not settle -- even in a rec league -- for telling them that it's okay whatever they do so long as they are out there. We challenge them a bit more, run plays, and tell them that if they focus on trying to improve, they will have every opportunity to do so.

I figured that I would share this tidbit because sometimes I need to remind myself of it. Emerson wrote that our chief want in life is to have someone push us to become something more, and let's take the opportunity -- with caring, encouragement and thought -- to help make each other -- each coach, each player -- better.


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