Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
I love sports. The competition, the environment, the team concept. The many life lessons that come from playing a game is something I have always enjoyed.
I specifically love the game of basketball. This love was fostered by my parents throughout our family as they taught us to enjoy both the simplicity and the complexity as well as the power and the grace. They shared with us their passion and love of the game and their competitiveness.
I became a student of the game early, spending time watching games and having my dad share his thoughts and perspectives. We would watch college and NBA games live and sometimes record them so we could review plays later. In those days it was Beta tapes and then VCRs! We didn’t have DVR and live playback like today.
Later, it would be my own games where we would hook up the camera to the TV when we got home from the games, and we would stay up late rewatching the game. We would review to see where I was successful and where I could improve from a teacher's perspective focused on growth.
Where I currently live, we have a Division II school, Missouri S&T, from which I graduated and since I am a basketball fan, I try to attend as many of the games as I can. Being a smaller school, you can build relationships with the coaching staff and players. The smaller gym size enables you to have great seats, in an intimate environment where you can engage and be part of the experience.
My sons have been ball boys and attended their camps. The youth organization I lead has been fortunate to be able to attend games, perform at halftime, attend practices, and have the players attend their practices. I would always have my teams attend the games, where we would sit directly behind the bench and observe how the skills, they worked on in practice translated to game situations. A few days after my father passed away, I attended the game and the Coach at the time, Jim Glash, came around the bench, up into the stands to share his condolences with me - as did all the young men who were getting ready to play the game.
At a recent game I attended, the Missouri S&T Miners were blowing out their opponent midway through the second half. These situations can always be challenging for a head coach when you are clearly the superior team. Does Coach Walker sit back, let his kids play and just get the game over with? Or does he continue to coach and focus on his team's development? Coach Bill Walker chose the latter.
On back-to-back trips on the defensive end, one of his players, a young promising freshman, was blasted by a high ball screen at mid-court. After the first screen, Coach Walker hollered out “call out the ball screens!” When the same thing happened on the next trip, Coach Walker jumped to his feet and awaited the change of possession so he could call a timeout.
With 7:20 left in the second half, his team leading 79-35, Coach Walker called the timeout and didn’t wait for his team to come to the bench. He met them at mid-court, turned to his bench and instructed them to gather around. The players didn’t need to hear Coach Walker’s voice to comprehend the intensity with which he was addressing them as it was emitted from his very being.
Coach Walker clearly and directly articulated the importance of being a member of a team. He reinforced that it is unacceptable to let a teammate get screened in such a manner and how, when you are part of a team, you are always looking out for the welfare of your teammates. He challenged them to talk with each other on the court, help your teammate learn and point out when behaviors need to change. He drove home the expectations he had for them as players and as young men and how anything less than that was unacceptable.
What I appreciated most about observing this event was that while he started with frustration, it quickly moved to intensity and passion. This transition moved to completion as he finished with teaching and motivation. His devotion and caring about the young men showed that regardless of the score, he was there to make an IMPACT. The 3 Pillars of Impact that I have written about before, Courage to Challenge, Expect Excellence and Empower Others were on full display.
The players have all been playing the game of basketball for over 10 years and calling out screens is something they all knew was important. But coaching is always needed, whether you are inexperienced or a veteran. Coach Walker could have let it slide and talked about it during film study but knew that his role as a coach is bigger than X’s and O’s but about development of young men. Coaching and being willing to be coached is essential to a person’s development Beyond Today.
Recently, my son’s high school basketball team suffered a crushing defeat to a conference foe. Even though we understood that this team was a better team on paper, you still hold out hope that your team will compete and make a good showing. It started out bad and only got worse. From the experiences of my older sons, I prepared my youngest son for the physical defense that was going to be played on him. I informed him that he would not get any calls and that they would be grabbing and holding him. I told him it would be physical, and he is going to have to play through it and control his frustration. Well, it was exactly what we expected, and I found myself commenting as such as I live streamed the game.
After the game, I decided to rewatch the film to see if it was as bad as I thought. To see why their guard would get calls while my son did not seem to get the same calls. Well, I would like to apologize for most of my complaints. Our fouls were definitely fouls and I could see why their fouls were not called. Our kids were reaching with their hands, instead of being physical with their chest. It became clear that their defensive position was better than ours and became understandable why the referees didn’t blow their whistle. Being open to the possibility that I could be wrong, allowed me to view the game from a different perspective. To acknowledge the Mental Models that existed and caused bias in how I viewed the situation.
After this game, we were able to identify ways to address the physical style of play. To fight away the hands to keep them from getting to his body. We looked at both ways to create space for separation but to also invade their space to initiate contact to either force a foul to be called or to ensure a higher probability of getting a good shot.
When reviewing film, it can be easier to start with the mistakes or failure points of a game. The assumption is that something went wrong or is broken and needs to be fixed. Instead of jumping to a solution, you first need to seek understanding so that the correct process can be put in place to address the situation.
It’s possible when you review a turnover that appeared to be a bad pass turned out to be the failure of a teammate to cut hard and get to the spot they were supposed to be at according to their offense. In football, wide receivers have timing patterns that are based upon how many steps the quarterbacks take in their drop and then release. The failure of the WR to make it to the spot cleanly or runs the wrong route can result in what looks to be an awfully thrown ball. But when you dig deeper, it may be that the defender did a great job to slow the receiver at the line of scrimmage. Or maybe another receiver did not run the correct route and so did not occupy a defender allowing them to provide coverage.
It shows that what is obvious at first glance, may be something different entirely once you get the opportunity to investigate. Instead of blaming the quarterback or wide receiver, you focus on the blocking scheme or reinforcing the routes of the other receivers necessary to get the teammate open. The reaction at the moment, may be in stark contrast to the action that is needed later to improve.
When you watch film of the steals you can see what worked either as a defensive scheme or anticipation by an individual. But do you watch film to identify the moments that you were unable to get the steal? Were you out of position? Was your stance too high? Was your teammate too close to their person instead of being in a position to help? Sharing this information with your team can help the individual improve but also the teammates and as a coach, your approach to planning and recognizing opportunities to slow down the opposing team
Instead of watching film to see the shots you made, see if there is a pattern to the shots you missed. Are you going a certain direction? Is it when you catch and shoot versus off the dribble? Was your shot rushed or did you have time to set your feet?
Instead of seeing the rebounds you gathered in, what about the rebounds you didn’t get? Watching film quickly reveals the difference between getting rebounds and going to get rebounds.
Do the assists come from the offensive system and the plays or are they coming from the player and their ability to see the pass and then make the pass? Ball movement is a vital aspect of the game and film can quickly show whether players can quickly move the ball or need to think first and cause the ball to stick, slowing the offense.
As a young athlete, it’s important to grow your game. As parents, we can help them grow, but we can’t grow for them. Reviewing film and assessing their game MUST be what they want to do because they are seeking growth. Because they are setting goals for themselves. We can’t live our lives through them but we can be there to guide them and help them understand the power of growth. Reinforcing the value of growth is what will help them reach their potential, Beyond Today.
It’s common practice for professional and even amateur coaches to review game film to identify areas of improvement for their players in both their individual movements as well as nuances of how the players interact together when facing another team. The higher the ranks you rise, the greater importance is placed on film study to improve your own play but also to learn the tendencies of your opponent.
When young players begin to watch film, they focus on watching to see themselves. To see what went right and to share their success with others. As a coach, it is one of the more difficult challenges to keep them focused on where they need to improve instead of using that time having fun & reveling in their glory. As a coach, you need to balance the need to improve, with keeping them engaged and motivated. To provide feedback in such a way as it is desirable and not as a criticism and a way to weaken their confidence.
Just like any learning opportunity, the power is in the question and how the player responds. Players should reflect on the questions and improve their ability to assess the situation and identify pathways forward. Why did that move work? What else could have you done? Where were your teammates? What did you see?
When I was much younger, my dad and I would spend hours reviewing games to look for areas of improvement and to learn more about how the game should be played. I have since enjoyed doing the same thing with my own kids which I feel is one of the reasons they have been recognized for having high basketball IQs. They didn’t just play the game but studied the game in an attempt to understand the best way to play.
What is interesting is that the biases you have in real time, still translate to film study. It’s evident when you see the Twitter posts after a big game and a questionable call is being fanatically supported and challenged depending upon the fan’s allegiance. When you don’t have any skin in the game, it is comical when you see the instant replay and quickly realize the bias of the fans. But what about when you are the fan?
In work and life, we have a tendency to make snap judgements as well due to our preconceived opinions. Our surroundings and life experiences shape our perspectives. You see the results of silos showing up as people look for reasons something failed. Our sales team blames manufacturing for not making a quality product. The manufacturing team blames R&D for not designing a good product. Then R&D blames sales for not providing clear requirements. Every group jumps to their reasoning based upon their own biases.
Outside of sports, film study is a little rarer. Instead, you review control charts and quality records in manufacturing. Programmers review code and perform desktop simulations. Finance departments perform audits. Teams across all industries use a Lessons Learned approach to breakdown situations to gain an understanding of what went right and what went wrong. Basically, the KSS of Keep doing, Stop doing and Start doing.
Performing a lesson learned process can help shed light on the real problems that exist that are creating some of the symptoms that people are clinging to that support their biases. A systematic problem-solving method allows you to peel back the onion, to dig deeper and get to some of the fundamental challenges. Performing a simple 5 Why, that keeps asking more questions quickly causes the biases to fall away and add clarity to the team.
Years ago, we experienced an increased scrap rate in production. Our intuition focused on operator error and the need for training. The corrective actions taken did help but not to the degree that was expected. So, we formed a problem-solving team to Peel the Onion. Digging deeper we were able to narrow down the problem statement and get beyond the symptoms. We were able to look at both the individuals and the processes with a critical eye. Knowing that we were only looking for the problem so we could correct it moving forward, there was a renewed openness and willingness to look more closely. Finding improvement areas and putting in corrections not only allowed us to eliminate the scrap, but it also enabled us to improve yield on other existing and future products as we built the improvements into new processes and included them in our Design Failure Modes.
Whether you are using film study in sports or a quality audit in manufacturing, taking the time to review past actions - not for the sake of the actions - for the benefits you gain from that review is what will allow you to improve Beyond Today.
I was sitting at my writing desk, reviewing notes I have on various blog topics. I had taken somewhat of a hiatus from writing my blog and have not been feeling the passion to make any movement until this morning. I quickly got into a groove with two separate but related posts flowing freely from my pen to my journal.
Feeling excitement and a renewed sense of purpose, I felt the need to go after some more topics. But as I reviewed the most recent list, none of them were speaking to me. Then I looked up and was lost in my thoughts as I stared at the framed picture above my desk.
The framed picture is actually a completed puzzle that my daughter had given me for Christmas two years ago and upon completion, we took it to get framed. I had been recovering old slides that were my parents and using a scanner, converting them to jpeg files. My daughter found the graininess of the picture with the random black spots fascinating, especially this one.
This photo is from the mid-60’s and was taken in Canada as my parents traveled from their home in Alaska to visit relatives in Missouri and Indiana. My dad is standing in the middle of the desolate highway, majestic mountains with a brilliant blue sky on the horizon. Surprisingly, he is wearing jeans in the picture instead of his typical dress slacks. But I am positive he is wearing his brown wingtips! With his short sleeve shirt unbuttoned and flapping in the breeze, you can imagine his thoughts as he is hoping to do justice in capturing this picturesque view that is before him.
Unlike today, he could not look at his screen to check the quality of the picture before snapping another one. Back then, he would have to wait until the film roll was finished and sent out for processing via mail. No, it wasn’t uploaded to the internet, but was sent using “snail mail” that could take 3 weeks or even longer considering we were in Alaska. Overnight parcel service did not exist back then!
When I had first converted the slide to a picture, it took me a while to consider who was taking the picture of my dad taking the picture. Well, of course it was my mom. Always behind the scenes to my dad and his dynamic personality. I have yet to find the picture that my dad was taking that day, but I can’t imagine it being nearly as perfect as the one my mom captured that day.
The next question I asked myself as I noticed the wide-open door of their station wagon, was where are the kids? From looking at other pictures that were in this case of slides, we know that my older three siblings were on this trip with estimated ages of 5, 4 and 2, so surely, they were close by. Maybe they were safely sitting on the edge of the road, dutifully obeying the instructions of my parents to not move and keep their hands to themselves. But more than likely they were either chasing each other in the middle of the highway or frolicking in the back of the station wagon, unrestrained just like when they were riding down the highway with no posted speed limits!
As my eyes left the picture on the wall and turned towards the journal to begin writing this blog, I thought about how difficult it is to put value on these types of trips. Especially a trip down memory lane that was made possible by a gift from my daughter, of a picture taken at a time before I was born but is a memory of the spirit of my mom and dad and the love that they shared for their family. That memory is now a legacy for my family of a trip that will last long Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.