February 27, 2020

Growth Requires Adversity

In the Spring of 1988, I was a freshman at Duke and immersed in the throes of a baseball campaign that saw us lose nineteen straight games on our way to a 10-37 record. (You know, if you take out the 19 then we were only 10-18, which really isn’t too bad…)

In the meantime, the Duke basketball team was having more success on the court than we were on the field. At least, until a dreadful late-season stretch of three straight losses that saw them drop from first place in the ACC to third and looking fourth square in the face with a final game against regular season champ North Carolina. The first two, losses to NC State and Georgia Tech, weren’t all that surprising, as both were solid teams. But those two were followed by a loss that allowed a dreadful Clemson team to climb out of the cellar.

Along with plenty of others, I wrote off the basketball team after those three losses, only to see them crush Carolina, win the ACC Tournament, then make a run to the Final Four before finally losing to eventual champion Kansas.

Eight straight wins at the most important time of the year after the three-loss swoon.

I was reminded of that long-ago reversal upon reading about Coach K’s recent comments following Duke’s loss to NC State the other day. Those comments, as captured by Ed Hardin in the Greensboro News & Record, contain a great deal of wisdom for sports and life.

“The game’s not over until you get feedback,” Coach K said. He went on to discuss the point of that feedback – learning and improving, and his strategy for doing so, starting with speaking to his team about attitude.

“Whenever there’s adversity, the single biggest gift that God has given you is attitude. You are in control of attitude. No one else. It’s on you.” Then, he said that there’s belief that springs from your attitude, and finally your belief leads to preparation and execution, which complete the cycle of improvement. 

IMG_1125

How we approach things mentally then allows us to put the sufficient effort and time into tackling what’s in front of us. And improving.

“You turn adversity of something that was bad into an opportunity that makes you better….Sometimes you need to get punched and knocked out. But then we get up, figure out why you got knocked out.”

Good stuff. Sometimes you need to get knocked out. Notice he didn’t say, “that stinks, but it’ll make us better.” No, an attitude that these challenges are good for our growth.

What do you know? Duke lost the next week to Wake Forest after these comments, a possibility Coach K entertained when he said that it was a cycle to be repeated as necessary. Knowing him, there’s a part of him that was pleased by the loss to Wake – another chance to grow.

Adversity leading to progress. Not in spite of adversity. Because of.

File that away for the next time life throws a punch. 

I will.

July 12, 2018

Belgium’s Red Devils

It’s true – I’ve been watching this year’s World Cup. Watching a lot of it. Of course, other than now knowing the term “set piece” and appreciating the cleanliness of the Japanese and Senegalese fans, I must confess to still not grasping the intricacies of the game.

But one thing is clear; teamwork is critical.

I was fascinated to see the comments of Roberto Martinez, the coach of Belgium’s team (the “Red Devils”), on the necessity of his squad to work as a unit. “Individual skills and talent are important, but in these tournaments, it’s absolutely necessary to play as a team,” he said. “The last thing you want at international football is to see a group of individuals hoping to get a result.”

So true, not only in international football, but also in other sports, as well as corporations and any team settings. A team is completely different than a group of individuals.

Three points jumped out at me from the comments of Martinez, who led Belgium to the Cup semifinals:

  1. They needed the right roster configuration. As the late (American) football coach Denny Green said, “I want the right players on the roster, not necessarily the best players.” Martinez, likewise, spoke of needing the right mix of attackers, defenders and others, even if that meant some of the players who “grab the headlines” didn’t make the team.
  2. That roster configuration included diversity for the benefits it brings. Youth and young blood bring “bravery and naivety,” but Martinez also sought the benefits that veterans who had played in high stakes international competitions brought. Tony Dungy tackled this with his first Buccaneers coaching staff, hiring the blunt, fiery Herm Edwards as his Assistant Head Coach to complement Tony’s soft-spoken approach. Neither needed to become something they weren’t, but both needed to appreciate the other.
  3. Belgium had to become a team that could handle adversity. And the only way to learn to handle it is to experience it. “We must become a team that can suffer when it’s needed to be a winning team….” Martinez explained.  It’s certainly no fun when it’s happening, but it’s a part of growth. For the Red Devils, or your team. As my friend Jon Gordon notes, maintaining a spirit of positivity helps us press on through bad times.

So as you work within your team – and teams are all around us, in our families, businesses, churches, sports teams, and organizations (including my wife’s Junior League!) – remember Martinez’ words of wisdom. At the end of the day, teams can accomplish more, but only if they are a team – not merely a collection of individuals.

NW