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.

December 6, 2018

Playing Well

“I would rather play well and lose than play poorly and win.”

– Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, 4-time Super Bowl champion

“There’s no such thing as a moral victory.”

– Just about every other coach

I was pondering the other day – again – what do you do when nothing seems to be going your way? Or when you’re completely outmatched before you take the field?

The current basketball team at one of my alma maters, Duke, is ranked in the top five and seems pretty solid. They opened the season by hammering then-number-one Kentucky and has played well in not only their wins but also their single loss.

On the flip side, the Stetson Hatters (what a great mascot) traveled to Durham last week with a 1-7 record, having lost seven straight. One ranking put them at 348th out of 353 college basketball teams.

Hardly a fair fight.

So I was pondering, what are you thinking if you’re Stetson? Sure, you want to win the game. You put your best plan in place and look to win the game, as Herm Edwards said. I never took the court, gridiron or diamond unless I thought I was going to win, although looking back, sometimes it was more delusion than confidence.

Winning is the point of keeping score. We never lost sight of that when I played college sports, or when I worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

But as you may have guessed, despite good intentions Stetson trailed 59-25 at half (including a 48-16 deficit at one point) on it’s way to losing by 64 points. Kind of had their hats handed to them, if you will.

Sounds a bit like a day I had last week.

So is there really no such thing as a moral victory? Is winning really the only thing?

I don’t think so.

Mike Young, the successful basketball coach at Wofford College, has an approach similar to Tony Dungy’s. Mike told me this fall that he doesn’t point the team toward particular fixed goals, but rather a standard based on several inquiries: Are we playing as well as we can? Are we growing and improving as individuals? As a team?

And finally, Did our performance this season demonstrate that we’d maximized our capabilities?

Sounds very similar to Tony Dungy. Tony measured his Colts teams not against other records in the league or even other Colts teams, but what were they capable of. His Super Bowl team was not nearly as talented as a couple of others that he had, but it maximized its potential by season’s end.

However, winning that championship wasn’t the measuring stick. Similar to that Super Bowl team, he had one team that exited in the first round of the playoffs that he felt was one of his most successful, since on paper it shouldn’t have been in the playoffs at all. It had maximized its potential.

We need to remember that. Every sales call won’t result in a sale. Every book won’t hit number one. (Unfortunately.) We won’t win every game.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re failures. Are we learning and growing? Better today than yesterday? That sales call may pay off later, or in some unexpected way. That book may deeply impact a few people.

Those are the measuring sticks we should be using.

Sure, we play to win the game. But as you do, remember that playing well and losing isn’t all bad, either.