I haven't been posting Jake's 'Thought for the Week' regularly because I know that many of those who read this blog already get his newsletter every week! But, I really wanted to post this one that he sent out yesterday to the families in his Kingdom Hoops program. I thought it offered some great insight for parents of children in athletics. I always pray that I won't be one of those 'crazy' parents yelling in the stands while my kids play sports! :) Youth sports can bring out the absolute WORST in people...I've seen it first hand....but I loved reading Jake's reflections here of how his own parents shaped and supported his athletic career positively....here are his thoughts:
I was thinking about basketball and the development of young people this week and I thought it might be beneficial for everyone if I gave some personal feedback from a slightly different perspective. I am going to share with all of you what I feel my parents did well in regards to guiding me during my athletic pursuits. Next week I am going to share the things I wish would have been different. In my opinion there is not a more important external factor of success for an athlete than how their parent’s guide them in the process. Obviously there are always examples where we can show the contrary to what I may describe below, but from my perspective these are the things my parents did best that helped me reach my goals on the basketball court and off.
Basketball was my thing not theirs. I am not sure I can make this statement any more clear. From the start of my basketball career in 3rd grade when I was just playing on eight foot hoops it was always my decision and my passion to play basketball. From the time I started pursuing athletics, which included both basketball and baseball, my Dad always said, “Son this is your thing, and your Mother and I will always do whatever necessary to provide you the opportunities you desire. However, if we are going to provide the necessary resources for you to pursue your goals we will expect that you pursue it with excellence. If we ever feel that you are not providing the effort necessary to reach your goals then we will not provide the necessary resources for you to continue to pursue a particular activity.” Other than that simple advice it was always my dream, my adventure, my passion and never theirs.
My Dad was always honest - he never sugar coated things. My Dad was probably the most honest person I have ever met. He never sugar coated things just to make me feel good, but yet never offered an opinion unless I asked for it in some way. Here is one example I will never forget: I was in the 5th grade and we were in the finals of a league that our team participated in. I got fouled with 3 seconds left in the game and we were down one point. I missed both free throws and we lost the league championship. I was crying in the car on the way home and he brought down the rear view mirror in order to look at me. He then went on to ask me one simple question. He said, “Why are you crying?” In my mind I wondered if he had even been at the game. He proceeded to ask the most important question of my young basketball career. He said, “How many free throws have you shot over the past six months?” Well the answer was simple, as it was none except when it was mandatory at the end of practice. I gave him my answer and his reply was, “You can’t be upset about not accomplishing something when you have first not put in the time to accomplish it.” His response was simple and shaped my dedication towards excellence for the rest of my basketball career. I have a ton of examples like this one, but this particular one should give everyone the idea of the honesty I was parented with.
I always had two choices: Quit or Work Harder. This one is simple. Whenever I complained, became frustrated, didn’t think something was fair, or wanted a different role on a team my Dad would state the following, “You can quit or you can work harder and that choice is completely yours. However if you quit you won’t play on a different team until next year.” He taught me that complaining and discontentment was always going to be there as an athlete and it would ultimately be in my hands to work harder in order to overcome the adversity I was facing.
It was always my responsibility to talk with the coach not theirs. In my fourteen year basketball career my Dad only spoke to one of my coaches twice and both times I was included in the meeting. The first time was when my high school coach called my Dad and I in for a meeting notifying us that he was moving me up to varsity as an 8th grader. The other time was at 14U AAU Nationals. My Dad and I asked to go to dinner with my AAU Coach to discuss what things I was going to have to do in order to play college basketball. My coach was Mark Wilson - one of the all-time great point guards at the University of Minnesota. That conversation at AAU Nationals did more to shape my career than any other single event. Other than those two instances it was always my responsibility to talk with the coach. If I did not have enough courage to set up a meeting then the problem was not big enough to bring to a coach.
My parents let me grow up despite it scaring the daylights out of me. Oh gosh where do I even begin. I guess two stories pop into my head right away. I was entering the 7th grade and I came running home from school one day telling my parents all about the Five Star All American camp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I told him how all the best players were going to be there and that I knew I could compete at that level. Two months later during the middle of June I was on my way to Pittsburgh. My Dad brought me to the airport and walked me to the security check-in. He gave me a handshake and told me to go to gate 4, get on the plane when they call my seat section, and then someone from Five Star basketball camp would pick me up at the baggage claim in Pittsburgh. I was scared out of my mind, but survived and ended up being selected for the All-Star team at the camp. My highlight of that camp was playing with Tyson Chandler in the All-Star game. He finished with 17 dunks during the game and was named MVP. Last year he was the starting center for the Dallas Mavericks. This was one of my first experiences learning how to navigate through this world without my parents by my side, and it was the start of developing an independence that helped me reach many of my goals.
The other great thing they did was when I entered high school and started playing 15U-17U basketball. The night before I was ready to head out for my first AAU high school tournament we had one of our famous family meetings at the dinner table. My Dad said, “Son, if you want to be great you will have to learn how to take care of your body. Moving forward your Mother and I will not travel with you to anymore spring/summer tournaments. You will ride in the team vans. You will need to learn to take care of your body - get the right amount of sleep, room with people who have different interests and cultures than you, and begin to develop independence for your own success. You can’t rely on your Mother and I to do this stuff for you the rest of your life, and if you ever go play college basketball you will need to learn to become responsible for taking care of yourself.” As always I was nervous, scared, and doubted his wisdom, but as I grew up it was that responsibility that they gave me that helped shape me and allowed me to reach many of my goals.
My Dad worked with me on the emotional and mental aspect of being a basketball player and left the skills, offenses, and defenses up to my coaches. Only on a very rare occasion would my Father ever give me a basketball suggestion, and if he did it was usually something very simple. He would maybe encourage me to hold my follow-through longer or do a better job being on balance. My Mom would just say make your free throws. They never talked about the offense, the coach, or any of my teammates. If I discussed any of those things in a negative way my life was probably on the line.
However, my Dad spent countless hours helping me on the mental aspect of being a great athlete. It could be the quotes that he stuck in my shoe before every varsity game for five years. It might have been the long rides home from a game after I lost my self-control which happened more times than not. He taught me how to think as leader and an athlete that strived for excellence. My parents left the coaching of the team and basketball related skills up to my coaches, but they took the responsibility of developing my leadership skills and emotional composure during difficult situations.
I could never hear my parents during a game. No matter what game I played or where we played I could never hear them during a game. My parents sat in the same spot for every varsity game. They sat in the upper row over in the corner. They would cheer and clap but they never coached me from the stands and never embarrassed me with the officials. I knew they were there at the game supporting me, but I never remember hearing them at a game. It allowed me to focus on what I needed to focus on no matter how much was on the line in any particular game.
They taught me what it meant to be great. The best lesson of greatness I ever received was prior to my eighth grade year. I was being recruited by every private high school in the St. Paul / Minneapolis area. I was trying to make up my mind of whether I would attend Tartan High School (which was my home public high school), Cretin Derham Hall, or St. Thomas Academy. I was wrestling with the decision because Tartan High School was coming off a 1-21 season and had not been to a state tournament in over 25 years and never won a state championship. Both St. Thomas and Cretin Derham Hall were both athletic powerhouses. One night my Dad knocked on my bedroom door and said, “I know you are struggling with this decision but great players make others great. If you really think you are going to be a great player then traditions and prior championships don’t matter. Great players create traditions and lead teams to championships.” I chose to attend Tartan High School. During my senior year we walked off the floor with a State Championship and Tartan High School went on to appear in the Minnesota High School State Tournament for 11 straight years.
They taught me the importance of failing. In other words they were never afraid to let me fail. They never protected or hovered over me. There were more nights than I could count that I went to bed crying, frustrated, discouraged, or even angry. Those moments taught me so much. They taught me how to bounce back. They taught me how not to quit in the face of adversity. They helped me grow, mature, and reach my goals. I always learned way more when I failed than I ever learned when I succeeded, and it was because my parents were not afraid to let me fail.
They taught me the importance of what a commitment meant. My word was my word. A commitment meant a journey together. It meant no matter how big the mountain was or how long we were in the valley I would be there with my teammates. My parents also never allowed me to forget where I started, or how I had gotten there, and who those people were in my life that helped me reach my goals. It was a great lesson that was taught to me over and over and over while I was growing up. It has helped sustain me through many difficult situations both in college and after when it would have been so easy to quit.
Those are just a few of the things that my parents did that had a huge impact on my journey as an athlete. Not everything was perfect and I will share those things next week. God blessed me with the passion and desire to pursue basketball and my parents did a great job of allowing me to pursue my goals at the highest level.
Have a great week!!