Leadership: Twelve Nervous, Sweaty Teammates. Obnoxious Fans. Two minutes.

This past week at a basketball tournament in the Peninsula I made my debut after 6 weeks on the DL due to an ankle sprain. The season is just getting underway, and it was our 2nd game of the season. We were clearly playing a better, more athletic team. And with not all our guys healthy, we got outplayed. Suprisingly, our opponents had tons of student fans (“6 man club”) making lots of noise and yelling un-repeatable things from the stands. For me, they must have known I had a torn ligiment in my ankle (“33 has a weak ankle, break his ankle!).

It’s halftime, we’re down by 10, but still have a shot to stay competitive. The coach says his bit, and now everyone turns to me and my co-captain for final words before we head back out to the court from the locker room. Before starting, I look at everyone. Some are dejected, some are pumped, some are just fidegty and nervous. We hear the ear-piercing loud rap music playing in the gym. The locker room is getting stuffy. This is the ultimate place to exude leadership. There is absolutely no pararellel to this situation in the business world. I know that each word I say and the inflexion of each word is critical.

I choose to harkon back on a theme I presented early on: “Everyone needs to give 100%. The scoreboard is not important now. We need to improve and get better each and every game this preseason. We cannot be scared. We need to take our man to the basket if we are getting pressured. We need to run our offense through and not get flustered when it breaks down. Everyone needs to play big, needs to play extra-aggressive. Crash the boards. Cut the margin to 5 by the end of the 3rd quarter. Let’s do this. We can do it.”

Then, I do something I wasn’t sure was a good idea did it anyway. I single out three players by name in front of the team who I didn’t think were working hard enough or who didn’t have their head in the game. People debated the next day whether this was an effective strategy. One of the players did indeed pick it up the second half. Another player didn’t, and asked after the game what specifically I was referring to. “Going 100%” is obviously up to interpretation.

I can’t talk anymore because I’ve lost my voice from yelling so much earlier. We break up and head back out. We ended up losing by a healthy margin but I was content with our effort and excited that I could make it back on the court.
The following game in the tournament I came down and severely sprained my other ankle, the very day my other ankle was finally close to 100%. Honestly, I’m pretty devastated. I anticipate I will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks and the season is starting. Words can’t express my anger and sadness. After all I just went through in rehab on my other ankle, to go through it all again is a huge, huge setback. I’m confident I will find a productive way to channel this anger, but for now, my emotions are overriding everything else.

2 comments on “Leadership: Twelve Nervous, Sweaty Teammates. Obnoxious Fans. Two minutes.
  • When I was in the hospital from bone cancer in my right leg, Tiger Woods sent me an encouraging letter to cheer me up. He said “Some days will be better than others, but keep persevering and you will get through those bad days.”

    Sure enough I did, I’ve been cancer free for about 3 years now. Perseverance is a character Tiger Woods needs on the golf course. It is what I needed to stay alive (and keep up in school…).

    I’m sure you will have little trouble adjusting to daily troubles, being a motivated person.

    Keep at it.

  • Sorry about your ankle.

    Tricky to do individual motivation in front of the team. I’d suggest that if you single out individuals for criticism, you also need to take the time to provide them with an individualized positive goal they can take out on the court with them, “Nick, we need your rebounding. Paul, we need your defense.”

    My preference is to state criticisms as a “we” and then to always end group/individual messages with a positive goal they can visualize and work towards as they head out to the game.

    I’d also focus on process rather than “5 point” result goals. For one thing, why limit your expected results. Also, it’s implicitly stating a lack of belief in your team’s ability to win. And what happens to your team’s morale if they don’t meet your established “5 point” expectation?

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