I’ve been taking my oldest son, Gavin, to the gym since the beginning of November. He’s 13-years old. He loves basketball but he’s undersized at 4’11”. He’s also under-powered. Truth is he’s never been a big fan of anything resembling hard work. His aspirations are aggressive: Become a starter, play college ball at MSU and possibly professional ball. BIG goals but a lack of commitment to the process I call doing hard things. I should also mention the class he’s coming up with is stacked with athletes and full of the usual school sport cliques…
Utilizing my trademark straight-forward approach to coaching: Gavin and I have had some very honest conversations this year. Each conversation has contained the following introduction: Gavin, what I am about to share is predicated upon my belief you still want to be a starter in high school, play at MSU and possibly professional ball. Before we begin, could you confirm this to be accurate. He confirmed. He seems to know what he wants. I proceeded to be direct, supportive and honest:
Gavin, I love you. You are my son. You are tremendously blessed with physical talents, intellect, and you’ve improved your overall game a ton this year. But we need to be honest. My love for you does not move you up the depth chart and it certainly will not win you a starting position. You have to be willing to do the work. That means you’re going to be forced to do hard things. There is no way around it. You have to do the things you avoid in order to get where you want to go. Or give up on it. At the mention of hard things he shifts uncomfortably and I’m pretty sure there was an eye roll. I dug in. Gavin, you are at the point of no return. I asked him if he would prefer I lie to him and keep the truth to myself. He said no. The honest talk continued. Gavin, you’re small right now. You might grow but you can’t sit around banking on it. You need to play bigger than your size. Also, stop telling everyone how small you are. Stop thinking about being small. THINK BIG. PLAY BIG. You have to get aggressive and stop being afraid to make a mistake. When you get the ball – DRIVE! He presents the usual objection – but I will get blocked Dad. I told him he was correct. Drive anyway. Draw the foul. Make something happen. Do you think doing nothing with the ball is going to draw positive attention? Control your destiny. He knew I was right.
Ok, Gavin, then here’s the bottom line: we’re going to talk about getting stronger and seizing opportunity. First, getting stronger. You need to go to the gym, you need to put in the time and do the work. You need to commit yourself to getting stronger physically and mentally. Going to the PIEF is fun. That’s why you do it. You have a routine, you are used to the routine and there’s nothing pushing you outside your comfort zone. Spending all of your time at the PIEF will be the death of your dream. Do you understand? He nodded. Do you want your dream to die? He shook his head. I will take you to the gym. I will show you what you have to do. But you have to do it. Do you understand? He told me he understood. Will you do the work? He nodded. It’s not going to be fun all the time. There will be fleeting moments when you start making progress but the weeks leading up to progress will hurt and not be fun. Do you understand. He nodded. Why do you want to do this? He referenced his basketball dreams. Ok then, we’ll go to the gym. If at any point you change your dreams just tell me and we can stop going to the gym… but as long as your goals remain unchanged – this is what we have to do. Do you understand? He nodded again. Second, you will have to seize your opportunity. People are going to doubt you. They’ve already pegged you a third-string kid. They want you to think you should be happy with your name on the roster and your butt on a chair. Are you ok with that? He shook his head. Well that’s where we’re at – this is how it works in school sports. Little clique groups form, they form their circle and if you fall outside that circle the only thing in the world that will change your fortune IS YOU – because in they’re minds they’ve already played your future forward 5 years and decided it. How much one-on-one coaching do you get at practice? I did not have him answer the question – I know the answer. Not much. He is treated like a kid who should just be happy to sit on the bench and get crap minutes when they’re up by 30-40 points. Gavin knows it too. In the middle of the season a travel team was formed from the team he was currently playing on. There was a secretive process of player selection. More ridiculous school sport-clique stuff. Coach wouldn’t even return my calls. Gavin found out about it through the other kids. He was on the outside of the circle. No explanation why. It hurt him but more importantly it pissed him off a little bit. We talked about it. I told him to get used to it – this is what people do. You have to create your opportunity. No one is going to do it for you. You can’t crawl in a corner and give up. You need to lean in and push back. I told him there would be no guarantees where any of this ends up but if he’s gonna go down – go down swinging.
That was a couple of months ago…
We drove home from the gym today and I asked Gavin some questions about his experience the past few months. I asked him to think back to the first time he walked in the gym and then think about today driving home… what has changed if anything? He told me he likes trying to do harder things now. When he first started going to the gym… he didn’t like doing hard stuff… it sucked. It hurt. He told me he wanted to quit. He continued and said his confidence has improved. He feels stronger. He can do things now he couldn’t even think about doing in November. Do you feel better about yourself. He shoots back “OH YEA”. He tells me a story about a time in practice recently when he was defending bigger players in the post and how this time when the kid tried to back him down he leaned in and pushed back. He successfully defended the play. A look of distinct satisfaction on his face. His face lights up a little more and he tells me about “his epiphany”. I listened. He tells me how one day a couple of weeks ago he was standing in front of the pull-up bar staring at it. He was thinking about how he can’t do any pull-ups. He said that’s when it hit him. If he wants to be a starter, if he wants to play at MSU and possibly professional ball… He looked directly over to me “I have to do hard things”. I have to push myself. If I can’t do pull-ups I need to figure out how to do pull-ups. He’s getting it. He’s taking responsibility for the work he must do.
In the beginning I was the mechanism pushing him when it hurt. Pushing him past boundaries. Now he’s doing it on his own. I keep an eye on him, watch his form and check in on his progress but I give him his space too. He needs to be alone with the work to be done – and do it himself. The goal is never to create a dependency… but an independency!
Going to the gym is about much more than building muscle and getting physically stronger. You will but there are other more important gains. You learn to work. You learn to apply consistent effort toward a gain in the future… You develop work ethic. At the gym it’s just you and weight. You push. You pull. You lift. It’s hard. There isn’t a lot of fun. It’s lonely. Just you and your thoughts. You develop an understanding of perseverance and through trial and error how to apply your force of will. Life lessons amongst a bunch of dumbbells – kinda ironic. But it works.
Everything before the picture (above) was written before my 44th birthday dinner and opening of gifts from the kids. After dinner Gavin gave me the card he had picked out himself. For as long as he’s been picking out cards for my birthday they’ve always been comical and funny… until this year. I have to admit I had a hard time reading it aloud to everyone because I was choked up. It’s probably not a surprise if I tell you I don’t cry a whole lot… ever. But this one struck nerve.
Raising men isn’t easy because the process begins while they’re boys. All the worry and concern about what it age appropriate, too harsh etc. When I really think about it this isn’t just about raising men… it extends to women, friends, family… everyone. It begins with caring. You need to care. Honesty. People aren’t too much a fan of direct feedback these days… and that’s in large part why we are where we are as a society and country. Rare is the person who wants to help people find their best version – and is willing to tell them the difficult things they need to hear in order to achieve it. We’re taught not to be direct and honest. We’re taught to provide “feedback sandwiches”, or in my world, “shit sandwiches”… compliments woven into critiques. I believe in this: Identify what the person wants. What do they really want? Figure it out. Help then assess and determine what they are doing well and what works. Openly identify what isn’t working, the liabilities. Develop a game-plan, based on what they told you they want, to achieve it. If at any time they change what they want – change the plan. But if the goal remains the same – stick to your guns and tell them what they need to do. Do not let them off the hook. It is the hardest and most loving thing you will ever do for someone… Don’t bullshit anyone… if it’s worthwhile it will probably require a lot of hard work. BE HONEST.
“KEEP PROVING EVERYBODY WRONG” – GAVIN
I asked him what it meant… because I really had no idea. He told me it was a reference to when people told us the Marji was a dumb idea and that no one would do it. I smiled and told him I remember. I looked at him and told him it’s his turn. At first he looked confused. KEEP PROVING EVERYBODY WRONG. He smiled. He gets it.
GET OUT THERE AND PROVE SOMEONE WRONG.
WHILE YOU’RE AT IT… PUNCH TODAY IN THE FACE.