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Better Together: Celebrating/Investing In Potential

As a sports mentor, I have learned that sports can be a big indicator of a person's character. It has nothing to do with being the most talented or athletic but has everything to do with the person who puts in a solid performance, doing whatever it takes to get the team the "W"! Those are the people that I find are the ones who "get it" and will put in the work to get there. A several years ago I met a high school baller who made such an impression on me. We had a great conversation, but as life often does we lost a bit of contact when he went off to college. After a few years we reconnected and I was quickly reminded what impressed me about him. His killer drive and determination.

When it comes to Ironsharpening, one has to be aware of a couple things :

1. Their own need to be invested in. 

2. Those around them who want to be invested in. 

I can say that Kelly recognized both of those things. His desire to coach and mentor basketball players led him to reach out to me to talk about next steps. Kelly knew that playing D1 college basketball wasn't in the cards for him, but he had such an intense love of the game that he knew he wanted to teach the game. As a result, he worked his way through his undergraduate studies in less than four years, then landed a graduate assistantship at a D1 school with its basketball program and now is working with one of the NBA G-League teams. 

One of the things that a good mentor looks forward to is a person who not only has potential but has the drive to learn. Most to the guys I have mentored over the years all possessed that same quality,  always being willing to learn and not thinking you know it all. It boils down to walking with a level of humility and understanding that you can always improve.

Proverbs 1:7 says “ the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” I had a pastor that I worked for several years ago that said that if I were to become a success in ministry that I needed to always stay teachable. 

That is a tall order for most of us since we sometimes feel that we know all we need to know about the field that we are in. Whether it is sports or business or life, it isn’t easy to have someone tell us how to do something. I really can’t speak for you, but I know that I am always being made aware of the fact that I don’t know everything. It is a serious blow to my ego. I want to share with you a story about a time in my life where I thought I had it together, only to be shown something else.

It was my second year on staff with a church at the University of Illinois and I was in the midst of dealing with a serious addiction… basketball. You see, I am a recovering basketball addict who has to play all the time. During those years, it was easy for me to be “ballin” 7 days a week. I tell you, there was never a challenge that I didn’t take, especially if it was one-on-one. To me that is a true test to one’s hoop skills. You don’t have anyone to rely on but you, win or lose, there is no one else to blame or give credit to. I do have to confess that I am still dealing with that one, but I am doing much better thank you. Back to the story. That particular year I came off my summer break and as I began to play I found myself dropping games that I should not have, be it one on one or three on three or 5’s. Talk about frustration. Especially when this is happening against cats you should have no problem taking or at least they always seemed like you could.

I tried to find every excuse or reason as to why this was going on. Finally at the end of our IM season, I was scratching my head to figure out why this was happening. We had lost in the first round and I totally blamed myself for letting the team down. I had a sit down with my point guard who was a student of mine. He pointed out to me was that maybe there were some things I needed to work on that maybe I hadn’t thought about. That one went over really well with me. Here I am the teacher and the student is telling me that I need to learn something. He suggested that I work out with his roommate who I respected as a great baller. Bryan (name changed to protect the innocent) was about 10 years younger than me and to have him teaching me was not what I had in mind or what my ego wanted. Sometimes our pride has to be challenged in order to get us to learn some valuable lessons. This is a pattern that has repeated many times in my life. Someone once said that if you don’t study history, you are doomed to repeat it. Anyways, the issue for me was that somewhere I had started to believe my own press clippings and thought I had something. What I found out was that though I had some skills, there was a lot that I never learned and what I had been succeeding with was not going to work any longer. A good friend said to me 20 years ago, once you are satisfied with where you are, you are through. If you want evidence of that, just ask Team USA basketball a few years ago when they were getting schooled by Argentina or some of the European teams. For me, I’m constantly reminded through having to submit to people younger than me that I always have something to learn. The more I learn the more I find out what I don’t know. The verse I mentioned earlier from Proverbs 1:7 said “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” It is that last part that I want to point out. You see, I was that fool. The bible talks about pride coming before the fall, and the simple explanation is that your pride can lead you to someplace you don’t want to go. For you, are you still learning? Are you satisfied with where you are? I suspect that for all of us, there is one or two areas where we feel that we need to grow. The worst thing you can do is not pay attention to the warning signs before you get carried away and start messing things up that were seemingly in control. Whether it is your relationship with your significant other, your job, friends, relationship with God, you always need to approach things from the standpoint that you have more to learn. So before you have to learn the hard way, stop and ask yourself “Am I teachable”? Once you get to the point that you can answer yes, then go and submit yourself to someone who is where you are trying to go. You will be surprised at how much better you will become by taking to time to learn what you have never learned before.

Most successful people understand the balance between humility and confidence. One one hand you know you aren't all that but yet you have enough courage to not let anything stop you. In a recent talk, Kelly said it well as we were discussing what makes people successful. He said it's a mentality of "do what others can't and succeed doing it"

As a mentor, my part in that is having the ability to recognize the potential in a person. When I do, I not only want to celebrate them, I want to invest in them. There are way too many young people who simply want someone to see their potential and reach out to them. It's on you to step up and let that person know when they do well and encourage them to go farther in what they do. If the situation presents itself, make yourself available to them to meet.

As a young person who is looking to succeed, like Kelly fully understood, do what you do and do it well. As he put it " think outside the box and don't be afraid to stay out of it".  When you operate with that mentality and succeed, us mentor types are quick to recognize that. Now I will admit that sometimes we don't always make the first move, sometimes we are waiting on you to come at us. When you see someone who you admire and want to learn from, you should make the effort to reach out to them. Most people with the mentor/coach heart will respond.

What does that look like? It has many forms it can take depending on who you are and what you do. In our next post, I want dig a little deeper in the process of becoming “Better Together”.   It’s something we all want to do, but we don’t always know how to get there. I want to share from my own experiences how that looks and how it plays out in the lives of those we affect. 

Stay Forever Strong!



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