Lessons in Parenthood: The Martial Arts Experiment

When I was around junior high school age, my parents decided to enroll me in Judo because they thought it would be a good idea for my sister and I to learn how to defend ourselves. They chose Judo because it primarily focuses on throwing people, and less striking. The thought behind the idea of learning Judo was sound. Learn a martial art that will allow you to defend yourself if you have to, and not use the training to be the aggressor. The part that didn’t work was the timing of when to begin the journey.

The journey didn’t last long, maybe a few months to half a year. There were multiple reasons why it didn’t continue, starting with not knowing anyone else in class, none of my friends were into martial arts, and I played sports on multiple teams. But I would say that however short the experience was, it was beneficial.

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The journey starts with white.

Fast forward a few decades and martial arts is once again a subject for my family. But in this case it’s a decision that my wife and I have made for our two boys. We’ve decided to start them relatively young, and for the same reasons why my parents decided to start me years ago. We wanted the boys to know how to defend themselves if necessary, but also build some self-confidence. Having been at it for a good number of months now, we’ve also seen some other benefits.

The drills that the boys do have helped with their coordination, and due to the physical nature of the sport, it has helped them become more comfortable should people invade “their space”. I benefitted in a similar way after going through my short stint in Judo. I’ve seen this help them in other sports as well. They don’t necessarily look for contact, but instead more comfortable with it now.

Discipline and self-control should be preached and taught at all martial arts academies and dojo’s, and 5150 Martial Arts, the dojo my kids attend, it’s no different. They learn that fighting is the last resort.

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We study a mix of Karate, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Arnis.

Another valuable lesson they learn there is that they need to be ok with working or practicing with anyone. While there is a rank order, respect must be given to all regardless of belt color. They are taught that the students all learn and grow together as a team. It’s forced the boys to meet new people and make new friends.

All of these things are great, and I’m happy the kids are enjoying the martial arts experience. But I will say that one thing that has contributed to the continued interest is the involvement that my wife and I have. She and I also train at the same dojo, but started after our kids did. So yes, they outrank us.

I believe that it is the complete family involvement that will keep the interest in martial arts going for a long time. We talk about it, practice and train together, and encourage each other to climb the ranks. The lesson here is one that all parents know, but at times are tempted to brush aside. There’s nothing more valuable than time spent doing something as a family.

Quick Thoughts: True Friends Tell You What You Need To Hear

If I were to ask you to think about who your friends are, there’s a good chance you’d think about who you love hanging out with on weekends and having fun. You’d think about who you get along with the most, who you’re happy to be around.

But maybe you should also think about those people that brave the potentially uncomfortable and awkward situations to tell you what you need to hear, regardless of whether you want to hear it or not. Now granted, you have to trust that those people have your best interests at heart. But in the end, it’s the friends that are willing to give you the needed reality check that are the best.

Lessons in Parenting: Stop Overcoaching

The word “overcoach” is pretty self-explanatory. But Merriam-Webster defines it as “to coach someone to an excessive degree.” Basically it’s to give so much direction, that it doesn’t allow for any freedom of choice and learning. In some ways, it also takes all the fun out of things too, especially sports.

I am not a parent that yells at his kid from this sidelines during games. I’m also not a parent that yells at coaches during games either, or referees. As someone that has coached basketball at a competitive (but amateur level) I know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of an angry entitled parent. Good or bad, I believe parents should let coaches and referees do their job without interruption.

Instead, I am a parent that chooses to give my kids feedback after the games are done, or during halftime and breaks if they come over to see us. I do not yell or speak loudly for all to hear. The feedback I give my kids is spoken quietly, only for them to hear. It is never my intention to make a public example out of my children for all to see. But what I find myself doing though, is overloading my kids with excess feedback. Quietly, I’m overcoaching.

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As a parent, can you step away enough to let kids find love for the game themselves?

There is a fine line between overcoaching and not coaching enough, and for each kid that line is different. Kids shouldn’t be made to figure out how to play certain sports on their own, but they should be allowed to figure out if they enjoy playing it on their own.

It’s very easy to get competitive when your kids play sports. As parents, we should all admit that some part of us selfishly wants our kids to do well so that we look good. And for some, it’s a way to live vicariously through them if we weren’t good enough to play sports competitively.

At the end of the day, I can’t do anything about that volunteer dad coach that seems to think that recreational league, second grade basketball is the NBA finals. I really can’t complain since he’s the one helping out and I’m not. But what I can do better is keep the sport fun for my kids outside of the team, remove my excess expectations for them, and let them experience the game for themselves and learn to love it as I do.

And in the meantime, I’ll look for a different league with real coaches.

Could You Phone It In If You Had To?

Before you quickly answer this question, stop for a minute and think. In a perfect world, good paying jobs would be plentiful and expenses would be low, but that’s really not how it works is it? There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and/or a lifestyle that you want to keep, and for most of us, companies aren’t knocking at our door ready to throw gobs of money at us.

Hold up for a minute. Shouldn’t we all just take jobs that we like? Why sign up for a job you don’t like or want to do? Well first off, I don’t suppose many people willingly take jobs that they know they won’t like. Well maybe except former New York Knicks Team President, Phil Jackson. But don’t get me started on him, and that is my obligatory sports reference for this post.

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How long could you stand to be in a job you don’t like?

But in all seriousness, I don’t believe we take a job in something we don’t want to do unless we absolutely have to. Instead, what usually happens is that we’re “sold a false bill of goods” so to speak and the job isn’t what was advertised, or it came with complications that weren’t made known up front.

Also, sometimes jobs we want and would love to have don’t pay enough to cover the bills. I’ve seen people claim that they have the best jobs in the world, that they’re doing what they love and they wouldn’t have it any other way, but then they set up a GoFundMe to ask for help to pay their dental bills. How does that make sense?

If you have a job that pays your bills and allows you to survive, you would phone it in if you had to. And you know what, it’ll show.

As a manager, if you’re not in tune with your team members and you can’t see the signs, you risk losing your team. And talent will find a way to move on. Chances are that if someone on your team is phoning it in, that they’re also looking at options to leave.

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Managers, you have the ability to keep your employees from walking away.

“Josh Bersin of Deloitte believes the cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5–2.0x the employee’s annual salary.” (Huffington Post)

Managers play a key role in talent retention, as we know that most people quit managers, not jobs. “Unsurprisingly, the manager relationship is highly correlated with employee engagement”, says Jack Altman. People will stay in roles that might not be the best fit if they find their relationship with their manager to be positive.

In some cases, it could be best for both parties to move on from each other, but I would suspect that more often than not, simple, honest communication can prevent employee turnover. If anything, you might be able to find a better fit on another team, preventing them from leaving the company altogether and losing the talent completely.

Good Coaches (Managers) Develop Teams Of Players Instead Of Just Relying On One

As a father of 2 elementary school boys, I’m at my share of team sports games, especially basketball games. And as someone who has coached basketball at a competitive (but amateur) level, I enjoy talking to the coaches of my kid’s teams. What I’ve heard consistently is how the coaches feel the game should be fun, and how it’s more about the experience than winning or losing. But what I’ve experienced consistently is that when the games start, that philosophy gets thrown out the window.

At an early level, sports team’s coaches shouldn’t really care too much about the scoreboard. Their job is to make sure the kids have a fun learning experience so that they come back next season to play. That doesn’t mean that game scores shouldn’t be kept, I believe that it’s good to keep score and that there should be a winner and loser, but at an early age it’s more important to grow the players.

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Team members come at all skill levels, all should be developed to the best of their ability.

What usually happens on teams at such a young age is that there is at least one player that is heads and tails above the rest. And this player is going to be the primary reason why the team will be competitive at games. At this point the coach has a decision to make, use this dominant kid to score all the points, or train him or her to use their skills to get the others involved.

When there’s no score and it is practice time, a coach’s decision is pretty easy. There’s no game pressure, no screaming parents, no winner and loser. And all of the coaches have told me they believe in team ball. But once the game starts, a different story plays out.

You can beat a bad team if you have one good player that is simply just much better than everyone. But you can’t beat a team with average players if they all play together. And kids, like adults, get frustrated when they’re losing. And when they get frustrated, they get selfish. As a coach, if you don’t take control of the team and enforce teamwork, it’ll never happen. Players know when you say one thing but mean another.

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You can only rely on one player for so long, good teams rely on all players.

I’ll never forget those conversations after a game is done where the coach will tell me that my kid played well, but he hardly got the ball. My son has asked me why he doesn’t get the ball when he’s been told he’s played good defense and passed well. As someone who has coached teams, I will never undermine my kid’s coach, so I just tell him that there are other ways to have an effect on the game. And then I do practice with both of my kids at home.

If you’re coaching an elementary school basketball game and look to rack up the points, are you really there for the kids benefit or for your own?

My kids are fortunate to have parents that take an involved interest in their sports development. I am in no way under the delusion that either of them will be professional sports athletes, but we do want them to be the best that they can be in whatever sport they choose to play. But my point in saying this is that I know that there are parents that cannot be as involved in their kids sports as they’d like. And so it’s really on the coaches to develop the kids as best as they can. And that means it might be the difference between winning and losing a game.

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Invest in your player’s development, and chances are they’ll want to play for you again.

Before this season my son had a coach that encouraged the best player to get others involved, and while it might have been a frustrating experience at first for that player, the game results were proof that the strategy worked. Other players that were not as talented were able to step up in games and score points and help win games against better, balanced teams. And in the end, each kid got better.

To put this in context as a corporate professional employee, a good manager works to get their team in a position to best accomplish the team’s goals. Relying on one employee heavily over the others will let you achieve the small, immediate goals, but it won’t work for larger, bigger projects. Every team member must carry their weight, and if they cannot, the manager needs to be able to get them to a place where they can.

Develop teams of players and they will be back to play or work for you. Constantly rely on only one, and eventually you’ll be left alone.

Set Your Team Up For Success And Keep Them Motivated

Coaching basketball is something that I will always look back on fondly. As a coach it’s fun to come up with sets and plays that will help the team win games. But in order for those sets and plays to be successful, the players have to execute them properly. In the end, it all comes down to having the players buy into your plan, and motivating them to be better than their abilities.

Some of the best ways to keep players motivated is to give them ownership and responsibility for their roles on the team, and make sure that they’re in roles that are suited for them. You can, and should apply this same logic to business teams too.

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Giving team members ownership of their roles makes them invested in the success of the team.

The San Antonio Spurs are a world class professional basketball organization that consistently puts a championship level team on the court each year. Juggling talent and egos is no easy task, but the Spurs seem to have a handle on it and teams around the league look at the them as the standard for consistency and excellence.

Coach Gregg Popovich is at the center of the Spurs success, and while he will be the first to defer any praise to the players and the front office, it is Coach Popovich that the players want to play for. Coach Popovich “doesn’t give orders, he assigns responsibilities. And this is the ultimate sign of respect.” (GQ.com)

Giving responsibilities to the players gives them ownership, and this makes the player invested in the team. A personally invested team member will be more motivated to get the job done well as they have more of a personal connection to the job or role.

But allowing the players to take responsibility is only part of it, Coach Popovich “sizes [the players] up, accepts them for what they are, and entrusts them with the tasks suited to them.”

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Give your team roles that best suit their skillsets.

There are a couple of things to unpack here. First, the notion of assigning responsibilities to team members is different from assigning tasks. If all you do is assign your team members tasks, you are not giving them ownership for their roles. Instead, you’re just giving them ownership over the tasks, which gets old and dry really quickly. If you want to motivate your team, give your members ownership of their roles. As a leader, you can set the teams goals, and in some cases even the strategy, but by giving the team ownership of their roles they can set the tasks needed to accomplish the goals. This allows the team members to be invested in their roles and responsibilities.

Second, you need to fit jobs with the people that have the right skillset. Honestly, this should be the first thing to consider if you want your team to be successful. Do you have the right people to perform the tasks at hand? Finding the answer to this requires you to have conversations with your team members to see if they’re the right fit for the team and for what’s needed. There might not be a whole lot you can do right away if you find that someone on your team isn’t the right fit for what you need, but then consider how to make the best use of the skillset that person has. People are much more motivated when they’re doing something that can contribute positively to the team.

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Is your team frustrated and not motivated? Have a conversation with them and find out why.

Lastly, you have to be comfortable with your team taking responsibility for their roles and completing the tasks they need to complete to achieve the team’s goals. As a leader, that means taking a step back and letting your team do what they have to do. That doesn’t mean that you walk away from the group and come back weeks later. You should still have constant communication with your team, you just don’t need to be a micro manager.

If you’re noticing that your team isn’t very motivated and it feels like morale is low, try taking a look at these three things and look for ways to change the status quo.

An Example Of What Makes Leaders Great

I love the game of basketball, as a fan, a player, and as a coach. I love being able to use the lessons that sports, more specifically basketball, has taught and apply them to other areas of life. Right now we’re able to witness some of the greatest coaches in action, and one of them is Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

For those of you that follow the National Basketball Association (NBA), Coach Popovich is a household name. He is a great strategist as a coach, building a consistent, championship contending team year after year. But he’s also been responsible for creating the culture for the Spurs organization, and the culture plays an important role in the building of his championship teams.

The Spurs and Gregg Popovich are great examples of leadership and team building is so many ways, but for right now I’d like to highlight this one example of how he dealt with his star player asking to be traded.

I sort of liken this situation to a disgruntled or unhappy employee looking for a new job. And when they’re unhappy, half of the time it’s because of the boss or manager, not necessarily the job or company.

In my experience, when an employee isn’t happy, there aren’t many managers that are willing to have multiple conversations with that employee and then step back and think about how they (as a manager) can change so that they can get the most out of that employee. But that’s exactly what Coach Popovich did.

Coach sat down with his player numerous times, had an open and honest conversation with him and came to the conclusion that the reason why the player wasn’t happy was because of bad coaching. Imagine that. A legendary coach, well respected throughout the league and beyond, admitting that bad coaching is what led to the players unhappiness and decline in productivity. When is the last time you’ve seen that happen in any other profession? Probably never. Or if it did happen, it wasn’t public and it certainly wasn’t made known to the employee it affected.

If you want to be a great leader and your team be willing to follow you and your direction, invest in your team, and remove your ego.