Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Will Choose Happiness

Located in a rural town in Missouri was a general store.  This was THE place in this small town...everyone picked up their groceries and supplies at this general store, the farmers would start there day with a cup of coffee here each morning and of course if you wanted to visit with other members of the community this was the place to be.  One morning a couple stopped by the general store just to check things out and started up a conversation with the clerk.  The husband said "my wife and I are looking to relocate...we'll be moving in the next few months and are considering moving to this town."  The clerk was excited and continued to carry on a conversation with the couple.  The gentleman went on "but just out of curiosity, before we make a decision can you tell me about your town...what's it like, how are the people in this community?"  The clerk paused for a second and said "well first, tell me about the town you're moving from and the people that live there."  The gentleman started to get emotional and said "we love the town we live in and it's going to be very difficult for us to leave.  The people are so friendly, everyone you meet is very helpful and willing to lend a hand.  Some of the best people you'd ever want to meet live in that town."  The clerk grinned and said "well sir you're gonna find that this town is just like that.  If you choose to move here you'll find that the residents of this town are just as friendly and outgoing."

A week went by and another couple, from out of town, strolled into the local general store.  The couple walked up to the clerk to strike up a conversation.  "What can I do for you" said the clerk.  The gentleman spoke up saying "my wife and I are looking to relocate...we'll be moving within a few months and we're considering moving to your town.  We're curious if you could tell us a little bit about your town and the people that live here."  The clerk looked at them said "first off, how 'bout you tell me about the town that you're moving from."  The man shifted around and said "honestly we cannot wait to move...we're very unhappy...the residents of our current town are very unfriendly, they're always in your business and gossiping, they never want to lend a hand to help and as a whole we really dislike the people in our current town."  The clerk hesitated for a second and said "well sir unfortunately I have to be honest you're probably going to find out that the people in our town are the same way."

This short story illustrates that it's up to us to either find happiness or to not find happiness.  I've tried very hard over the years to try and surround myself with good people...people that work hard, are positive and try to find the good in situations.  College basketball can be a very stressful profession and any coach will tell you that the losses, the injuries, the team issues (on the court or off the court) can get you down if you're not able to move past them and focus on the positives.  Instead of letting the disappointments take over we have to quickly resolve them and move forward as opposed to dwelling on them.  We can't just pretend a loss didn't happen or an issue within a team didn't exist, we have to recognize it and then try to correct the problem so that we as a program can move forward.

 I've been very open in saying that this past season was one of the most successful in women's basketball history here at Arkansas State.  One of the really good qualities of this team was its' ability to move past disappointments and "negatives" quickly and to focus on the opportunities that were in front of them.  This team was faced with one of the most difficult schedules in the country.  A non-conference schedule against teams from the SEC, the Big 10, the Pac 12, the Big 12 and two Top 25 opponents in Chattanooga and Florida Gulf Coast.  We were dealt some difficult losses including a disappointing loss at Colorado followed by one of the hardest practices I have ever put a team through the very next morning (at 8:00am) instead of spending the morning sightseeing (and our players handled it perfectly.
 
Our conference schedule had its' own challenges as well as we played our first 10 games in 24 days.  One stretch included flying to Boone, NC for a contest at Appalachian State on a Thursday (suffering a loss in the last few seconds)...busing early the next morning to Charlotte only to have a flight delay...arriving back in Jonesboro on Friday later than our Saturday's opponent (Texas State).  But never once did I hear any of our players complain, they simply accepted it and proceeded to knock off a very good Texas State by 20 points.  They didn't take time to dwell on all the bad or the negatives that surrounded that trip...instead they focused on the positives and the opportunity that was ahead of them.

You hear the term "culture" used often whether it be in the work place or in my line of work, athletic programs.  I am proud of the "culture" that has been established in our program and it is one of finding the "good" and not focusing on the "bad".  A culture of not worrying about what other Women's Basketball programs have... appreciating what we have, because we have it really, really good.  And not worrying even within our own athletic program about other teams and what they might have or not have.  We've been able to create a culture that appreciates and understands how good we have it at Arkansas State and focusing our energy on the things that are really important.  We are human and are just like the two couples in the story we can either choose happiness and find that daily or we can choose to not be happy and find that daily as well.  Me and my program are going to continue to focus on the good and choose to be happy.  And I am going to continue to surround myself with people that can see the good and see happiness and not constantly find the bad and unhappiness in every situation.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Loose Change

On Friday, November 1st I could hardly control my excitement when I arrived home to find the envelope I had been waiting for in my mailbox.  It was finally here . . . this year's Christmas Club check.  And it wasn't so much that the check had arrived, it was more about the anticipation of seeing how much interest I had accumulated throughout the year.  Drum roll please . . . $1.53.  Yes, I had accumulated a grand total of $1.53.

Now I know you're thinking really, $1.53 and you're excited about that.  Well it's not about the $1.53 it's more about how the amount came about. 

I have always had a habit of picking up "loose change".  Anytime I see a penny (or any other coin) on the ground I will always pick it up.  There's a good chance I will have neck problems some day because whenever I am outdoors running or walking I am always looking down and scanning the ground.   So on July 1, 1999 I decided to collect all the money that I picked up and keep it separate.  I was curious to see how much money I could find just laying around on the ground in a year's time.  From July 1, 1999 - June 30, 2000 I picked up $55.17 worth of change that had been discarded by other people.  Change that was not valuable to other people became important to me.  Since that time I have played this little game every year.  By 2011 I had finally collected enough found money to open up a savings account (Christmas Club).  I have keep my yearly findings separate and then on the 1st of July I deposit it in my ongoing savings account.  The grand total of money that I have found just laying around is now up to $341. 80 (over a 14 year period) including the interest of $1.53 that I received this year.  Think about it for a second, sure it's only $1.53, but I am drawing interest on "loose change" that I have found laying around.  This total consists of $29.96 that was found last year, it includes $30.41 that was picked up during 2007-2008, it includes an even $29 that was found during 2006-2007 and it also includes the lowest total ever found which was only $7.25 during the 2001-2002 "fiscal" year (and yes the term fiscal is said with a chuckle).

While finding "loose change" has become a game with me there is also a hidden message too.  The idea that I have found value in the little things that aren't important to others.  A penny here or a penny there to some people is meaningless.  But how many people wouldn't want to be handed $341.80. 

Tomorrow night we tip-off another basketball season here at Arkansas State.  I have used this analogy with teams in the past but the equivalent of "loose change" in basketball is diving for a loose ball, taking a charge, boxing out even if it allows a teammate to collect a rebound, deflecting a pass, sacrificing your body to save a ball inbounds . . . in other words those hustle plays that other players don't find value in.  These are the plays that don't require talent they just require desire . . . and they also required the belief that there is value in these plays that won't show up on a stat sheet.  Players that find value in these plays are special and teams that find value in these plays will be successful.  Hopefully the 2013-2024 Red Wolves will be a team that finds value in picking up "loose change".

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Traveling Carnival

Just recently the fair was in Jonesboro . . . the Northeast Arkansas District Fair.  While I didn't get to attend this year I know it was a big time for a lot of people, as it is every year.  I've always found it interesting that fairs have seemed to stand the test of time.  Fairs or traveling carnivals' roots actually go back to the 19th century similar to the circus.  It is said that the 1893 Chicago World's Fair was the catalyst for the traveling carnivals. Even in 2013, County and State Fairs are more popular than ever.

Here is what is so cool, to me, about a carnival.  Just the other day while I was driving to a recruiting visit a traveling carnival passed me while going the other direction.  A convoy moving to their next destination.  And as they passed I couldn't help but to try and guess what the folded up ride might become once it was put back together.  I also couldn't help but to think that there was no way in the world that I would get on one of those things . . . it is not possible for something to be folded up and traveling down the highway one day and then a carnival ride the next.  Be honest, you know you've thought the same thing too right?  So how can this convoy of 40 - 50 campers, trucks and folded up rides turn into this magical entertainment venue, overnight, for thousands of people one location after another.

Fifteen years ago when I became a Head Coach for the first time I needed to establish a core coaching philosophy.  What is my purpose as a basketball coach.  The first idea that came to mind and one that has stuck with me is the idea of "Bringing Together A Wide Range Of Individuals To Work Towards A Common Goal".  I love this idea and it is the one core piece of my philosophy that motivates me each and every day.  Bringing together 15 individuals from all different walks of life and working daily to get them all on the same page is such a thrill.  When you look at our team, we have athletes from five different states, some from small towns and others from big cities.  We have players of different race, different religions, different socio-economic backgrounds, different personalities and different long-term dreams.  And while it is a thrill it is also very, very difficult.  This, in the end, will be the deciding factor in which teams win Championships and which teams' seasons end in disappointment.  There are talented teams all across the country, every year, that don't reach their full potential because they were unable to pull together for the common goal.

So as our team starts practice tomorrow, we can take a lesson form the traveling carnival.  Week after week they travel from town to town and are somehow able to pull all these individual pieces together to accomplish the goal of providing entertainment and lasting memories for so many people.  I am convinced that we have a very talented group of individuals and I am also convinced that we have a team full of very good people.  The question will be can we all put aside our individual desires and goals so that we can focus only on the collective goals. Can we pull together all of our individual pieces to accomplish something special as a team.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Carve Away What Doesn't Belong To The Bear

Last week, I took the opportunity to go on vacation and try to recharge prior to the new school year starting.  I traveled out West and into some of the Mountain destinations.  One of the stops being Steamboat Springs, CO in the Rocky Mountains.  While spending time in the downtown area I happened to
stumble upon this carved image of a bear . . . and yes you will notice the bear is holding an ice cream cone which is a dead giveaway as to why I "stumbled upon" it.  The bear is totally made of wood and one would assume it was carved out of a tree trunk.  I think we've all seen at one time or another some type of image carved out of a block of wood or a tree trunk.

I read a story one time about a guy who was driving down a road and noticed a wood carver actually carving a bear out of a tree trunk.  The guy being inquisitive, like I would be, pulled the car over and stopped to visit with the wood carver.  He, admiring the bear that was being created from the trunk, asked the man "how do you do this . . . I mean you have a huge block of wood and start sawing and chipping away and you end up with this perfect image of a bear"?  The man without even looking up at the passer by simply stated "well it's pretty simple, you just carve away what doesn't belong to the bear" and then he kept on working.

When I saw this carved bear this past week it reminded me of that story.  It's a story we can all learn a lesson from.  So often in life everything gets so cluttered that we forget to focus on what is really important . . . we get easily sidetracked and it takes away from the goals we are trying to achieve.  I for one am guilty of walking into my office in the morning with a list of tasks to accomplish and I leave at the end of the day exhausted because I've been working all day but yet I look at my task list and none of them have been marked off.

As we move into a new season I am extremely excited about the team that has been assembled.  I feel like the pieces are in place for us to have a successful year.   But, one of the challenges with this team and as with any team in the country is can we "carve away what doesn't belong to the bear".  Can we as a team recognize our goals, focus on those goals and not get distracted by anything outside of those goals.  Our team needs to carve away and remove anything that gets in the way us of winning a Sun Belt Championship, having a successful year in the classroom and staying active and being a positive member within our community.  Anything that gets in the way of those three goals needs to be carved away.

This is easier said than done because there are so many distractions.  Families can get in the way, friends will try to become distractions and fans' opinions can create doubt or chemistry issues.  Their own bodies can take away from the goals if they don't take care of themselves by eating properly, getting enough rest or using the training resources available to stay healthy.  Time management will get in the way of succeeding academically . . . there are enough resources here that if used properly all of our athletes can be successful but it takes time and it takes commitment.  Our program is committed to being involved in the community.  But, I realize that this once again takes commitment and it takes the right state of mind to be a positive member of the community and for us not to become a negative.

Our job as coaches is to help funnel these athletes in the direction of these goals.  To, in a way, try to protect them from anything that can take away from these goals.  I honestly feel like the team is in place for us to meet these three goals but there are a lot of teams that are in place to meet these goals.  The difference will be which one is able to "carve away what doesn't belong to the bear".


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Rope Around Our Ankle"


Last week the Circus came to town.  Every other year Ringling Brothers Circus comes to Jonesboro and performs at the Convocation Center.  During most all of my motivational speaking opportunities or team bonding workshops I like to refer back to the first time that I recall the Circus coming to the Convocation Center.

 It was nearly fourteen years ago, around the time I had just been hired as the Head Women's Basketball Coach at Arkansas State University, when the Circus came to the Convocation Center.  The Circus was to perform on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  So on Tuesday, as I was going for my daily run, I walked into the arena (I was running indoors since it was raining outside) and noticed a HUGE elephant just inside the door.  This elephant appeared larger than life and I was amazed that it was just standing there with a small rope around it's leg.  The first thing that crossed my mind was that my office was just across the hallway from where this BEAST was standing. I had been sitting at my desk all morning with the only thing separating me and this elephant was some cinder blocks.

I of course couldn't let this go . . . I was curious as to why this elephant was standing alone in our arena and also why it had just a small rope around it's leg, knowing that the giant could snap it with very little effort.  The trainer happened to walk in and I asked him these questions.  First off, he informed me that they bring the elephants into the arena a couple days before the event to get them acclimated to their surroundings.  I can certainly relate to this . . . as a basketball coach we try to take our teams into the oppositions arena to practice the day before a game and also the morning of to try to get our team acclimated to their surroundings.  Secondly, I quizzed him about the small rope holding the elephant in place . . . and how it wouldn't seem to do any good if the elephant were to get spooked.  The trainers reply was quite humorous in that he said that elephants aren't the sharpest of mammals.  He said that while the elephants are babies they train them with this same type of rope around their ankle . . . and while they are that small the rope is strong enough to hold them in place.  He went on to say that as they grow older there really is no rope strong enough to hold them, but that they refuse to try and break it because of the sensation (of the rope) on their ankle.  He said that in their mind they feel the sensation on their ankle and don't think they can break it so they don't even try.

I thought about this for a while and it hit me that so often as humans we do the same thing.  We give in to these perceived limitations that are placed on us . . . the "rope on our ankle" so to say. But what's really amazing is that we humans are considered much smarter than elephants. But, far too often, we give in when we are told you can't do that, you're not good enough, you're not smart enough, etc.  One of the things I love about coaching is that I have the opportunity to try and break some of those perceived limitations with our athletes.  Daily we try to take our athletes from average to above average, from good to great, from great to the best.  So often athletes come into my office wanting to drop a class because they just know they can't get through it . . . and surprisingly they get through it.  Often times during preseason conditioning the thought of "can't" crosses their minds . . . and surprisingly they get through it.  And of course there is the occasional "upset" when everyone else says it can't happen . . . and surprisingly the upset takes place.

I refuse to let my athletes, or coaches for that matter, think like the elephants . . . failing before even trying is not going to cut it in our program.  We will continue to break through those "perceived limitations"  and break the "rope around our ankle".


Friday, August 24, 2012

Who Is The Greatest Among You?

This morning we had our second preseason workout of the year.  Yesterday afternoon our team ran a timed mile followed by an hour long "heavy" lifting session in the weight room.  Our second day of preseason was this morning at 6:30am.  As you can expect there was a lot of soreness and fatigue once this morning's workout got started.  Coach Schaefer, who lead the workout, asked the players to do a combination of jumping rope (double-unders) and sit-ups.  The timed workout consisted of doing 50 double-unders followed by 50 sit-ups, 40 double-unders followed by 40 sit-ups, 30 double-unders followed by 30 sit-ups and then 20 of each and 10 of each.  This was a timed task to see who could finish in the least amount of time.  Each member of our team was partnered with someone else who would encourage them along with holding their feet during the sit-ups.  While this was a challenging workout, I didn't expect a leadership lesson, team building lesson along with a spiritual lesson to come out of it.  Let me explain.

About half way through the workout, Jane Morrill's shoe came untied (while she was jumping rope).  I kept watching as she completed her jumps and immediately went down to the floor for her set of sit-ups.  One of our freshmen, Xena King was holding her feet during the sit-ups and without saying a word Xena started tieing Jane's shoe.  Within a few minutes Hanna Qedan was jumping rope and the same thing happened.  Her shoe came untied and while she went into her sit-ups another freshman, Jessica Flanery started tieing her shoe.  I couldn't help but smile as this took place.  Remember, this task was timed so none of our players wanted to stop their workout and waste time tieing their shoe.
This occurrence took place at least two more times (that I saw).  I noticed, senior, Andi Watson tieing the shoe of newcomer Carlette Wyatt and I also observed senior Q. McDowell tieing the shoe of newcomer Carlisha Wyatt.  I also observed, senior, Ashley Olvera, who was the first person finished with the task walk across the weight room (once she finished) to get her water bottle and also to take a water bottle to freshman Sandy Jackson, who was just starting her workout.  Keep in mind, Ashley was exhausted from just finishing her set.  I also saw Hanna Qedan finish her exercise and go get water bottles for three of her teammates.
We met as a team after the workout and I told the players that there was a great lesson learned (unintentionally) in the weight room just now.  Well, two lessons, the first being we apparently need better shoe strings.  The second is that I reminded them that to be a great leader you must first . . . become a servant.
To get on the floor to tie someones shoe is taking on a servants mentality.  To take water to a teammate is to take on a servants mentality.  I touched on the spiritual message too in that repeatedly The Bible discusses taking on the role of a servant.  Afterwards I had to do my research to find examples. In Mark 9: 33-37 the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest among them and Jesus made it very clear by saying "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."  Mark 10: 45 says "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  John 13: 1-15 tells about Jesus washing his Disciples' feet.  He says in verses 14 - 15 "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one anothers feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Of course Jesus didn't tie the Adidas running shoes of his Disciples but you can see where I'm going with this right?  I'm excited about this team and it really gets me fired up to see them (on their own) taking on a servants mentality for one another.  A 6:30am jump rope and sit-up exercise turned into a great team building lesson, a lesson on leadership and also a spiritual lesson.

Monday, April 23, 2012

You ever have one of those days when something happens that just leaves you amazed?  Late last week I had one of those days.  This past Friday I was out of the office recruiting when I received a voice mail that totally caught me off guard.  I received a voice mail from a man that I hadn't talked to in over 17 years . . . I received a voice mail that literally made me tear up and at the same time put the biggest smile on my face.  I received a voice mail from Stan McGarvey who was the football coach at Missouri Western State College while I was a student there.  I received a voice mail from Stan McGarvey who was also my Sunday School teacher while I was attending college.  And did I mention we hadn't talked in over 17 years? 

Well tonight we finally were able to connect and since getting off the phone I have not been able to stop smiling.  Stan McGarvey was the Head Football Coach at Missouri Western State College from 1991-1996.  This was the same time that I was a student at MWSC while also assisting both the men's and women's basketball teams, initially as a student assistant and then as a graduate assistant.  Coach McGarvey and I were certainly not close friends at the time (why would we have been, he was a successful college football coach and I was a 19 - 22 year old college student just trying to do whatever possible to get into the college coaching ranks, in basketball not football).  While he didn't know it at the time I totally looked up to him and I was ecstatic when I found out that he and his wife Linda lead a Sunday School class for college students at the church I was attending.  As I sit here tonight thinking back to those days I remember thinking what a great impact he made on me and yet he probably had no idea.  Here he was, a successful college football coach but yet he gave of his free time to demonstrate his faith while ministering to me and several other college students.

As we talked tonight on the phone he said that he and his wife had been following my career and that they were so proud of me.  As he finished saying that without thinking I said "you have no idea what that means to me but honestly I'm surprised, why would you follow my career?"  Keep in mind he has been coaching football (at the college, high school and even professional level) since 1973 so think of the hundreds of young men he has coached and the number of men that have worked with him (coaches, trainers, managers, etc.).  Right away he responded "Brian, do you remember right after you left Missouri Western for Arkansas State you sent Linda and I one of the nicest hand written notes thanking us for all we had done for you?  Since receiving that letter we have made it a point to follow you and your career."  Needless to say I was speechless!!! 

After digesting this conversation tonight there are two things that I am reminded of.  First off, it is a great reminder of the impact that a simple thank you note can have on someone.  A handwritten (yes, I said handwritten . . . not email, not a text, not on Facebook) note that takes less than 5 minutes to write can leave an impression on someone for over 17 years.  The second thing that I take from the conversation is that I hope I can have the same positive impact on someone that Coach McGarvey had on me.  I didn't work with him, play for him or even have daily dealings but he still influenced me in a positive way (and he had no idea I was looking up to him).  There are several coaches that I have either worked with or played for that have been tremendous influences on my life, but Coach McGarvey was a positive influence on me while I observed him from a distance.  I wonder if there is somebody out there right now that would be left speechless if I called them 17 years from now and told them I was proud of them.