Winning: Not Just About the X’s and O’s…

Growing up I was an awesome baseball player.  I ate, slept breathed the game.  Most times my talents were head and shoulders above any other player on the field.  Those who know me you know I don’t say these words lightly or to brag.  Certainly there is a much larger point to this story.  Hitting, fielding and strategy came easy for me and my passion caused me to work really hard at it.

I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  A series of unfortunate events made that a challenge I did not overcome.  As an adult I took up the game of basketball.  There were two reasons for this. 

1) I wanted to compete like I did in baseball.

2) It was easier to get 2-20 guys to play hoops than it was 18 to play baseball on any given day.

I’d played hoops growing up on the playgrounds or in gym class.  But I never went out for the team.  I pretty much started from scratch.   The guys I hung out with played often. In the summer, we played 5 nights a week.  Some of those guys were pretty damn good too.  Most were better than me.  I hung around getting ‘next’ or lobbied to get myself on a team.  Most times I came early to make sure I played before the well known ballers got to the court.  If my team didn’t win, my other four teammates would get picked up but that may have been the end of my night.  Having that feeling of desperation, I had to figure things out pretty quickly. 

Coach Board

I started with what I had.  I was fast, intelligent and fiercely competitive.  Scoring wise I had a quick first step and got to the hoop at will with only a right hand.  But that wasn’t my focus.  I worked on my defense, passing and setting picks.  Furthermore, I did what nobody else wanted to do, took on the best offensive player on the other team.  I took plenty of licks too.  Sometimes the game was over with before it even got started.  As time went on I got better at it though.  I became that guy that no offensive juggernaut my size or slightly above wanted to see.  They knew I would be on them like white on rice.  My goal was to shut them down.  For the upper echelon players, my goal was to bide my time, play my role and make an impact at a critical point before the final score was decided.  For example; if the game went to 12, even if my man scored 8, my goal was to make him miss or make a mistake at 10 or 11.  If the game was close my team still had a chance to win.

This happened more times than I can say.  And yet, as my game grew my status seemed stifled.  A playground full of guys can see me dominate defensively, hit a few jump shots and still leave me standing on the sidelines if my previous team lost.

After a while, my intensity and almost hatred of sporting perceptions of disrespect increased.  Since I wasn’t from the area that I lived in at the time, some of the guys would pick lesser players than me just because they knew them better.  Being picked last when I wasn’t the 10th best player on the court drove me harder.  My quiet yet burning mantra would be: “I know my own captain don’t respect me.  But I ended up with this team.  So fine.  YOU (the other team captain) on the other hand are going to regret that you didn’t pick me.  I’m going to make your life hell!  And most of the time I did just that.  Nothing gave me more joy and inner satisfaction that winning those games.

Fast forward 20 some years later, that chip never left my shoulder.  Among ‘serious hoopers,’ talent wise I was a serviceable basketball player.  I never tried to be Jordan but I knew my role and I knew how to win.  By this time I could score too.  I spent years in high level competition and seldom had my confidence shaken.  At this time, my mindset was to take on whatever role I sensed my team needed to help us win.  In my late 30s I started going to this gym on Monday and Wednesday nights.  There were many hoopers and wanna-be-hoopers.  Most of them at least a decade younger than me.  The games were intense.  One of my most memorable hoops moments happened as a result of me getting my lunch handed to me.  In this particular game I was matched against a local legend.  He was major in college and played in the pros too. I competed against this dude as hard and as smart as I could.  He shook me loose once and after that he never took an open shot against me.  I was all but in his shorts.  None of that mattered.  He ate me for lunch.  Tore my ass to pieces scoring at will.  I may have been in his mix, but he disposed of me like a professional assassin.  I walked away feeling good.  I knew he earned every basket he got. I was beaten by a much better man that night.  Charge it to the game…it happens.

Playground

But what happened the next time out is what surprised me.  The same player that busted my ass two nights before picked me on his team.  Me!  Of all the guys on the court I was the FIRST one he picked.  Not only that, I brought that same intensity and confidence with me and we rolled off 6 straight games that night closing the gym undefeated!  Every time I shot the ball, my nemeses from two nights ago would yell, “BUCKET” or “That’s Three!” and start running back to play defense before the ball even went in the goal.  And he was right.  I was on fire.  I still played the same level of defense and brought the intensity the whole night.  I’m thinking to myself; ‘Now that this guy had showed me respect, I couldn’t let him think he was wrong about me.’  He laid back and managed his game.  Scored when he felt like it which wasn’t much. He had fun watching me do my thing.  It was a night I’ll never forget.

The point of this entire story is this: Sports are often a reflection of life.  Sometimes it’s not about the Xs and O’s.  Its about NUTS!  Who’s got them, who doesn’t.  Playing basketball this way served as one measurement of my manhood.  Basketball in itself is just a game.  But it wasn’t about the game or whether I won or lost.  It was about testing my abilities and my will to overcome challenges and shortcomings.  It’s survival of the fittest.  Like rams butting heads or a pack of lions in a pit duking it out for respect and pissing all over to claim a piece of territory.  I’ve played lesser and greater players than myself over the years.  But my most satisfying victories came against guys that on paper I had no business being able to compete with.  For them, perhaps it was just another game.  For me, it showed me that I had what it takes to make it in the world.  That meant I could survive competition and adversity in the workplace.  That one day, I could be happy and live my dreams in life.  I too can be a winner!  I don’t think as men, we really know who we are and what we have within till we get into that den and see what we are made of.  My parents weren’t able to instill a winning attitude in me growing up.  Playing sports was partially how I gained that extra inner confidence.  I never saw myself owning my own business, but now I do.  And I am just getting started.

To have skill and expertise is great!  Education is priceless!  Connections are essential.  However, we can never underestimate the basic qualities of sheer effort, heart, desire, determination. There is a difference between winning and being a winner, losing and being a loser.

A man who won’t quit, cannot be stopped!  He’s just going to keep on coming till he get’s what he came for!

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We’re All Selling Something!

“A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” – Glengarry Glen Ross

Most who know me well know that I am a sports official by profession. After 27 years in management, project management, payroll and some form of customer support, I’ve spent the last couple years building upon a career path that I embrace more for the love than the money. Currently I work within 4 different kinds of sports and that number is expanding. I work with adults, high school students and even small children.

Being in business for myself has brought me to realize some things. Like my friends and colleagues with the National Sales Network, St. Louis Chapter, my line of work includes selling. The product is me.

You see there are many sports officials out there. Every year there are a plethora of young men and women who venture into this business with different aspirations. Some do it for side income. Some want to stay active in the games they used to play. Some love being around the kids and helping them. Some take the craft of officiating quite seriously and want to be the best at it. Many want to go into the college and pro ranks. Some are what I call Official/Umpire/Referee mercenaries. Their sole motivation is to get as much money as possible; and that’s it.

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I have worked with all of these categories of officials. And from the beginning I plotted my own path step by step by understanding the basic principles of selling myself as a viable commodity among my customers.

The first step was in becoming qualified and certified by state standards. Currently I am certified in two states. Second is to learn the craft as well as possible by not only working as much as I could, but also reaching out and learning from other officials. As the saying goes, I’ve learned as much of what not to do as well as what to do.

Next I always show up on time unless I’ve arranged otherwise. Nothing aggravates athletic directors, coaches, players and parents more than some slacker holding up their games and treating them as if their event is not important.

There are many outstanding officials who are on in the marketplace. A major way that I’ve learned to shine and differentiate myself is to be engaging and show a lot of energy and enthusiasm while performing. I’m not afraid to smile or even joke when the tension get a little chippie. Everyone who sees me can recognize that I want to be there and am invested and involved in what’s going on. I hustle and get into position to make the right calls. I communicate with the players and the coaches. I answer questions with courtesy, though I am firm and not afraid to settle a conflict.

Most people can tell if their official is competent, engaged, and cares about what’s going on. The games we officiate are just games. They don’t save lives or change the world. But when I played it was important to me. Whatever the gender, age, or experience level the competitors deserves to have quality officials who gives them the chance to enjoy their sporting experience within the assigned set of rules and rules interpretation.

There are several officials related associations that I am a member of.  This makes for great networking opportunities.  No matter how good you are, you cannot make it without the help of others.  Through these organizations I benefit from the training and development they provide.  They in turn assign work to me all over the area.  However, most of my work and references have come through relationship building and word of mouth based on my performance, which includes my attitude.  My name is my brand. And when people think of me, my brand is what comes to mind as they decide who to hire for their sporting events.

These principles and skills are transferable to any line of business.  Remember we are all selling something every day.  Even in your personal life, when you go on a date, is that anything less than a  sales job?

No matter the product, your name, your brand, and your reputation is the first commodity people will consider first.

Umpire

The Wasted Wealth of Pro Athletes

 

 • By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

Wow!  This is some kind of story.  I knew that many athletes lose a lot of their loot on silly things.  But I had no idea it was at this rate.

I think that many athletes are so focused on their careers, that they allow others to do their decision making for them. 

I am reminded of how Earvin “Magic” Johnson got into business years ago.  He knew nothing about business but knew he wanted to be as successful if not more successful as he was during his NBA playing days. 

Instead of being a knucklehead trying to play ball with the big boys of the business world, he humbled himself and sought being mentored by more than a few very successful businessmen who had a track record.  He specifically made it clear that he didn’t want to be the front man for anyone.  He wanted to learn how they made decisions so that he could make his own when the time came. 

The proof is the pudding. 

Magic waited till his playing days were pretty much over before he really got heavily involved in the business world so he could do his due diligence.   One can read Oscar De La Hoya’s book where he talks in great detail of how he’s worked with the best to be mentored into the business world.  It’s sad to hear how so many other athletes in 2009 still waste their wealth and do not learn from these examples. 

The truth that they don’t get is that they have to work even harder in the business world than they did on their athletic gifts.  This is mostly because they are not familiar with how the game of business is played nor their ever changing rules of engagement. 

Oprah said it best.  “Sign your own checks.”  But hell you’ll still sign anything someone else tells you if you don’t know any better.

I understand how most are confused and frustrated with the learning curve.  But as the saying goes, “if you think education cost, try ignorance.”

Embracing Pride (Part 2) When Enemies Become Friends

Two sayings come to mind for this post.   “Always remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  And, “We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interest.”  The first I heard in a scene from the classic film, “The Godfather.”  The other I heard from talk show host and political activist Tavis Smiley though he may have not originated it.  These are some of the wisest statements ever and yet many of us sleep on its genius.  I definitely have not fully subscribed in the past because when I think of enemies I think of the hurt they have caused me – the betrayal, the lies, etc.  My first instinct when coming across the people who I know have hurt me intentionally – (though sometimes they even smile in my face) is to resist them at all cost.  If I see he/she coming one way, I usually go the other.  I avoided conversation and any type of small talk or contact with the individuals who I knew not to have my best interest at heart.

However, I am learning now that total isolation from our enemies can do more harm than good in the long run.  My classroom has been within some of my own business dealings.  One of my business ventures requires a lot of networking and since I am new to this particular business that means double for me.  It’s been often said that it’s not about what you know – it’s who you know.  Well that’s not completely true.  In reality it’s who knows you!  I can know the CEO of a company but in order for me to benefit from his/her favor or influence depends on if he/she knows who I am when my name is mentioned.  Fortunately, I have managed to gain quite a few notable contacts within this field that now know and respect my name.  And slowly I am building up credentials that will give me business for several years to come should everything continue on course.  But as in any venture I also have my share of detractors and haters.  (Thank you Rich House for reminding me to embrace my haters!)  One such hater is actually a person I have known for over 10 years.  He has been in the field for over 20 years and I looked to him for guidance, advice and connections.  Admittedly this person started off helping me quite a bit.  But then I noticed a turn in his attitude after he began to notice that I started to take off and create a network for myself which increased my opportunities within the field.  He noticed me at different places and wondered aloud to me, “How did you get turned on to this?  Who did you speak with?  That person didn’t call me.  How much business did you acquire? Etc.”  I could tell in his tone that he was envious at my progress – and I have very strong evidence that he made efforts to take some business away from me that I obtained through a mutual  contact.  From the beginning these revelations hurt quite a bit.  And I felt that a person of his stature should be happy for me – especially because he knew of my career situation and the fact that I was struggling to make ends meet.  Initially I though to avoid this person – or even give him a piece of my mind.  Instead, I kept my approach professional and gave him the appearance of respect.  In the meantime when he ask I don’t give him accurate accounts of my progress – and since he still has the power to give me business occasionally, I give him the impression of gratefulness on my behalf.  For every time I get even an ounce of business from him, I have the opportunity to profit initially and show my skills and abilities to other potential clients.  Its not as if I am not thankful in reality.  It’s that I understand the games being played when ego and greed are involved.  Often to get what we want we may have to stroke or placate someone’s ego a bit for desired results. 

This lesson came up again as I was reading, “An Ordinary Man,” written by Paul Rusesabagina who was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Rwanda as portrayed by Don Cheadle in the movie, Hotel Rwanda.”  He spoke of doing business with many of the people he did not consider to be friends – some of whom were out to kill him and the over 1200 refugees he protected in the hotel during the genocide in 1994.  General Augustin Bizimungu was a major player in the vicious murders of 800,000 Rwandans.  He was charged with war crimes and is in a Tanzanian prison.  In the midst of the unrest and extreme violence, Paul maintained a friendship with him that was started mostly by Paul’s services rendered to the general and people of power like him at the hotel.  But it was with a purpose.  Paul explains it himself in his book, “An Ordinary Man.”

I have been criticized for my friendship with him during the genocide, but I have never apologized for it.  “How could you have stayed close to such a vile man?”  I am asked, and my answer is this: I do not excuse whatever he may have done to promote the genocide, but I never heard him agree with any of the bloodshed when he was in my presence.  I had to stay close to him because he could help me save lives.  I would have stayed close to anyone who could help me do that. 

He then went further to illustrate yet another important point.  In describing the general in more depth:

… There is a saying in Rwanda: “Every man has a secret corner in his mind that nobody will ever know.”  And I do not think I know enough about Bizimungu’s secret corner to judge him.  He may have done terrible things in Rwanda before and during the genocide, but I know that he stepped in for me at crucial moments to save lives of innocent people when it was of no conceivable benifit to him.  If I had ended that friendship, I do not think I would be here to write these words today.  There are at least 1,268 people who survived the killing partly because of the instructions of Bizimungu. In my book that counts for something.  (P. 162-163)

 

While I am disapointed in this particular person, I am not going to write off his value and humanity.  He is still a child of God in my eyes and each day he lives, like myself he has opportunity for regeneration and growth. If he wants to hurt me for apparently no reason, then there is something inside himself that is lacking.  But I digress.  The main point is that there is no shame to the one to doing business with people who think less of your value.  It is in no way selling out as long inward dignity is preserved.  As the bible says, in life we have to be as wise as serpents and yet gentle as doves.  Many black men for instance had to subject their egos at the door of humility when operating within Jim Crow segregation.  They were called boy, and at other times much worse.  While some men felt inferior I’m sure, still many more understood other people’s ignorance could not define them.  And having the ability to earn a living for family is honorable above all.  As I like to say, this is an inward issue.  Its one thing to cower from within and an even worse practice to betray one’s principles for a dollar; I know many such men who appear to be well off and yet inwardly they are slaves to their position, status and income.  But I submit as well that a man can pick his battles, act strategically, get his money and keep his dignity.  In this case, I am such the man.

Perhaps one day I may let this person know that I have known for some time that he has not had my best interest at heart.  But for the foreseeable future – I can allow his ego to flounder while it falsely confirms itself as superior in my own financial interest.

Selah

Pictured is Paul Rusesabagina with me and my son Christian during a book signing visit in St. Louis