Theft of Confidence
Updated: Aug 7
Our son was the greatest 3rd grade, 3-point shooter of all time, as much as I hate to brag on my own children. (see my blogs on parenting) There was just one little problem, he wasn’t the greatest 3rd grade, 3-point "maker" of all time. In one of his 3rd grade games, he made seven 3-point shots, notice I said in “one” of his games.
What set him apart from most kids is he had no conscience along with 100% confidence. He would shoot from anywhere at any time whether he was open or guarded by the other 5 guys. I jokingly called him the Will Rogers of basketball: “He never saw a shot he didn’t like”. I asked him after a game why he took a 3 point shot every single time he brought the ball down the court. His answer was somewhat understandable, “Dad, I was open.” I am guessing his coach had not told him in our 3rd grade basketball league, it was illegal to guard an opponent outside the 3-point line. You could say in truth, he was “always” open. Saturday morning 3rd grade basketball was not much fun for his mother and me. Selfish parents, who wanted their sons to actually get an opportunity to shoot the ball, were screaming at their kids, “Don’t pass it to Kevin.” I wonder if Press Maravich ever experienced such an outrage.
One of the most astounding things about kids is their unnerving level of confidence. At some point in our lives, we actually believe every shot will go in, every test will come back with an A, and our opportunities in the future are unlimited. In our world today, those thoughts don’t last very long. Most start losing it now long before the 3rd grade.
When I was coaching in Tulsa, I went to speak to a group of 1st graders. I asked a group of boys, who wants to be football or basketball players? I asked the girls who wanted to be on the basketball, volleyball or cheerleader squad? 98% of them would shoot their hands in the air, with huge smiles of anticipation on their faces. My very next speech was to a group of 4th graders. I asked the very same question, expecting the very same response. The response was totally the opposite. Somehow, somewhere, life had stolen their dreams of their youth. Their life experiences, coaches, teachers, family situations or circumstances had squelched their belief of I can do anything.
I have been guilty of saying to the young men and women I have taught and coached over the years, they “could do anything they want.” I have come to believe that is a big lie. I am the product of my genes. In the 3rd grade, if I had decided I wanted to be a player in the NBA, no amount of hard work, discipline, and dedication can overcome a 5’ 7” dad and a 5’ 5” mom. However, with extreme sacrifice, dedication, discipline, and devotion to the game of basketball, I could have become a whole lot better player than I was as the 7th man on my 9th grade basketball team. I just didn’t want it badly enough. While I don’t believe we can become “anything”, I believe with all my heart and 42 years of coaching, most of us barely reach even the tiniest percentage of our potential. That’s what parenting, coaching, mentoring, and teaching are all about. It excites me every day to find a way, a method, a drill, a quote, or a phrase that can help our players, sons, daughters, and students to reach just a bit closer to the actual potential we all have.
One of the problems is us. Parents, coaches, teachers, and those that work with our young people sometimes are stealing the confidence of our youth away from them. Many times, we do this as a show of toughness or a show of honesty. We take dreams and goals away from the very kids we are trying to help. There is a very fine line in being demanding or being demeaning, between honesty or being a cruel thief of the dream.
If we adjust how to talk to our “people”, we can figure out how to speak honestly without being mean or cruel. Sometimes, the best approach is to be brutally honest, but seldom is the best approach to be brutal. We have to learn how to inspire our players to be more like a 3rd grader who never even considers the possibility of failure or the shot will not go in.
Can you imagine being the coach that cut Michael Jordan in the 9th grade? When I watched the documentary “Last Dance”, that thought was on my mind continually. It occurred to me, I am and have been that coach. While I never cut a Michael Jordan, over the years, I have broken hearts and busted dreams with my ignorance and my hubris. I have expected too little from most and too much from very few. Former players are probably scratching their heads at that comment. The truth is our bodies and mind can do incredible things, more than what we believe is possible.
If you are one of those players that has been “broken” by a coach or by the system, I want to say two things to you. One, I am sorry. 99.9% of coaches are not in this business to harm kids. And two, I am not and never will be your excuse. Michael Jordan got cut from his 9th grade basketball team. NFL Hall-of-Famer, Kurt Warner, was stocking grocery shelves at the local Hy-Vee for $5 an hour after his college career. Maybe the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL was a 6th round draft pick. Six quarterbacks were taken before Tom Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots. Those people who are truly great have a super power that is not obvious. That super power is to talk to themselves instead of listening to themselves. They master the art of controlling the discussion in their own head. When that 3 pointer doesn’t go in, they say, “I have worked hard, I have put the time, effort, and energy to deserve good things, the next one is going in.” They don’t hear their own voice say, “you stink, you have missed the last 5 shots you have taken, you are letting everyone down, you don’t deserve to make the shot.” If you have the ability to control the dialogue in your own head, you truly have a super power.
Lastly, there is not an “over-achiever”. I cannot give you 110% of my money. There is no such thing as 110% effort. We are either achievers or under-achievers. The ultimate quest for greatness is the challenge of getting ALL we can out of what we have been given. How close to the 100% can you get? That is the question we all have to answer. I loved watching “The Last Dance”. It was inspirational beyond measure. While there were so many memorable lines throughout the documentary, the one which stood out to me was by the former NBA player that commented about Michael Jordan’s play after a hard fought loss to the Bulls, “He just wouldn’t be stopped.”