Coaching For Tenure: 5 Things My High School Coach Did That You Should Too

Coaching For Tenure: 5 Things My High School Coach Did That You Should Too

The other day-completely out of the blue-I met some random guy at a birthday for toddlers who knew my High School volleyball coach, who is a coach himself in the region and had nothing but good things to say about my former coach.

Then, literally, that night I got a text message from that very same coach-my coach from High School!

So he was just reminding me (and I imagine maybe over 300 others) about an upcoming alumni volleyball match, but I responded and then we had a back and forth over the next hour…

It was the weirdest and coolest thing and it got me thinking about rock solid, tenured coaches… and what makes a great coach.

The first confession I have (besides to humbly confess being a totally hopeless glory days guy) is that I have a huge respect for people who have committed to their calling, piece of work or particular endeavor really for any length of time over 10 years, but when you start getting into the 20+ category I’m just kind of awed.

To do something, to do one thing, do it well and do it for a long time…to me, this is one of the ultimate tests of legacy. And this applies to all given commitments: work, family, faith… over time we may become legacy leaders in them all. 

Having that chance encounter with an old coach, mentor, leader made me think of his traits… I’m hoping they are transferable for us all.

So what made Conti so good…?

He cared about character and integrity…

It was apparent to me that Conti’s main objectives were not necessarily success, winning, producing or even championships. His aim seemed to be deeper than that… he was up to something-almost like he was trying to get at something-he was a miner of character.

To this day (after 10 years!) I have no idea what his religious affiliation is, but he is one that I would put in the category of: he seems more Christian than some Christians I know. 

While I’m not laying out some form of “he was just a really good guy” moral relativism, what I will say is: you could see his heart, you could see the value he carried and his consistency in it all makes you think, geeze if only so-called ‘Christ-followers’ were as much a shining example in the world just imagine what kind of influence we could garner

The beauty of this principle is for 99% of my readers-who are not clergy by the way, who don’t work for an ostensibly faith-based organization-is that from wherever you are, you can make the intentional decision to let your standard operating procedure reflect huge amounts of character and integrity. (Which, by the way, can be an explosive platform for having faith discussions!)

He made us work our freaking tails off…

At the time I seldom ever enjoyed it, but it resulted in a section championship our senior year amongst many many other intangibles. We had 6am weight training, work in the sand in the afternoon in the off-season. And when season was in high gear it was 3-4 hour practices each afternoon/early evening. It was sprints, it was strict enforcement, it was limit-testing, it was challenging and competitive, it was a brilliant environment for testing and building grit.

I’m not a fan of over-working folks and no one is a fan of forcing people into burn out seasons, but the principle here is this: when you build the discipline and grit of ‘go long’ seasons you carry a certain resilience and character that will inform every other area of your life.

He was, and is now, simply tenured…

He’s worked for my alma mater for 22 seasons now that has produced 6 sectional championships (runner-up in another 7) and 2 state championships. But its what’s behind the facts and figures that make him the man and coach he is today: consistency and commitment… above average amounts of it I would say.

The attribute this makes me think of is follow through. As I’ve mentored men over the last couple years it’s actually been one of my favorite mantras of real manhood. I’ve tried to inspire in others the basic principle which is simply that a defining character trait of real men is keeping their word and seeing things through.

Being where you say you’re going to be, keeping commitments, showing up consistently well over extended periods of time. That’s a legacy to stand on.

Great leaders have excellent follow-through… it’s the hallmark of a tenured coach, mentor or people developer.

He kept his cool…

I don’t ever remember him becoming emotional in any kind of ill-tempered way, he never raised his voice above what a mid-game, high intensity moment required.

I have come to learn (as I’ve worked under great leaders and, conversely, seen the negative tendency inside myself) that all great leaders and coaches have a tremendous ability to remain unemotional.

And I do not mean that they don’t have or express feelings. I’m talking about crossing the inappropriate bounds of becoming angry or impatient (and hence partial, irrational… perhaps even nonsensical!); this includes the passive aggressive in us all too.

Conti wasn’t that way… In fact, what I have also learned about myself over the years is that I want to appease people through my achievement and performance. 

I, like maybe some of you, have a chronic fear of somehow ending up in my supervisor’s cross hairs of rebuke or criticism, because I did something wrong. And one of the few times that I ever I got called out on that team was when I became too emotional in the middle of a game-lashing out at another player for their mistake.

Great leaders are emotionally strong this way. Not guarded and impenetrable, but they don’t ‘go red.’ I think you get the metaphor, but actually it was a personality inventory that I was reminded of recently… it explains the processing pathway of all people when faced with pressure or stress. Everyone has different pathways and stages of arriving at an emotional level. It’s just some people flash much quicker and more directly to ‘red’… as leaders we can’t let that be us.

He took the long view…

He clearly must have understood that his job was about developing minds and young men far more than any win or championship, because even in our most rivaled and playoff losses it seemed like he had something else in mind.

It was never just about the game, it was never just about winning. It was about the journey, the development and the learning. When we showed up to practice late, we’d have a punishment but we’d also have a principle… Coach would say, “do you think when you get a real job one day they’ll just let you come in whatever time you like…?!” That was about developing us into young men, it was about preparing us for future realities. When you take the long view, it’s understanding that all this work on the ‘here and now’ is really an investment in the ‘then and there.’

I’ll put it this way: our legacies as ‘people developers’ is in the small moments. The pressing ‘here and now’ stuff in the traffic of everyday life is never just about that moment. It always has the potential to build into something much bigger, broader, deeper.

Know Your Blind Spots (3 Things All Leaders Must Work On Now!)

Know Your Blind Spots (3 Things All Leaders Must Work On Now!)

The other day I realized something about myself that isn’t really the greatest…

I was merely walking to the ATM to deposit a check when I realized how much I prize efficiency and simplicity.

From the walk up to the ATM-no one in line-to the way I pressed the buttons on the touch screen, to the way the check was seamlessly deposited then onto how I grabbed my card out of the machine smoothly and with ease slid it back into my wallet, turning and walking away from the ATM (with no time to read the “goodbye, thanks for using” message at the end)….

It was then, at that moment, that I realized how much I cherish efficiency and simplicity.

Everything about this very small everyday occurrence fulfilled my expectations for how things should be quick an easy.

Now you may say to yourself, ‘well I don’t know if those are necessarily bad things are they Ben?’ To which I would reply, ‘it depends…’

You see, if you value efficiency so much that it impacts the aggressive nature in which you drive your motor vehicle (speeding, swerving, giving nasty glares to people who somehow don’t understand basic efficiency driving etiquette), you may have a problem of over-valuing efficiency.

I’ve decided for myself, as an example, that when I get like that on the road it’s not just because I’m impatient or need to control or have ‘road rage’… it’s because I value efficiency in all things. When people, places or things become a hindrance in this smooth functioning, I feel the need to assert myself so things will get back into working order.

And it’s the same for simplicity I would say…

If you value simple things such that you are not willing to do the hard, grinding work in the office that is required for creative problem solving, system development or program implementation all because you think it has to be simple enough to explain to a 3rd grader, you may have a problem (like me *wink emoji*) of over-valuing simplicity.

Still don’t buy what I’m selling? Well then think about it in terms of the following principle (that I am 100% convinced is true for all human beings)…

Every strength, gift, talent taken to an extreme may become a weakness, problem, blind spot.

You’ve probably experienced this or watched it in someone close to you, but here’s what I mean…

We are all naturally hard-wired with a certain set of gifts, talents and strengths. One of mine, for example, is energy. I’m a naturally energetic person. I don’t really require coffee most days. I drink it anyway because its delicious and amazing, but I could probably go without it.

This energy when managed well can lead to all sorts of fruitful activity. It’s useful for leading and motivating people when it’s at its contagious best. It’s good for getting stuff done in a timely manner. It’s good for spreading passion and building culture… all at its very best.

However, in some of its more unfavorable forms this “talent” of being an energetic person can look like: A.D.D:
-the inability to focus for ver long on one task and see it through to excellence…
-talking to other people in the office (double whammy-now you’ve taken out 2 people!)
-working harder when all that’s needed is smarter…

We have a saying at the church (which is what my supervisor would be looking for from me by the way), it’s “impact over effort.”

You get the gist, but the point is that I need to spend less time spinning my wheel, running all over the office, completing this laundry list of tasks (when these maybe aren’t even the right tasks by the way!), just because it expends lots of energy (that may give the false appearance of momentum by the way)!

What I need to do is harness that energy for focused action that leads to impact, excellence and results.

Here’s the principle: we all have these blind spots. If we’re not careful they’ll go from personal blind spots to bad culture creators, momentum barriers and organizational ceilings!

So here are 3 things I recommend you do…

ONE…

Build in feedback loops... This could be 360 degree style where people (below, across and above you) are asked to assess and review you.

This could be setting up a blind feedback link where co-workers get an email then fill it out anonymously and you see the results.

Whatever you choose, it just needs to be early and often (hence the “loops” part, by the way, that means it’s build it, it’s frequent, it’s quarterly) and it has to be that way if you’re going to be healthy and growing.

This could also be hounding your significant other or friends who know you well to give you something that you can work on… their view from a ‘non-work angle’ might be the exact type of emotional feedback you need that affects every other relationship and context!

None of us no matter the age or tenure as leaders, at least leaders as lifelong learners, can say ‘we don’t need this… we are past this… or we’ve already heard all the feedback.’ The moment you resolve yourself to that type of thinking, you’ve just cemented that organizational ceiling right then and there.

TWO…

Work your plan... In other words, once you receive that feedback (which is just data-by the way-cold, hard, FREE data and you’d be a fool to reject free data), begin the difficult work of leading change…

One of my favorite quotes that we’ve picked up over the last 6 months at our organization is that, ‘you don’t need a new plan, you just need to work the plan you have!’

The suggestion is: we know something is broken within our organization and simultaneously we see a plan or system that’s working “over there” so maybe we should implement their style or plan…

The truth is: you already have a plan and it’s tailor-made for you and your organization, you just simply have to build the guts and discipline to work the plan right where you are.

Get your feedback. Work it into your plan.

THREE…

Give yourself (and others!) grace... This whole process is about humility-a very worthwhile humility because of what it will produce in all of your staff and organization-but humility is also painful. So give yourself and those around you an immense level of grace when rolling out this process.

When it comes to giving and receiving feedback, you’re really turning the corner for a healthy workplace. And around that corner, down the hall is the break room and that’s the place where people can get mean and nasty if they are not fully bought in to how this whole humble honesty thing is going to work. THAT’S why the delivery system of feedback must be grace.

When/what was the last piece of constructive criticism or feedback you received? Have you done anything in the way of self-improvement? Why or why not?

Captain Fantastic and the Need for a Big Family Vision

Captain Fantastic and the Need for a Big Family Vision

We watched this Academy-award nominated film last week and boy it was really something to behold…

It wasn’t our favorite because of the philosophical statements on society/humanity. And it wasn’t our favorite because they have this big righteous brood that seems wild and free (though that was pretty cool). It wasn’t our favorite because of the writing or screenplay or picture or costume.

It was our favorite because of how it puts a highly intentional family on display.

The family has its mission, vision and values pretty well laced up.

Although one of the major points of the film is the unraveling of the dad’s perfect family plan, you can see the sharp discipline and buy in of this family on a mission.
And THAT is awe-inspiring.
THAT is something that all families, the American family, most certainly the God-fearing family must embrace… (and like as soon as humanely possible by the way…!)

You see the problem is that, in our families-as in our personal lives, in the absence of intentionality there is drift.

When I say drift I mean in our character, in our spirituality and in our identities. So the first question I have is: do you think its worth it to leave those things up to chance… in ourselves or the kids we have the privilege of leading?

Without a plan, without a clear-cut and ruthlessly pursued vision there is just merely default mode. And the next question I have for you about “default mode” is this: is that really how you want to lead your family?

If you’d like to take just 1 or 2 positive steps in the direction of intentional family planning (and out of drift/default mode) then I suggest you consider this:

FIRST…

Consider the vision you have for you, your marriage and your family. I would define vision here merely as a picture of a preferred future.

What’s the destination? What’s the hope? This is most commonly illustrated by how our kids turn out. Now as much as their hearts, their character, their spirits are formed by the sovereign design of God and the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit, we still have a profound role as their parents and leaders.

And we all have known that child who we, frankly, hope to God our kid does not turn out to be like. We see the attitudes, traits and behaviors of that student in our kids class, that neighborhood kid or kid from church and think, ‘man, I hope that’s not my kid one day…’

Well I have news for you: all the “hoping” and “finger-crossing” in the world is not going to move the dial on your kid’s heart and mind if you are still living in drift/default mode!

The principle I’m trying to elucidate is this: you know very well how you would like your kids to think, act, operate and carry themselves and you know how you would like them NOT to think, act, operate and carry themselves. The question, once again, becomes: what are we willing to do, today, to see our preferred futures realized?

You have to think, seriously, for a moment: what kind of child, what kind of family are we producing right now? Every 1 day we are given is a building block for our character and development that produces an outcome-one way or another.

When your child is 12, 16, 21 you will not have a “take-back.” Once again, nothing is “too big” a job for the movement of the Holy Spirit in your son or daughters life, but the point is not living on a prayer (to shamelessly draw on the scripture of Bon Jovi for a moment), the point is to intentionally draw your family into a preferred future shape!

SECOND…

Consider the values that you believe must be baked into everyday living in order that your odds of reaching this preferred future picture are maximized.

As the above illustration shows, it’s not enough to just have the vision of your family’s preferred destination. You must now begin charting a path forward for this vision to be realized.

Your family needs some software.

If the current state of your family’s values, programs and “standard operating procedures” is vacuous, then you might be in a state of drift.

In the movie, the audience is meticulously reminded of the systems and standards by which this family carries itself. They work out together, they hunt together (yes, hunt together) they cook and clean together-it’s systemized with everyone willingly contributing and it’s beautiful.

But there’s this one scene where one of the daughters, when asked how she is enjoying her book (a book in a series of pre-defined curriculum the father has apparently laid out for all the children) answers, “it’s interesting.”

The dad and 2 or 3 of the siblings blurt out almost like sirens saying, “that’s a dead word… she used a forbidden phrase!” And the young woman is encouraged to find the real nuance in her evaluation of the book.

I mean that may seem like a pretty small example but think about the power of words for a moment. This family had a plan and a system and a value in place for what kinds of words are allowed in their family or not.

We can allow words in our house that breed a victim-mentality, guilt, shame and greed or we can bind those words, correct those words and redirect those words toward the underlying emotion. And in so doing we forge the responses that breed the type of mentalities and character we hope to see!


If we would like to make the move from drift to intentionality we have to start today.

We have to create, first, a vision because vision drives it all. It’s our anchor, it’s our guiding light and it’s our destination.

Then we have to set about the tough work of baking values into our daily lives at home, in the car, at the dinner table, when we are out and about with play-dates… everywhere there is the potential for relating or communicating, there is an opportunity to see values lived out.

TIP: start by writing it down. Sit down with your co-lead and prayerfully consider what those founding documents might look like.

I’m curious: what are the visions and values that have served and guided your family? How do you find this article to be true or not as experienced by you and yours?

What is Lent? (The Move from Status Quo to Apocalypse)

What is Lent? (The Move from Status Quo to Apocalypse)

I’m a pastor and I should know what Lent is or means, right?

Well here it goes… Lent isn’t just some “church calendar item” that begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Good Friday.

What if I suggested it was much much more…

What if we suggested it was front row for the apocalypse?

Maybe then we’d turn from the ritual piety of ash forehead smearing and social media-fasting-devo-updates into something slightly more substantive.

One of my absolute favorite authors is the  stunner-Eugene Peterson. In his book “The Contemplative Pastor” he speaks of the need to take on a ‘catastrophic urgency’ like that of John the Baptist who he calls ‘the alert and the alive pastor’… I wonder will the same be said of me?

Peterson goes on, and this about sums it up:

Apocalypse is arson-it secretly sets a fire in the imagination that boils the fat out of an obese culture-religion and renders a clear gospel love, a pure gospel hope, a purged gospel faith.

It’s a 40-day period marking the anticipation and arrival of the Messiah and his saving work. If only we begged and pleaded like those who cried, Hosanna (“help, save I pray”) that first Holy Week so many years ago.

They understood that the number 40 signified: a great testing.

The flood.

The desert.

The temptation.

40.

It’s a time for fasting and its a time for prayer. So we’ll give something up. That something typically ranging from hard shell candies to technology to whole meals.

We do devotionals and read little daily posts meant to inspire the 40-day march and then we commemorate with the single greatest “wall-expansion” weekend service of the entire year. (Because everyone goes to church 1-2 times a year-Easter and Christmas-though a failure to cement Good Friday as an equally critical service to remember is a travesty, but I digress.)

So what’s it really all for? Is it merely a “church calendar tradition” of old? Just something that some priests picked up on 500 or 1000 years ago and so we keep up with tradition?

I should tell you: I’m a HUGE fan of challenging tradition. Whenever you hear those “its what’s always been done” and “well this is how we always do it…” it just becomes some rote tradition that loses its true meaning somewhere along the way.

I’m a fan of challenging the status quo.

I’m a fan of revitalization campaigns.

I’m a fan of making something old-new again, new and true, again.

And I mean I would venture that LENT has been lost on us a bit if our first train of thought is: “man, Lent is coming around, what are we giving up for Lent?”

As in, “Lent’s coming around what’s our ‘tweetable’ 40-day challenge, fast, competition going to look like?!” I would argue that that’s sort of a default.
That’s drift.
That’s in need of some re-envisioning.

But before we can re-envision we should note origins-so often this is where the new life comes from-going back to where things began.

 Ted Olson From a 2008 Christianity Today article helps us understand, first, the closest approximation of how the tradition began as we use it today:

Until the 600s, Lent began on Quadragesima (Fortieth) Sunday, but Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to secure the exact number of 40 days in Lent—not counting Sundays, which were feast days. Gregory, who is regarded as the father of the medieval papacy, is also credited with the ceremony that gives the day its name.

As Christians came to the church for forgiveness, Gregory marked their foreheads with ashes reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and mortality: “You are dust, and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19).

 

This is a little better. Because if we heard this today like it was being done for the first time… ‘oh hey some preacher in southern california’s putting ash on people’s skin as a symbol of our impending doom and TONS of people are walking to the front of the room to have it done’… we might respond differently to that apocalyptic counter-culture.

So in one regard I’ll say I’m jealous of the Catholics and other Protestant denominations who are still throwing down ash to serve up reminders. But still does it carry weight… all these catholics showing up for mass on Wednesday night because their great aunts asked them too, but then again it’s almost kind of trendy to wear the ash out to dinner that night and celebrate the upcoming fast… from french fries.

C’MONNNNNNN!!!

If we are going to celebrate a reminder as the global church-catholic, protestant, eastern, western-of Christ’s impending and triumphant re-entry then how about we do the thing some justice by really reconciling ourselves with the apocalypse that is 40.

40 days of wandering the desert-hungry, alone, tempted by the prince of demons?!

40 days floating up and down in a vessel not meant for serious sea voyage and the life-breath of every animal that walked on dry ground?!

40 years of hopeless meandering in the desert?!

What’s our 40-day, 40-hour, 40-month, 40-year call to action? How will we stand up to the test? And will we anticipate the messiah with a ‘catastrophic urgency’ that affects the way we live every moment?

 

 

 

The First Real Test

The First Real Test

When was the last time you felt just absolutely put through the wringer? Dragged through the mud and left for dead? Okay maybe that’s a little dramatic but around my house this past week, you may not find a more apt description-especially if you’re my wife!

I asked for a week off from work for this nice little “staycation” we had all planned out. My wife-Rylee quickly deemed this week “sickcation.”

Here’s the week, at a glance…

Day 1: My oldest son wakes up vomiting and feverish

Day 2: I blow out my back while working out (newborn cries nearly all day unless being held)

Day 3: I get what the oldest boy had (newborn refuses to be put down)

Day 4: Next son in line gets what we both had (newborn’s cries can be heard across the street)

Day 5/6: The 2 girls fall with only baby and mom remaining (I’m still sick and my back/hips feel like arthritis early warning signs. Did I mention something about the baby being upset???)

I took a whole week off from work limping around, waking up in pools of sweat and standing there waiting for the next kid to drop.

Suffice to say it has been a real delight!

That’s not to say we didn’t try to make the most of it… we pitched a tent in the living room one night, had a bonfire the next. We went to Disneyland for half a day (2 of us with over 100 degree fevers) and we moved the TV from the bedroom into the living room where we finally learned how to stream our shows from the tablet to the TV.

Amidst all the drudgery of injury and illness there’s, of course, a few things I’ve learned…

ONE. Everything is a theory unless otherwise tested

Another way of putting this could be, “everything is a test of faith.” I don’t know about how you view the world, but I am convinced that challenges and difficult circumstance are absolutely put in our path as a means for teaching us something and growing our faith.

For example, the theory of having 5 kids is fine when everyone is healthy and whole and the very very newborn baby does literally nothing but eat, sleep, diaper change. It’s something else entirely when 4/5 kids go down hard with the flu and THEN the newborn switches gears-decides to develop a slightly more complex “agenda” for running our lives!

I had a college professor who once said, “life comes in 3 speeds: hard, harder and hardest.” I never liked the quote and initially would have argued him tooth and nail on it; but I’m nearly 10 years from that semester and that little extra life has taught me that, while I’m not resigned to some form of default pessimism, I do have a respect for what the hard can do in testing cute little theories.

TWO. There’s lots of sick people out there. 

One night earlier in the week we had my in laws over-mom, dad, grandma and grandpa and two sisters. As I was praying for the meal I found myself asking for healing and it wasn’t until after the fact I realized how many people in the room really were afflicted some way or another and were in need of a healing hand.

And that was just one very small dining room! That’s to say nothing of the updates I track on Facebook and the church network of people who are seriously sick or in the midst of life-threatening stays at the hospital.

Being sick, down and out on your expectations or perfect plans gives you a much-needed sense of perspective and empathy.

I feel a growing sense of empathy locally (for the little ones in my house dragging on with their snot noses and dreary eyes) and globally (for those nieces, neighbors, co-workers and all of their respective family members).

Growing in empathy and prayer that extends beyond ourselves is a habit that will serve us all the days of our lives.

THREE: You can give thanks in every season 

Now I understand that I’m an optimist and almost never have a problem finding the silver lining, but this time I wasn’t the only one.

Rylee just kept saying, “at least you were home with us this week to weather the storm.” As in, ‘could have been much worse if you were at work this whole week and I was home alone with 4 sick kids!’

The truth is: we have lots of things to be thankful for… that the kids got it all over with in 1 week, that Rylee still hasn’t come down with it, that I have access to cheap meds, that we have help from family and friends.

There’s always someone who has it worse, there’s always a way it could have been worse and there’s always a silver lining.

Being thankful IN the season we are not thankful FOR is a habit that will serve us all the days of our life.

FOUR: Everything happens for a reason

I don’t know why this week played out the way it did with all of the fits and pains and broken expectations of the perfect staycation.

Maybe it was God’s way of forcing us to rest. Instead of breaking our backs pulling long hours at Disneyland, driving all over the County for the best free sights and sounds or going for broke over the full backyard camping experience-instead of trying to pack it all in for the perfect weeklong staycation… we rested.

All the kids napped everyday. We laid around most the week. We binge-watched New Girl and Veggie Tales. Despite the headaches and passing of bodily fluids, it was a somehow a forced rest.

I don’t know all his reasons all the time but I do know sometimes we’re given some sort of insight and “some sort of insight” from the Maker of heaven and earth is no small thing. AND that’s enough for me to go off.