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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Oil & Water: Professional Athletics vs. Finances

Family –

After taking a couple of days off I decided to jump back on the wagon to see what intellectual, thought-provoking buttons I could push with one of my many soap-box commentaries.

Maybe I’m giving myself a little too much credit….

ANTYWAY (as Madea would say)… A few months ago I did a two part series on ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series: “Broke.” If any of you got a chance to see that episode and read the blog post, you know what I’m taking about… for those of you who didn’t just scroll down a few posts on the site and you’ll see the ones I’m speaking of.

In the second post, I outlined 10 things that I thought were aiding and abetting the financial challenges professional athletes face before, during and after their time in the pros. Over the course of the next three weeks we will examine each of these “considerations” in detail as they pertain to professional sports and finances.

Here they are again in case you forgot: --->

1.       Experience – Most don’t have experience handling this kind of money and usually they go from nothing to a multi-millionaire overnight.

2.      Maturity – When athletes (for all sports) “turn pro” it usually happens in their late teens or early twenties…not the most mature time in any of our lives – planning is the last thing on anyone’s mind

3.      Keepin it Real – This may be more of a cultural thing, but “remembering where you came from” is a huge thing in the African-American community. So instead of what many call “Catholic guilt” many Black athletes carry their own version of not leaving their roots behind – which unfortunately always includes paying the way of all those who were close to him “back in the day.” There’s a type of “proving” that money and fame hasn’t changed you… the last thing you want to be known as is a “sell out.”

4.      Parent(s) – This may be the single most difficult issue for any athlete. For some, being able to “take care of momma” is a huge thing. Especially for the large majority of athletes who were raised by one parent (usually mom). What’s even worse is when momma expects her son to take care of her and really lays it on… how can he say no?

Oil and Water Do Not Mix!!!
5.      “It Can’t Happen to Me” – In my humble opinion this is the biggest mindset change that needs to be made by professional athletes. Yes, it can happen to you…yes, there is an end in sight…yes; you need to make plans for life after your professional athletic career ends. In essence life is just beginning when that life if over.

6.      Education – Speaking of life after professional sports… did they even get a degree? What business professional skills do they possess? Can they do anything other than play sports?

7.      Baby Momma Drama – I refuse to even waste the ink explaining this one…in a word – DUMB.

8.      Poor Investments/Advice – Again, broke yesterday and multi-millionaire today. They have to invest in something… NEWS FLASH - all investments aren’t good investments. Unfortunately, those hired to protect the livelihood of the athlete are usually boosting their own livelihoods while sucking the monetary life out of the one they should be protecting…as long as they get their cut it really doesn’t matter. Whew! Cutthroat!  

9.      “Living the Life” – Along that same line, buying multiple homes, luxury cars, yachts, thousands on custom jewelry, clothes and spending thousands more in clubs in the VIP lounge with the entourage. Really… It doesn’t last forever… as Mike Ditka says: “Stop it!”

1.   “I’m Gonna Have a Long Career” – Here today and gone tomorrow… one never knows if coaching changes, trades, injuries or any unforeseen event will arise. Trust me… I went from being a starter in the league to unemployed in a matter of months after my head coach got fired. It happens… Living each day as if it’s your last doesn’t mean spending like it. Frugal is a smarter way to go.

I hope you’ll join me on this next journey as we examine: “Oil & Water: Professional Athletics vs. Finances.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sport is Life: Tenacity

Family –

First, I would like to thank you for your support in reading my rants over the course of the past eight months. I appreciate your time, interest and loyalty even if you may not agree with some of my points of view… as I’ve always said anyone can create a blog!

Today we tackle the final topic in our “Sport is Life” mini-series: Tenacity.  Let’s think about that word for a second… Tenacity… Hmmmmm…. Merriam-Webster defines Tenacity as a noun ---> the quality of being tenacious. Tenacious defined as persistent, stubborn, not easily pulled asunder; tough.

Let’s break the different characteristics of the definition down a bit further as they pertain to sport and life. Let’s look quickly at “Persistence.” Our coaches drilled a simple philosophy into us regarding our plan in sport. Never, ever quit. No matter what the score, no matter how bad it might be… never, ever quit. Coach Holtz took it one step further with us when he would define “The Plan” for how we win and round it out with “Never….ever flinch. We will find a way to win.”

Even in our work week we have moments when persistence is required… in sales, the legal profession, education… you name it – at some point we’ll hit the wall. At that point you have to make a decision of whether or not to “flinch” or find a way to win. Look at it this way; if you don’t get it done, somebody else will…agreed? Pretty simple stuff huh?

The next segment of the definition says “Stubborn, not easily pulled asunder.” Sounds a whole lot like focus to me gang! This definition simply says you will find a way and there is basically nothing anyone can to do to change your objective and focus. Our coaches encouraged us to be relentless and give 100% effort at all times. This attitude is evident when you watch professional athletes like Adrian Peterson compete; and former greats like Michael Jordan and Cal Ripken, Jr. In business we can see that passion burning in the likes of Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs and even (God help me) Donald Trump. Having a plan and executing that plan is a basic part of sport… it’s also one of the key ingredients in great success beyond sport.

The final segment of the tenacious definition simply says… “Tough.” Toughness is required in sport on many different levels. There’s the physical toughness required for training to get the body in shape and the endurance to stay injury free during the season to give team the best opportunity to be successful. Athletes play with physical pain all the time… so much so that now it’s become expected on many levels. Mental toughness is also required… having to mentally combat the challenges that are faced throughout the season both on and off the field of competition can place a huge burden on an athlete. Without some level of mental toughness failure is all but certain.

All coaches want tough athletes... athletes they can trust to consistently perform day in and day out… no matter what situation is thrown their way. Coaches want athletes who aren’t afraid to bleed a little and endure a small dose of pain for the success of the entire team. Remember, there’s a difference in being “hurt” and being “injured” right?

"Sport is Life" Mini-Series
In that same vein we should have that same type of toughness in business.  No matter the challenge, no matter the disappointment… no matter the incompetents we have to work with day after day, we have to be strong in relentless pursuit of success (whatever that means to you). Perhaps its salesperson of the month or producer of the quarter… maybe you want to be executive of the year… there may even be a monetary incentive that you find attractive - none of it matters if you aren’t mentally tough.

Just like sport you may not be the most talented or make the most money or may not be the favorite of senior management. However, the one thing that can’t be affected is your ability to outwork others. There’s nothing wrong with getting to work early and staying late. There’s nothing wrong with knowing everything there is to know about your job and there’s definitely nothing wrong with knowing everything there is to know about your competition. At the end of the day there is nothing we do in business today that we didn’t learn about through sport back then.

My uncle, who’s my mentor and a licensed marriage and family therapist, said to me, “Oscar, life involves a ton of crisis management. How are you going to handle each crisis, are you tough enough to continue to fight…. but more importantly do you learn from the mistakes that created the crisis in the first place?” I thought about it for a minute and after letting it marinate for a couple days I figured out why what my uncle said sounded so familiar. His words reminded me of what Coach Holtz used to tell us about facing adversity: “Life is 10% what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

Dammit… I just can’t seem to shake this “sport thing!”

As we bring this mini-series to a close (and I run out to the doc to get an antibiotic for this ridiculously painful sinus infection) I want to again remind you that sport is so much more than wins and losses. Sport is so much more than just competition and fanfare. Sport is struggle. Sport is pain. Sport is jubilation. Sport is passion. Sport is life lessons. Sport is education. Sport my friends… is life.

Friday, January 25, 2013

One Final Thought - Manti Te'o

Ok Peeps -

I’ve done radio shows and telephone interviews so I guess it’s high time I did a blog to express my thoughts on this whole fiasco.

First of all let’s put this out there…. Manti Te’o is the most decorated collegiate athletes of all time and he just so happens to be a Notre Dame Alum. He’s played at a high level on the field for four years and has been nothing but a model citizen off the field.

There…got that out of the way.

Second…. Ok so he made a mistake and got involved with someone with obvious mental issues. Can anyone reading this blog right now honestly say they haven’t been involved (personally or professionally) with an absolute wacko? Yeah… didn’t think so.

Third… what did he do? Was he arrested? No. Did he steal something? No. Did he scalp tickets? No. Did he get a house for his parents and a car featured in DUBS Magazine? Uh, no. Did he sell some Notre Dame memorabilia to a local tattoo shop in exchange for cash? Negative. Did his dad shop him around to the highest bidder when he was being recruited? Nope. So if we can take a step back and see through all the idiotic jokes and puns that have been directed his way, Manti is truly only guilty of being a gullible kid.

Oooooo… bad Manti!

Look I know we all look at this situation and say, “How could this happen? He had to know!” If there’s something more that comes out of this I will gladly delete this post and recant my statements…but until that time comes I will believe that this young man was taken advantage of… violated and completely embarrassed.

Has anyone taken a Nano-second to think about how embarrassing something like this could be? This kid was a role model and inspiration to thousands of people (many who have never and will never meet him) – how would you shoulder the guilt of having let them down? What would you say on national television? How would you feel if you (personally) were the bud of every tasteless joke, television skit and (in the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers… which I still don’t know where they get off making fun of ANYONE) jumbtron timeout segment? What would you say to him if you were his parents?

Who knows what irreparable damage has been done to this kid?

The masses would say, “Well, he’ll go to the NFL and make a ton of money and everything will be cool.” I can’t imagine that we (in 2013) would be so shallow. This isn’t something that just goes away – unfortunately this may be something that follows him for a while.

In closing let me say I hope for Manti’s sake this is something that does goes away quickly… and I hope he’s learned a valuable lesson in all this (I don’t know what it would be; but I hope he has). I wish him nothing but the best and continued strength for as long as he might need it. And for all of us social media hounds… let’s just leave the kid alone.

Go Irish!


Sport is Life: Discipline

Family –

As I sit here writing part three of our mini-series on “Sport is Life,” I’m reminded of my humble beginnings in a small town in North Central Florida with only three stoplights. There wasn’t much to do… no movie theater, no game room, no boys & girls club and when I wanted to join boy scouts mom was told… “We don’t want your kind in here.”

Gotta love good ol ’Chiefland, Florida…which is a completely different blog entry! 

Let’s dive into the third installment in our mini-series: “Sport is Life” shall we?

What do you think of when you think of discipline? I usually think of an enlisted person… a Marine, Army Navy or Air Force service person. Someone who has to live with discipline or the consequences could be dire. I also think of my time playing football and the discipline it took to work out, eat right, watch film and perform at an optimum level each time.

I had the fortune of training with a man who is generally credited with bringing Bo Jackson back from his hip injury… Mack Newton. Mack was a two-time world champion in Tae-Kwon-Do and Vietnam Veteran. His dojo was in Phoenix and he never, ever, EVER turned on the air in the dojo… wait… did I mention the dojo was in Phoenix?

Mack described discipline as “doing what you should do when you should do it whether you like it or not.” Seems kinda blunt huh? If you think about it no one ever wants to practice all the time. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a sport at a high level, defending this great nation of ours or working in corporate America.

Being disciplined is difficult… let’s just put that out there… however the rewards for incorporating it into your life are magnanimous (I think this used to be an SAT word)! Imagine the focus and discipline it takes to become a high ranking officer in the armed forces (i.e., a General). What about the discipline it takes to become one of the best athletes at your specific sport – in the entire world! Think of the many great people there are in this world and you can probably bet they have discipline in common.

Dalai Lama at prayer
Photo: AP
Ok… here comes the question. 

So if we know discipline is a tough thing to live with, yet we see how well it works in the lives of others who have been tremendously successful… then why wouldn’t we strive to live as disciplined a lifestyle as we can? Not New Years' resolutions, but making a concerted effort to change how we do things for the better. In the words of great Collegiate Hall of Fame Coach Grant Teaff: “Total effort is hard to accomplish, but the willingness to try is essential.”  

How about this? Take one thing… a small thing and gradually work at it… kinda like when you were working on a part of your game to get better (like shooting free-throws). Work at it every day a little bit….and even when you don’t want to work on it… DO IT ANYWAY! It takes hard work and discipline to achieve greatness. Effort, attitude, focus… all those things we were taught as young people through sport are needed now (more than ever) in our lives.

There’s no running, ducking or hiding from the fact that effort requires discipline. Discipline requires good preparation. Preparation requires good focus. Focus requires the desire, the fight… the tenacity to stand when no one else has the strength or the nerve.

As Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." In other words we need reps...  not just in sports… but in everything we do…  Let's go people; "line it up and run it again." 

Sport is Life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sport is Life: Preparation

Family –

Let me first apologize for the long break in between blog posts. With all the media shrapnel flying around about what was happening at my dear Alma Mater, I didn’t think it would be a good time to post something that would otherwise not get the time of day… that said we’re back in full swing.

Let’s continue…

For those of you who are just reading for the first time, we are investigating the concept that “Sport is Life.” Simply stated “Sport is Life” says that no matter your walk of life or professional path some level of sport has entered into your existence… athlete or not.

The second tier in our “Sport is Life” series centers on something that we all know well… PREPARATION. Since sport is the angle we’re taking, let’s reflect back to a time that we needed to prepare for a big athletic test. Perhaps it was facing the number one team in the conference or the best team in the state. Your preparation gave you the best possible opportunity to accomplish three things:

1.       Perform at an optimum level (because that’s what it would take to compete).
2.      Give you the best chance, if any, to win.
3.      Prevent you from being embarrassed (pride ever-present in sport).

Think back to the focus you had and the “can do” attitude that you approached each day with… those were probably some of the most fruitful days in preparation (practice) you had right? Think back for a second… the coaches were more focused… the game plan seemed to make more sense… your school and community backed you for the most part (even though there were a few who still thought you had no chance) and the people on your team had the resolve it took to fight, compete and give their best effort no matter the situation.

Preparation is a tool that
gives you the best possible
opportunity to succeed.
How is that different from our professional lives? Maybe you’re an attorney and you’re facing one of the top legal giants in your discipline… maybe you’re a salesperson looking to land a huge national account…then again maybe you're simply going in for a job interview that you have a snowball’s chance of landing. Where’s the difference? 
Hmmmmm…let’s see…. 1. You still want to perform at an optimum level best since there is so much more at stake ($$$$). 2. You still want to give yourself the best possible chance to be successful even if the odds are stacked against you. 3. The last thing you want is to be embarrassed (especially on a bigger stage). Sounds to me like preparation is one of those key ingredients for success much like our previous characteristic – focus.

Look… let’s make it simple… no one is ever going to win every single time. Preparing yourself to be the best you can be at least insures that you’ll know what’s going on and not be caught off guard. Let’s face it…the world is an ugly place – filled with selfish, evil bullies that try to take advantage of the unsuspecting (just ask my Notre Dame Brother).

With that in mind, my question is… “Why would you NOT prepare?” Coach Holtz used to remind us going into a game: “Men…we don’t have to be the best in the country today… we only need to be the best in the stadium today.” That took the pressure off and helped us realize that we needed to focus on the task at hand. We couldn’t control what was happening around the country, but we could control what we did on the field that day. In that same vein you too can control what you do today… and if we’re being honest, that’s the ONLY thing we can control.

We’ve heard all the clich├ęs “plan your work, work your plan,” “if you fail to plan you plan to fail,” “walking on hot coals will burn your feet,”….uh…err… well maybe not the last one, but you get my point. Here’s one last quote to put your knapsack… feel free to refer to it as often as needed:

“A life without preparation is a life without destination – Sport is Life.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sport is Life: Focus

Family –

As we continue our mini-series on “Sport is Life” I want you to understand that these ideas are merely my own personal observations. These are things I have experienced as an athlete, business professional and now as a coach/mentor/educator. Your experiences may be different… but then again maybe not.

Here goes…

Let’s examine our first intangible – Focus. If you clicked on the link of the highlighted word in the intro blog post you saw Focus defined as: “a central point, as of attraction, attention or activity.” Seems pretty straight forward right? 

Let’s probe a little deeper into the definition.

From childhood we were expected to “pay attention” and “focus” during class. Not doing so came with serious reprimand or a trip to the principal’s office if we continued to be disruptive. Obviously, some classes were easier to pay attention in since we either enjoyed the subject or liked the teacher. The same held true as we got older and participated in sports maybe at the junior high or high school level. If we weren’t focused and getting the job done in practice or during a workout our coaches added a little “incentive” to get us going.

At some point sport took on its own identity and required a specific level of “focus” that many of us had never seen. We began to understand what it took to be successful and further what our coaches expected from us as athletes, students and members of the community. We took on a whole new level of responsibility in sport. We learned everything there was to know about our sport, our opponent how to effectively prepare and how to capitalize on every weakness to give our team an advantage. Ultimately we wanted to win… and winning required sacrifice.

We've learned valuable life lessons
through sport that apply in our
adult lives today.
This whole being focused thing commanded something that was a bit more challenging for a young person…discipline. I’ve heard discipline defined as “doing what you should do, when you should do it, whether you like or not.” Between me and you I can honestly say there were many things in athletics that I didn’t like… specifically the grueling workouts. Of course the games were fun… but the suffering it took to get to the games at times seemed insurmountable.  Ugh! 

Nevertheless we continued to push ourselves through those times and learned that in order to get to the fun we would sometimes have to endure some occasional discomfort and pain… we learned “life lessons” through sport without even knowing it. Wow… what a concept – there must be more to sport than just winning and losing!

Let’s fast forward to the end of our playing days and catapult ourselves into the “real world” that many of us have come to know as Corporate America. What do you think would be a key ingredient in being successful? Yup…you guessed it – Focus!

Since I’ve been in sales most of my life, let’s use sales as our medium of explanation.  As a salesperson you need to focus on your plan of attack.  The institution of sales embodies many other key characteristics that we find in sport. For example: fearlessness, determination, motivation, heart and teamwork are all character qualities that coaches love to see in athletes.  Hmmmmm….. Just so happens that national sales managers love to see those same character traits in the salespeople they hire. What a concept! Again sport has become the conduit for learning skills to be later drawn from in life!

In my humble, yet assertive opinion there are five (5) simple questions that should be asked with respect to narrowing one's focus on the desired success track:

1.      What makes you different from everyone else out there? I’m special because…..find, use it, own it!
2.     Who is the competition and what do they do well? Know everything there is to know about them – trust me, they know who you are!
3.     What about the product or service gives you an edge on the competition? What are the bells and whistles (key components)… remember to sell the sizzle… not the steak. Passion sells!
4.     Do you know everything there is to know about your product or service? Clients have different hot buttons (needs) and this will require you to know every intricate detail about what you do – knowledge IS power!
5.     To reiterate the definition of focus – are you centered on “activities” that will yield the results you want? Are you coming to work to work or are you coming to work to wait? Someone is making it happen…why shouldn’t it be you?

Geez…. Sounds eerily similar to those same steps we took in our preparation for a game against an opponent doesn’t it? The many hours of practice, training and studying had a specific purpose with a desired outcome…to WIN.

I’ve heard it said, “It’s impossible to plant an orange seed and grow an apple tree.” With that same thought in mind, it’s impossible to have a definitive plan for success, work that plan and fail. As simplistic as it may sound everything we needed to learn about life we learned in sport… ultimately because – Sport is Life.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sport is Life: Intro

Friends -

Welcome to 2013! I trust you all had a great Holiday Season with family and let's take the decorations down and get back to business!

As I sat down to write this blog post I was reminded of how much sport has done and continues to do in my life. Although I was lucky to come out of the small town of Chiefland, Florida and attend the University of Notre Dame, I’ve come to realize sport isn’t just about wins and loses…but rather Sport is Life.

Lemme ‘splain.

Most of us were lucky enough to participate in some type of sport in our youth or maybe had the great fortune of competing collegiately and professionally. As athletes we understood the necessity of certain character traits required for success in our chosen field of competition. Focus, Preparation, Discipline, and Tenacity are all essential components for success in athletics. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have the occasional freak athlete, right (ask Nick Saban)? 

But what happens when that freak athlete doesn’t have discipline or focus? What if they refuse to adequately prepare? I’m sure we could poll any number of coaches on every level and their answer would be the same. They would rather have the player who works hard, is disciplined, focused and tenacious; versus the freak athlete who’s simply loose a cannon.

The question I pose to you my friends is where is the difference in exercising the use of these same attributes in our daily lives? These same “ingredients” for success should follow us in our daily work plan. If any of these key ingredients are left out it would be like baking a cake without flour or sugar….probably wouldn’t taste so good would it? If any of these ingredients are left out in the workplace it creates a "recipe for disaster."

The objective this week is to open dialogue on a four part series called: “Sport is Life.” In this series we will examine the similarities between sport and our daily work life employing the principles of Focus, Preparation, Discipline and Tenacity. I welcome your comments and input since we all have different thoughts and beliefs.  This one will definitely be worth your read time – 

As my former coach and current mentor the great Lou Holtz once said, “Life’s about wins, losses and more importantly…lessons.”

I hope you will join me on this journey!