Phoning Home


When my own mental health permits, I speak to my parents on a weekly basis, usually on a Sunday night. The call follows a similar pattern. My mom initiates the call or answers the phone and updates me on the mundane activities of retirement…..where and what they ate, random encounters with people I may know, amusing deaths and a rundown of interactions with my niece and nephew, Emma and Jack. Then the phone is turned over to my dad (the wiry lad on the left of the above photo), who has over the last 20 plus years since I have lived afar has displayed an uncanny knack for being engaged in a bath at the time of this call. Once properly sorted and on the phone, the first couple of minutes are an rehash of what my mom just told me, but then on the good days, the call comes alive.

Something in the recurrent cocktail of motorsports, my coaching, the exploits of my kids, or more recently this blog sparks and ignites a firestorm of thought. Last night, it was the subject, more specifically, the source of motivation.

Earlier in the evening, Bryson had open futsal. For the first twenty or so minutes, he played indifferently which came on the heels of a week in which he was sick and practiced much the same way. His health was an excuse, but as I sensed at other points this season a measure of frustrated boredom descended as well. Intellectually, I can understand this situation. His team has not won much on the field, and he spends considerable time playing with players who ply their craft as it were at a lower level. He is neither motivated by imminent victory or challenged by his mates. On this particular Sunday, Bryson found, and perhaps, created motivation. The source he won’t disclose. The result there for all to see. Long dribbing runs, solid tackles, sharp, violent shots and inventive passes. I didn’t say much on the ride home, but he noted that futsal was “pretty good.”

It is my deep, unabiding belief that it is truly more fun to play at your best than at any lesser level. My dad agrees. We spoke of how the truly greats like Michael Jordan, and recently Kobe Bryant, will fabricate fueds and slights to channel their best performances. The reality for players of that ability is that they will play with and against inferiors on a constant basis, and if they allow themselves, their performance will dip to the prevailing level. They will not achieve nor maintain greatness without maintaining motivation to be great.

Both Jordan and Bryant are praised for their exceptional drive. I believe a significant portion of this drive originates with external praise. As a young player, praise is vital. It is the fuel to train and to become exceptional. As a young player improves, he distinguishes himself from his peers. In doing so, he begins to not just earn the praise of his family, coaches and teammates, but third parties with no reason to praise other than their genuine appreciation of what they have seen. I believe this praise in particular resonates and becomes a part of the young players self-image. In “The Talent Code”, psychological studies establish a link between self-image and improvement. In the studies, the self-image one has of themself as a soccer player, violinist, or chess player was a more consistent factor in improvement than actual practice time. Once the initial fire is ignited, by external praise it must be stoked.

This is the place where Bryson exists. It is easy to stoke the fire of motivation in the face of a challenge like ODP try-outs. It is a clear and unambiguous test of your quality. The greater challenge is stoking the fire in lesser moments mindful that “going through the motions” is not going to render any lasting improvement or elicit any external praise, and thereby reduce the chances of meeting the larger challenges when they are available.

The highest evolution of this is Jordan and Bryant, who so supremely managed their motivation, to recraft their games to compensate for diminishing physical skills roaming the NBA landscape like aging gunfighters waiting for someone worthy enough to better them at what they mastered.

2 thoughts on “Phoning Home

  1. Agree on all the above. A couple of things on motivation and praise.

    On motivation, the fine line that Jordan, Bryant and other greats travel, is not letting that fuel that drives them, burn them up. In other words they channel those slights, real or perceived, to raise the level of their game, where lesser performers might let that rage take them out of their game. I have to remind my young player of that once in a while.

    Same with praise. As an example, take young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who currently plies his trade with Arsenal Football club in the English Premier League. After some impressive performances for club, the English press is ready to catapult him into the latest English National football team savior status. At just 18 years of age others would buy into the hype -and many have *cough* David Bentley*cough*- but I was very impressed by a recent interview where the reporter was blowing that kind of smoke up his butt. He said when he hears stuff like that, his dad keeps him grounded by reminding him how much work he still needs to do and how far he still needs go. That road is indeed perilous. My sense is that the greats never really believe all the praise and keep a small amount of “insecurity” in the back of their heads, enough to help them glance back once in a while to keep track of who might be gaining on them. I have to remind my young player of that as well.

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