Month: May 2012

The Process

The Spurs have won 20 straight games, 10 of them play-off games.  For the last ten years the team has been built around three men, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.  They are coached by a former Air Force officer, Greg Popovich.  With the singular exception of  Parker’s marraige to the over-hyped shrew named Eva Longoria, the Spurs do not live in the tabloids, or even much on sportscenter.  They have endured injuries, Ginobili in particular, and disappointments including last year’s first round loss to Memphis, but during their run, they have won three titles(2003, 2005 and 2007), and at this moment appear the favorite for a fourth.  The game is fickle, an injury, a missed shot, momentum turns and the Spurs may not reach the final, but that doesn’t diminish the value of what the Spurs represent a foundation of good people, committed to playing the game the right way, as a team that does the little things not just for themselves, but for each other.

Below is a paragraph from Bill Simmon’s after he watched the Spurs dismantle the Clipper’s after going down 24 points in the first half.

“And once you build a foundation that strong — when guys aren’t just teammates but friends, when nobody looks at their numbers, when everything revolves around the question, “What’s the best way to win today’s game?” — everything else is cake. On Saturday, the Clippers played their best possible basketball for the first 12 minutes, nailed the Spurs with every conceivable haymaker and had their fans standing and screaming. You couldn’t have scripted a better first quarter. The Spurs never flinched, chopping the lead to 15 and eliciting the first of many panicked Clippers timeouts. Watching the Spurs and their bench reacting to that moment (totally locked in, totally expecting the Clippers to cave), you could just tell where the game was going. I even tweeted about it. Great teams know they’re great. They trust the process. Scores don’t matter, crowds don’t matter, momentum doesn’t matter — eventually, the process will win out. And they know it.”

The process is playing the game the right way.  Everyone on the team accepting their role and with that the responsibility of their role.  They play for the guy next to them recognizing the power of collective commitment.  They play the percentages of the game.  That if you and your teammates defend every trip, box out every trip, run the floor both ways, communicate, share the ball and get a good look every trip success follows.  It is not an esoteric secret, but rather an ability to unwaveringly execute the demands of the game for the length of the game.

It is not ego’s and alpha dogs or taking games over, but a subtle self-awareness of one’s abilities and limitations, and those of his teammates.  This is honesty, the foundation of trust.  Over ten years, the Spurs nucleus have forged a foundation of trust unrivaled in the league.  A trust so profound it is seemlessly adopted by new players coming into the team.  I hope for all they represent the Spurs win the title this year, but I know whether they win or lose their foundation will not allow them to point fingers or assign blame.  They will accept the outcome of these play-offs as one because that is who they are.

Musical Notes

The first time I noticed Elijah Grooms was around this time last year during a basketball practice at Winter Springs. It was during the time-honored zig zag dribble drill where a dribbler attempts to advance the ball against a defender trying to cut him off or turn him. Elijah had a low center of gravity, balance and lightning quick feet, and turned the dribbler effortlessly. This man can defend. At that point however, it did not appear he could do much else. He was quiet, not particularly skilled, and despite what appeared to be a left arm attached to his body, did not actually have a left arm. He played summer team camps, and showed some athleticism and aggression, but vanished….to play football.

My son Camden Pink’s first interest in music centered around The Beatles and 90’s grunge. He coupled this taste with an air of musical sophistication suggesting that any other form of music was simply beneath him, and perhaps not worthy of even being called music. In this regard his was quite compelling, and in deference “Yesterday” became a part of the Latin Music Institute’s set list.

In October of last year, Elijah returned to open gym at the end of football. To be honest, Mr. Charm and I were not even sure he would come out to play as we had heard so little from him during football season. He was a different player. His speed and tenacity dominated the freshman (plus Chicharito) games. He showed a capacity to hit shots and given his stature unlikely ability to rebound. He was on the map.

I was laying in bed one day, when I heard Camden playing “Baby” by Justin Beiber on the acoustic guitar with Holland and Bryson singing along. Not wanting to ruin the moment, the trio blasted through Bruno Mars, Maroon 5 and Stevie Wonder. A musical transformation was afoot.

Elijah had a terrific freshman season with the basketball team. He was a dynamic defender, rebounder and on the strength of his 280 shots taken a productive, if high shot volume scorer.

Camden, Steven Kench and Joe Peloso formed the band Man Down. They publicly debuted during the school’s accoustic show in the fall covering “Adam’s Song” by Blink 182. The picked up several gigs and local bars and coffee shops as well.

At some point late in our basketball season, I heard Elijah was a singer….and that he was cut from the school talent show. In a related note, Man Down was banned from said talent show for antics dating back to the acoustic show in the fall.

After the passing of Xiomara, Camden and I listened to a video Elijah posted on his facebook page, a heartfelt rendition of “Isn’t She Lovely”, and reached the conclusion that Elijah should not have been cut from the talent show.

Last Saturday, Elijah and Camden got together to jam. We started downstairs in the living room with “Thinking About You” and “I’m Yours”, then moved upstairs and recorded several songs on the computer. It was a great experience. On Monday, Camden and Elijah performed “Thinking About You” at the school

Next Thursday night Elijah, Camden and RJ Bradley are taking the act on the road to The White Cup Coffeehouse in Sanford for open mic night. Show starts at 8pm.

The Life and Times of Orlando (Maitland) Futsal

The man on the left of the photo above is Richie Quilumba. He is from Ecudor and grew up playing soccer and practicing martial arts. He is a soft-spoken, devoutly religious man with a tremedous amount of patience. The man on the right is Ivo. He played professional water polo in communist Bulgaria. He learned English in a Miami hotel room while being “processed”, and still speaks with the accent of a Diehard villian. He is a successful businessman, risk-taker and devout atheist. For the last two years, they have coached my son Bryson on the Orlando (Maitland) Futsal team. I am thankful for their service and friendship.

As is obvious to any reader of this blog, I am a coach. I coach basketball at Winter Springs. I have also coached my kids, Camden, Bryson and Holland in basketball, football and soccer. My son Camden was at one point a promising soccer player in his own right, but things fell apart in the first season I did not coach him in an attempt to play for a more talented team. The coach didn’t provide the talent he advertised and was a miserable coach as well. Camden lost interest, and became a man of music. It is not a stretch to say that I was haunted by that experience when Bryson reached the same point in his development.

At this same time, Richie and Ivo bonded over their distaste of the high cost and bureaucratic bullshit of big club soccer, and decided to undertake a two year project in player development. The premise was to establish a group of players at a comparable skill level and provide them with a year round training regiment that emphasized individual skill development over team achievement all at a lower cost than prevailing club rates.

Shortly after club try-outs, Bryson began small group training with Richie. Richie was sufficiently impressed to ask if Bryson would be interested in their project. A week later, I was watching an indoor game when a guy with a shaved head, hoop earring and Eastern European accent threw his arm around me and asked why I wanted to waste my money at CFK. We were formally indoctrinated into the project.

Being notoriously cheap, I was drawn to the project for financial reasons, but I could already see improvement in Bryson under Richie’s training and accepted the sincerity of Richie and Ivo’s goal.

Richie handled most of the technical coaching and Ivo the logisitics. The initial group was balanced and fun to watch. Training was well-organized and productive. Beyond the training, Bryson played indoor, 3 v. 3 and futsal which kept him active 5-6 days a week throughout the year. He grew significantly as a player.

As a team, we were handicapped by not having a true keeper. Despite playing some flowing football, we conceded some crap goals and lost the fall league title with losses in the last two weeks. Our tournament player was erratic, and we suffered a disappointing setback by failing to get out of the first round of Region’s Cup play. We led 3-1 in our first game with less than 15 minutes to play, but gave up two bad goals and the draw proved fatal to our chances. Don’t mind me I am really not bitter about this game at all (COUGH BULLSHIT). The spring season after Region’s Cup was wrought with a number of significant injuries, but the team played with heart and won the league.

Personally, I was happy with Bryson’s progress. I felt in the fall he played too many minutes in a defensive role, but in the spring, he was primarily a center mid, and his influence on the game was maximized.

We lost three of our initial ten players after that season, and matters were complicated by the fact we were going from 8 v. 8 to 11 a side play. Richie and Ivo scrambled to find enough players to field a team, and even among the returning players the rate of improvement varied greatly. Consequently, the team lacked balance. The disparity between the better players and the lesser players was substantial which effected the type of drills that could be done. Further, the team relied on guest players that practiced with other teams, and did regularly attend our training sessions. Both technical and tactical training suffered.

With the depleted roster, the team played several times with no subs, ten and on at least one occaision nine players on the field. Bryson, among others, was frequently played in several positions each game, and the team lacked any continuity. Our results, measured in the traditional manner of wins and losses, were abysmal. Our viewing pleasure measured in the unconventional manner of my profanity was even worse.

Richie and Ivo shown their true quality as men in this circumstance. They stayed the course, kept training the boys, made a few positional changes and inspired our best run of play heading through the State Cup. We got out of the first round playing solid, but unspecacularly, and were a goal away from making the sweet 16. The group of players, however flawed, finished playing competitively against all comers.

This weekend we played together for the final time. It was a tournament and we went 2-1 in a fashion consistent with our recent form. We did not lift a trophy or even play the final. Our final game was a miserable 1-0 loss to a mediocre team coached by a loud-mouthed guy better suited to leading the Charge of the Light Brigade than developing quality players or people.

Over the next two weeks the immediate futures of our various players will be determined at other clubs with other coaches. It would be dishonest to say I have not spent large portions of the last two years frustrated mostly at losses, but also at tactics, subsititutions and postioning. It is my nature. Be that as it may, I believe that Richie and Ivo’s project has served Bryson well as a player and a person. It was the best option available to us and the time we took it, and for that I have no regrets. Personally, I have enjoyed the time I have spent with Richie and Ivo, as well as Dan, Mike, Juan, Aldo, Francis, Diliana, Sean, Joe, Tony, Paula, Mike and Annemarie, Gary….the parents of the players who I number now as my friends.

To each of you I offer a heartfelt Thank You.

Warrior

“You have to emotionally put yourself with your back against the wall, and kind of trick yourself, so to speak, to feel that there is no other option, but to perform, but to battle.” – Kobe Bryant

This is the warrior ethos.  It is an exercise in control of the mental state.  It is done consciously until it becomes subconcious.  In this sense, it is within the grasp of every competitor.  Very few reach it.

A few weeks ago, my son watched “The Announcement”, and, as is his way, culled youtube for information on Magic Johnson.  This led to videos of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, and inevitably questions.  Initially, the questions focused on the relative attributes of these epic players, shooting, passing, scoring, defense, athleticism, but in my mind it always got back, perhaps never left, competitive passion.  Each one of these players was obsessive as a competitor.  Magic and Bird had each other, trading titles and MVP trophies during the 80’s.  Jordan had himself, and is the model for what Kobe is talking about.

Jordan was fueled by slights, real or simply perceived.  He relentlessly sought and found fuel to stoke his competitive fires.  When Clyde Drexler was touted as a challenger, Jordan eviscerated him in the Finals.  When to avoid monotony, Karl Malone or even close friend Charles Barkely were voted MVP, Jordan humbled them in the finals.  The key in this competitive fury is not simply the stage performance in games, but the commitment to train, prepare and learn the game through the twilight of his career.  His competitiveness defeated his greatest challenger….complacency. Insert by Mr. Charm: Let’s repeat that line…His competitiveness defeated his greatest challenger…complacency.”

Jordan, and now Kobe, despite all of their talents, have recognized the mind is the distinquishing factor, and controlling their mentality is central to peak performance.

Mother’s Day: A Day of Generic Appreciation Sponsored By Hallmark

My mother is Carol Ann Robinson Pink. She is a baby boomer which means she was conceived in the euphoric afterglow of World War 2, and grew up during the Eisenhower administration, a glorious period of productivity and high National optimism.

My mother is nothing if not productive. For most of my childhood, she was a stay at home mom, cleaning house, preparing three meals, two desserts and a snack per day. For years, she followed my father to the race track, and cared for him when he was injured and later sick. When he stopped racing, she took me to football and baseball, and my sisters to cheerleading. She volunteered at the concession stand and bingo. She took a job at Sears to pay for us to go to college, and stayed there over 20 years, a rock of stability in a transient sea of incompetence.

She managed our lower, middle-class budget paying off a house, sending three kids through college without debt, taking regular vacations and never missing a birthday or holiday. She ushered us through the rituals of Catholicism.

When she visits, she brings homemade chocolate chip cookies and cooks all my favorite meals. She plans activities, cleans my house and is up for anything…..soccer practice, guitar lesson, cheer competition, even painting a room at midnight.

She talks a lot, but is not introspective. She is defined by her service to others, her productivity and her sense of right and wrong. These qualities have raised three productive, felony-free members of society and earned our eternal gratitude.

Happy Mother’s Day

WSBL Champions

“Great Achievement” was the sarcastic response from Mason San Souci, one of my players not involved in our championship U-15 team. The WSBL is by no means a highly competitive league, and the sarcasm was well-founded. I find “important” achievement more appropriate.

Championships of any kind and regardless of competition signify successful completion of the task at hand. This should never be dismissed. They keep score in these games, and someone loses. It means something when you are not the loser. It means that you overcame every challenge that came your way.

The team we put together to play in this league was comprised of several 8th graders and a few deep bench guys from Mr. Charm’s freshman team. Half of the 8th graders are by no means a lock to make the freshman team next season. It was important for these players to play in this environment. It gave them the opportunity to improve individually, and to play in close competitive games collectively.

The improvement was obvious, and the result of being exposed to their shortcomings as players in a competitive setting. What I mean by a competitive setting is that the competition is good enough to make you pay for doing the wrong thing, but not so good as to by way of superior athleticism and size, prevent you from doing the right thing.

On Wednesday night, the team played an outstanding first half, but fell apart in the second before escaping with a three point win. Yesterday, the game followed a similar pattern. We led 20-10 at the half, but sputtered to start the second. The lead was cut to 26-23 and we were in trouble. Jacob Tague hit a lay up and a three on back to back possessions pushing the lead back to eight and we had a working margin to win the game 42-31.

Well done.

The Distinctive Quality of Genius

“Talent hits the target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer was a nineteenth century German philospher, and his wikipedia page is bereft of any sporting accomplishments, but this quote resonates deeply with what distinguishes transcedent athletic performance.  Over the last several months, I have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers wherein he addresses the 10,000 hour theory as a pre-requisite for obtaining expertise in a given field.  I have read a well reasoned counter piece that notes the study behind the 10,000 hour theory lacked standard deviations, suggesting some innately gifted individuals can develop of level fo expertise in less that 10,000 hours.  Even in the best of circumstances, the development of talent is a process of deep practice over a substantial period of time, and not a divine gift from God. 

This explains the first part of Schopenhauer’s quote. Talent developed over time enables one to compete at a world class level.  The second part of the quote addresses what distinquishes performers at the world class level.  It is the target no one else sees, it is the gift of vision.  This gift can be literal.  Ted Williams, perhaps as he liked to refer to himself “the greatest hitter to ever live”, had 20/15 vision and could reportedly see the laces on a pitched baseball.  It can be in the fluid spatial relationships of soccer, hockey and basketball that explain the sublime passing of Xavi, Gretzky or Bird.

Pete Carril is the yoda of basketball.  Their is a clarity to his vision of the game that reaches life in general.  The first thing he looks for in a player is “can he pass?”  A passer who can see the open man is the same guy who sees where and when to screen, avoid picks, help on defense — in other words, he can see.  Vision, most readily apparent in passing the ball, but transferrable to every other aspect of the game, is what distinquishes players.

The pick and roll is likely the most effective action in basketball.  The basic premise is that the ball handler dribbles at the pick and after initiating contact the picker rolls to the basket.  Hours of clinics have been dedicated to  the various options out of this play and the techniques in defending it.  To watch Steve Nash or Chris Paul run a pick and roll is to behold visionary genius.  They do not simply “run” a pick and roll.  They “see” the pick and roll.  Both are adept at playing with their head up and at a tempo that enables them to identify the defensive technique employed against them, manipulate the pace and angle of the pick and roll to deprive the defense of the initiative, and see the options of the play as they evolve.

Dutchmaster Johan Cruyff, a visionary of the first order as a player and coach, is similar though far more cryptic than Carril in soccer.  He is noted for saying, “if you are running on the field, it is because you were out of position,” and most pertinent to this post, “the first yard is in the mind”.  Several years ago, I was at the Meadowlands to see a professional soccer exhibition.  A mediocre US Men’s National Team mustered a draw against a forgetable opponent.  What I haven’t forgetten was the second game that day featuring Italian club Parma, specifically Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov.  Stoichkov by that time had already starred for Barcelona’s dream team under Dutchmaster Johan Cruyff, and led Bulgaria to a thrilling run in the World Cup of 1994.  Stoichkov put on an incredible display of what Cruyff preached.  On each touch of the ball, it was strikingly obvious that Stoichkov already concieved what he would do, shoot, pass, or dribble before the ball arrived, but not in a rigid, pre-determined manner, but rather in the moment based on all he surveyed.  His play was composed, almost relaxed, but through his vision he dictated the pace of the game. 

Vision is genius even the confluence of man and machine.  I recently wrote about a three lap Moto GP duel between Lorenzo and Rossi, which was decided by Rossi’s vision.  As with most racing circuits, certain areas are particularly suited to passing.  Rossi won the race because he had the vision to see a pass in a segment of the track where passing was unlikely, hell no one had passed there all race.  Similarly, I watched James Stewart at the Daytona Supercross two years ago.  Just after the start-finish line, there was a two-tiered jump.  Throughout the heat races every rider in the field would hit the bottom segment of the jump and then bounce the back tire off the top segment to clear it……until the final lap of his heat race when Stewart accelerated into the lower segment and cleared the entire jump in one leap.  Through the final he remained the only rider to attack the jump that way and gained significant competitive advantage though a spectacular fall on another segment of the track prevented him from winning.