Life lessons learned on the court

I’m not sure that I was ever happier than when I was on the basketball court near my home, where I spent many hours of my early teenage years. I think back often to what happened, and I realize that much of what I learned applies to every single day I live.

Just as with learning a foreign language, what we glean in our adolescence seems to be firmly fixed in our minds, such that it becomes part of us. These lessons, then, are with me each day:

Better to give than to receive – As is the case on most courts, the winner stayed on while the loser had to sit and yield to whomever was waiting. Thus, there was every reason to do what was needed to win. If that meant you gave the ball to your best player, so be it. Ego would lead to defeat. In my case, I was always happy to pass the ball to Bill Thorne, he with the sweet baby hook that could not be defended. The business analog is obvious: Sacrifice your ego to make sure your business is successful.

Give everyone an opportunity – This is the complement to the previous rule: If you are ahead by a few points, give it to one of the weaker players on your team. It seems fair, it provides him or her with the opportunity to grow, and the results may surprise you.

What goes around comes around – The composition of teams was fluid. Any action you might take against an opponent could come back to haunt you because the opponent might become a teammate in short order. In our business lives, treating everyone with respect is the order of the day, for adversaries often become allies when you least expect it.

Give grace for small errors – If someone was a new player, we’d often look the other way on a traveling violation or a carry of the ball. There would be a time and place to educate that player on the finer points of the game, but criticizing publicly too often was a disincentive, and we really needed every player we could get. Our humanity allows us to make mistakes. Our humanity also allows us to give grace to others.

It’s all about the journey – Even though it’s been four decades since those days on the court, I bet I could give you 50 anecdotes from that time if asked. I’m pretty sure I could not name one final score. Sure, you are there to win (remember, if you don’t win, you have to sit out), but in the final analysis, you’ll remember you how people went about their business. Remember that it’s not just about making a living — it’s about making a life.

These lessons, without exaggeration, taught me more about life than any lecture. I think the joy of teamwork stays with me to this day because it was so integral to my teen years. The most important aspect of those days is this: the relationships formed on that concrete court almost 40 years ago are with me to this day, and will always be. They were formed with love and teamwork and a common goal — and that’s the most important lesson of all.


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