Archive for July, 2011

As most of you know, I am not a great writer and have not had much to blog about lately. Below is a collection of random writing I have done over the past few months. Enjoy or not. Just my observations. B-Side material, but sometimes that can be some good stuff.

Phil Jackson: Genius Coach?

This week, Phil Jackson appears to have coached his last NBA game. I was not pleased with the boorish behavior of his team in their elimination game against Dallas. I feel Phil should have owned up to his role in influencing this awful display, but I have to admit: I love Phil and believe him to be one of the top coaches of all time and not just in basketball, but in all sports. He won 11 championships. I know, he had Jordan, Shaq and Kobe. Anyone could have won championships with those guys. Really? Did superstars and dream teams win the NBA championship in Miami? How about our past Dream Teams? What can we learn from Phil?

Phil was one of the first “cerebral coaches”. He was different and did not care what you thought about his “zen approach” to coaching, teaching and leading. From buying books on various diverse topics for his players, to his use of Native American rituals, Phil was an innovator and a winner. If he had not been winning championships, would this very integrative approach been accepted by both his players and fans? Probably not, but those of us in leadership roles can learn from his carreer. Below are the key characteristics I think made Phil Jackson an exceptional teacher, coach and leader.

  • Hire experts Phil’s teams were known for the “triangle offense”. Tex Winter was the coach/architect of this complex and effective system, which was given credit for giving the Bulls and Lakers a definite competitive advantage. I don’t know where Phil found Tex, but kudos for finding this guru of offense. His genius allowed Phil to focus on other variables.
  •  Embrace Diverse Disciplines  The use of Native American rituals and Zen Buddhism and getting his players to read about diverse (non sport) success stories was brilliant. He made his players become intrinsically motivated to improve and work together as a team by showing them different and creative success stories from other worlds. He challenged their minds and made them better.
  •  Created mystique  How much of what Phil did was real and how much was designed to get other teams to become intimidated and bewildered? Who knows, but I know it worked. I believe that many of his competitors were beaten before they got to the arena.
  •  Good Talent/Great Chemistry Many have said that any coach could win with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil. Maybe, but I believe that many of the Bulls and Lakers championships were won by complimentary players whom Phil was able to gel with his superstars. Many of these players could have been stars on other teams, but learned to play complimentary roles. Scottie Pippen, Tony Kucoc, Dennis Rodman, Derek Fisher and too many to name. The ability to generate chemistry was one of Phil Jackson’s major gifts.
  •  Strategic Controversy/Diversions Controversy and contrived statements can take the pressure off of your athletes if done strategically and judiciously. In this era of media scrutiny, pressure on players is intense. Instantaneously, what you say is reported whether valid or not. In his last two years, Phil was known for some pretty preposterous media statements that seemed very unlike the Zen Master. I was not really thrilled with some of these less than professional outbursts, but I believe they had a purpose. They took media attention away from his players and put psychological pressure on his opponents. Mind games. Early in the season when Phil critiqued coach Eric Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, it caused an uproar for over a week. The Heat players and management were bombarded with questions and requests for comment, and all the while, the Laker players were left alone while their coach fielded the “heat”

Phil, you were and master and as a coach, I thank you for all of your lessons.

Life is the sum of all your choices. ~ Albert Camus

The integrative approach and The Process

I have done and been many things in my life. Athlete, manager, business owner, consultant, coach, teacher, advisor and probably some things I have forgotten. Is forgetting the past always good? All this living in the present makes us think so.  Living in the moment is the ticket, but can you combine learning experiences as diverse as running a log flume in an amusement park, delivering ice cream, teaching kindergartners (not my current job), testing cardiac patients, managing life-saving medical programs and coaching professional athletes? If you want to be good, you should take time to remember, and if you are currently “stuck” you should absorb.

Almost daily I call on experiences from my past to help me live more effectively today both professionally and personally. Those experiences are not discarded:

  • When I am watching hours of film of my athletes and looking for small, miniscule movements that may improve performance it brings back memories of when I had to watch hours of 24 hour cardiac rhythm data, looking for arrhythmias. It required meticulous focus and concentration. It was 20 years ago, but it makes me good at what I do today.
  • When I am at the race track in the hot sun for 8 hours at a time, I remember sitting 100 feet up on that log flume for 8 hour shift with no shade. That made this easy.
  • When one of my athletes talks about one of their children having school issues, I remember the year I taught school and I try to provide advice on how to help them with their children.
  • When I was dealing with “elite talent” cardiologists, I learned the skills of compromise and communications with select and gifted minds. Can you say elite athlete. Not much difference. Believe me.

How do you learn from and benefit from your experiences? Embrace the process. So many people I talk to despise their work or look at their current roles as steps to a greater position or job that may or may never happen in the future. Life is about the process and if you embrace it, good things will happen.

The Miami Heat Loss

What is the right blend of stars and role players?

 The Miami heat loss in the NBA finals to the Dallas Mavericks demonstrated that a “team concept” many times, can and did beat a “dream team/superstar” group. There are many reasons that the Miami Heat lost to the “out talented” Dallas Mavericks. Here are my observations.

  • Depending on superior talent and a big payroll can be a mistake. Chemistry is needed. Complacency and arrogance kills superior physical advantages.
  • Chemistry + Proven System + Role Players = Success. I have always been a big admirer of Coach Mike K. While the Duke Blue Devils have had their share of superstars, most of their top players do not do that well in the NBA. Why? I believe Coach K recruits to a “system” and for “chemistry” No one player is the emphasis. This was not the model of the Miami Heat. While the initial Olympic Dream Team was successful and dominant in the 90’s, subsequent Dream Teams were less than successful, and in fact ,were embarrassing failures. I suspect one reason was the name “Dream Team”, and that leads to reason 3.
  • Unneeded pressure and Hubris.  Declaring that you were getting together to win 6-7 championships was arrogant and stupid. Did LeBron, Pat Reilly, Duane Wade not know that players like Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Dan Marino etc. played years and never won championships? Did they know how hard winning championships is? Certainly Pat Reilly should have. He has won them. Pressure in athletics is already overwhelming without basically crowning yourself as the “chosen ones”. There is a difference between strategic braggadocio vs. flagrant braggadocio. Holding major media events to announce your leaving Cleveland and going to South Beach to win championships was the beginning of this failure. I believe it put an unnecessary burden on LeBron James, which crippled him when it came time to delivering in the clutch. Hall of Fame coach Pat Reilly should shoulder much of the blame for this failure. He knew better. Championships are won from intrinsic motivators, not extrinsic ones.

Random observations from a day in NYC

Recent studies have shown that an urban lifestyle is detrimental to your health. Maybe. Studies like this are burdened by many confounding variables. This one-man study says balance is the key. There is good in all lifestyles.

While I walked the streets of Manhattan with a friend, I heard lots of thank yous, pardon mes, and saw lots of smiles. Maybe I was visiting on a bizarro day, but I felt the energy of a community. I don’t feel that in the sterile suburbs of Charlotte where I live. Don’t get me wrong; I love it when I get out on the lake and out in the country. It energizes me in another way, but I felt another kind of energy in the streets of New York City today. Thanks Big Apple. Time to put on some Frank Sinatra.

We can get good things (renewal and restoration) from both urban and rural settings. Mix it up sometime. There is good all around us in our communities.


Golden Tate, wide receiver with the Seattle Seahawks started a firestorm in the motorsport world by questioning why 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson should be considered an athlete.

As a sport physiologist with 30+ years testing and working with endurance athletes (running cycling triathletes), professional soccer and basketball players and motorsport pit crews and drivers, I will weigh in from my professional opinion. Here is a list of athletic components that can define what an “athlete” is or is not. Granted, there will be a debate as to whether more components can or should be added.

I guess the key question is: How many of these components do you have to possess to be called an athlete?

  • Accuracy – controlling movement in a precise manner
  • Agility – controlled change of direction
  • Balance – the ability to control the body’s stability while moving or stationary.
  • Body Composition  – the ability to maintain the optimal ratio body fat/muscle.
  • Cardiovascular Endurance – the ability of the body, process and deliver oxygen.
  • Coordination – the ability to combine several distinct movements
  • Efficiency – the ability to perform movement with minimal exertion.
  • Mobility/Flexibility – the ability to move freely and easily.
  • Muscular Endurance – the ability of muscles to contract repeatedly
  • Muscular Power – muscular force exerted over time
  • Recovery – the ability of body to return to its pre-activity state after exercise.
  • Response/Reaction Time – the ability to react quickly to external stimulus.
  • Motor Skill – the ability to develop gross and fine motor skills to refine technique.
  • Speed – the ability to move as quickly as possible over a given distance.
  • Muscular Strength – the ability to exert a force against resistance.
  • Mindset – the ability to remain focused and deliberate during performance
  • Environmental Stress – heat, cold and other external stimuli

Okay, so is Jimmie Johnson an athlete? Based on my working with and collecting various data on racecar drivers, here is Jimmie’s score:

  1. Accuracy – racecar drivers live by precision based movements and proprioception through their entire bodies.
  2. Body Composition – weight is important but not critical. Lighter is always better.
  3. Coordination – very important with clutch/throttle and hand eye.
  4. Muscular Endurance – G forces make this important, more at some tracks than others.
  5. Recovery – this component is what performance enhancing drugs is all about. Don’t let any athlete tell you different. The ability to recover from the mental and heat related stress after a 4-hour race determines how you will perform the next week.
  6. Response/Reaction Time – no need to comment here. Can I say re-starts?
  7. Motor Skill – split second decisions by vision transmitted to muscles critical to success. This along with Response/Reaction time may be genetic and lends to argument that drivers are born not made. I put eye hand coordination under this item.
  8. Mindset– very important and why many athletes with all of the above fail.
  9. Environmental Stress– heat stress is major factor here and on occasion carbon monoxide, which can affect aforementioned mental function. Noise also major factor.

Now for Mr. Golden Tate – Football player, specifically wide receiver. I have not worked with football players, but it’s not hard to assess the requirements.

  1. Accuracy – precise route running makes a wide receiver
  2. Body Composition – not many fat receivers.
  3. Coordination – no brainer
  4. Muscular Endurance – try being part of 2-minute drill.
  5. Recovery – critical in some offenses, particularly hurry up offenses
  6. Response/Reaction Time – very important in turning and catching already in the air ball.
  7. Motor Skill – routes, patterns, eye hand…
  8. Mindset– very important and why many athletes with all of the above fail. To be honest, you can’t be a successful athlete without disciplined mindset.
  9. Environmental Stress– heat, cold and noise.

10. Agility – critical to wide receiver. Changing directions is what it’s about.

11. Balance – how about sideline ballet catches? Avoiding tackles? Critical component.

12. Speed – you don’t make it in football without this one.

13. Mobility and flexibility – critical for most catches

14. Muscular power – this is critical component of speed acceleration, deceleration and jumping.

15. Muscular Strength – a key component in muscular power but also holding onto footballs etc.

So, Mr. Tate beats Mr. Johnson 15-9 on the Lepp Athletic Scale. Does this mean that Jimmie is not an athlete? Not at all. Many athletes I have coached have less than 9 on this score. I consider Tiger Woods an athlete, but I would guess he would be in that score range. Lance Armstrong is a tremendous athlete, but would not accumulate a high score.

My point of this exercise, is that defining  athleticism is very difficult. Do you need to have 3 of these components? 5? 1? I know where Golden Tate was coming from. We need to stop reacting to these casual comments. Athleticism is made up of many components, some of which I have surely missed. Who do I think are the best athletes in the world? How about Seal Team Six. I guarantee it.