How not to inspire: a basketball tale

Most people reading this will never meet me in person, but I’m quite tall.  My 5’4″ mother and 5’9″ father produced a 6’6″ son (who subsequently married a 5′ wife) so I kinda stick out in family pictures.  As a by-product of my height, I played a lot of basketball in my youth.

We’re staying at my parents house while we await our new house to be ready for move-in, and I was greeted with this picture for the first time in years.  It sparked memory about a lesson I learned at the time about how not to inspire people:

My senior year of high school, I was co-captain with the other two seniors on the team and learned the hard way that you can’t inspire people with aggression.  We’re all smiling in the picture above (I’m on the far right with a lot more hair than I have now and the ’80s short shorts), but those guys hated me and with 20 years of hindsight I have to agree they had a good reason.

My junior year I was a part time starter on a very good team.  Only two of us were carry overs from that group to my last season (Martel, #23 above, who was our best player and played college ball at Mississippi Valley State) and we generally stunk.  With a team mostly made up of juniors, we just weren’t as experienced and had trouble maintaining intensity.

One day in practice, we were playing the junior varsity (a team for younger players, 10th graders mostly, for those of you that didn’t go to school in the US) and they were beating us, badly.  Mostly they were out working and out hustling us and I found this unacceptable.

My solution to the problem at hand was to start yelling at people.  Loudly and publicly.  That caused the situation to get worse as we started losing by even more.  That led to more loud yelling and eventually to a rage I used to rip the t-shirt I was wearing completely off my body, Hulk Hogan style (it was, after all, 1988 at the time).  We continued to stink up that particular practice and things got marginally better in games the rest of the year, but in spite of my actions not because of them.

How did my teammates feel about my tirade?

It took me a few months to find out, but they sure let me know it.  Every year, my coach would let the players vote on awards to be given out at the end of the season banquet.  You can guess where this is going, right?

Despite the fact that I was the 2nd leading scorer, leading rebounder, leading shot blocker, co-captain, and 3 year varsity letterman, I got shut out on awards my teammates handed out.  It was humiliating, but I got the message: they didn’t like the way I treated them and didn’t like me.

I admit that I’ve had my problems with my temper since, but it was the first time that it was pointed out to me in so open a display that people don’t respond to getting yelled at, especially by a peer with no real power over them.  What I should have done was understand why people were underperforming and helped them get better.  Mabye someone had something stressful going on at home or perhaps I could have helped someone else overcome some inexperience in a more constructive way.  I made a bad situation worse and alienated a ton of people in the process.


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3 Responses to “How not to inspire: a basketball tale”

  1. Luis García Says:

    Hey Pete,

    I just found your blog and I’m enjoying it. I certainly won’t make you get mad during Melinda’s cross-functional meetings 🙂

    In case you don’t remember me, I’m the Web Standars site webmaster that once asked you the favor of mailing a keyset to one of Guadalajara’s site after forgetting it @ Vancouver’s Hilton.

    Thanks for sharing Carreer’s best practices!

  2. petecj2 Says:

    Hey Luis,

    Those cross-functional meetings are always on the phone, so, how do you know I don’t rip my shirt off during them? 8).

    I, of course, remember you and thanks for the kind words.


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    […] the part time job I had in college as a DB administrator for Unisys, I had to wear one every day.  Being a tall guy,  the tie problem I run into is the opposite of this one in that with a standard length tie I run […]

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