Tag Archives: Sports

Quick Review: The Cubs Way

So as the 2017 MLB playoffs are just underway, what better way for a brief review on one of my favorite reading experiences of 2017 – The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci.

This book was like a drug for me. Re-living the 2016 Cubs championship season and World Series run was plain awesome. Doing that while getting a healthy dose of organizational change philosophy and culture shaping nuggets add up to a combination that was like a drug.  I loved this book – but I’m a Cub fan so I’m biased. But seriously – this was like a book version of one of those “snuggie” blankets from TV back in the day.

I would have liked more coverage of the NLDS series against the Giants and of the NLCS against the Dodgers, but the coverage of the World Series, as well as the accounts and storytelling of how the culture was shaped by new leadership and how each significant piece of the team was acquired, were excellent.  I loved the chapters on Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Kyle Hendricks among others. So much good stuff!

There are tremendous accounts of how the organizational leadership worked to change the culture – one of the most significant components involved a detailed manual about what the Cubs were going to be about called “The Cubs Way” and the implementation of personal development plans and face to face development conversations about those plans before the season.  Loved so much also the commitment of the organization to recruit and identify talent that has the character to take responsibility for weaknesses and areas of growth.  The other component from a leadership standpoint relates to Joe Maddon’s approach to leading the team as the manager. A lot of good stuff and nuggets.

This may become an annual read for me as I continue to live in the glow of the Cubs winning the World Series. I don’t know what 2017 or beyond holds – but 2016 was a dream and I cannot get enough of it.

 

A Virtue Family Oral History of Game 7 of the World Series

It’s been a couple months, but there are times I’m still nervous. I’m still in disbelief it actually happened. But the Cubs winning the World Series is one of my great life moments.  One of my earliest memories of my grandfather is him taking us to Wrigley Field in the early 80’s, before lights were installed. I remember the Cubs were playing the Dodgers when the Dodgers had players like Mike Marshall and Fernando Valenzuela. It’s the first baseball park memory I have.

Both of my grandfathers lived and died in Illinois without seeing a Cubs World Series Championship. My dad, born in 1950, had not seen it. I’m in my 40’s and it’s been a rough go. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get over Bartman and the 2003 experience.  2007 and 2008 were stuff that leads to learned helplessness.

So the last couple of years have been an amazing run. Like many others did with loved ones, when the Cubs beat the Dodgers to advance to the World Series I thought of that game with my Grandfather back in the early 80’s.

But I almost missed it. I almost didn’t watch Game 7.

Because I live in Manila, the majority of MLB Playoff Games started at 8am my time. And it so happens I spent most of October in PhD intensives starting at….8am.  It was a month of confliction, but I was getting used to not watching. In fact, Game 7 took place on a work day so I was planning, for some odd reason, to head to campus like normal. (What was I thinking?)  But that’s when fate stepped in…or God’s sovereignty…or sheer dumb luck stepped in.

My wife hit a tree.  Pulling out of our driveway she backed into a tree and shattered the rear-view window of our van. T minus 90 minutes until game time.  This is the mighty oak of a tree that did such great damage to our car.

Pulling out of our driveway she backed into a tree and shattered the rear-view window of our van. T minus 90 minutes until game time.  This is the mighty oak of a tree that did such great damage to our car.

This is the mighty oak of a tree that did such great damage to our car.

But it was raining, our kids needed to get to school, and our other car was coded. For those not in Manila, the system to help the traffic problem is that every car is banned from the road for one day out of the week. So we were in a bind – we couldn’t drive the coded car and we couldn’t drive the van without a rear window in the rain.

So we gave up and decided to let the kids stay home, while we balanced watching Game 7 with getting our rear window fixed.  Through the Filipino network – a friend of a friend of the guy raking leaves next store, we got a lead on a place that could do the window and my wife graciously offered to take the car in so that we could watch the game.

The game begins.  I felt sick to my stomach. But Fowler’s lead-off homer helped my nerves.

A few innings later, Kris Bryant scored on an improbably tag-up on a short fly ball.  I yelled something incoherent with intense excitement. My 9-year-old son looks at me, who only knew a few years of Cubs futility before this says to me, “Wow Dad. I’ve never seen you that emotional and excited.”

After the Javy Baez homer in the 5th, I start to let me myself dream a bit and it’s a party in the house. At this point, the van window is fixed and fully restored $100 later. Now our whole family is watching the game.

In the bottom of the 5th, the umpire makes an egregious call on a Kyle Hendricks strikeout pitch and prolongs the inning. I start to fume and bark at the umpire.  My six-year-old daughter looks at me with a disapproving look. This sets the stage for the pitching change and wild pitch and Cleveland scoring a couple runs. I start to feel sick again.

But in the 6th David Ross homers and all is well again and Lester starts mowing down hitters.  Things are looking good again and I’m starting to trip out that this might actually happen.  Then the 8th inning. That awful 8th inning.

Just prior to the Davis gut punch home run, my kids were sensing my excitement and decided to treat me to an early celebration. Bless their hearts. They don’t know about Bartman or Durham or all the other kicks to the groin Cubs fans have endured, leaving us to behave like battered dogs during these moments. My kids were all set to surprise me with full on head to toe Cubs gear, ready to kick off the celebration when – Rajai Davis ties it up with a 2 run home run. I go to my dark place and tell the kids anxiously – “Not now. Not now.  This is bad and they may not win!” My kids are confused. I feel like I’m starting to look at the very gates of hell.

But then, because we’re in Manila – the internet starts going out.  I struggle to watch the bottom of the ninth and rain delay because the stream has to buffer so long. We watch one minute and then wait two minutes, which adds to the agony of the experience.  I thank God for the rain delay but have hope because Schwarber leads off the 10th and he is Babe ruth reincarnated.

Because of the internet delays, I go dark on social media and we watch the 10th. I’m yelling, screaming, and talking at the television like a mad man.  My youngest daughter is disturbed and uncomfortable with the tension in the room – scared by the cheers coming with each hit and play.  She cries “Too loud! Too loud!” But I find out a couple weeks later than somewhere in this period of time she prayed to God that the Cubs would win...probably out of concern for her father’s well being.

The internet speeds up a bit and the Zobrist hit sends us into a frenzy, followed by Montero’s insurance RBI. I’m a nervous wreck that Carl Edwards Jr. is going to try to close the game, all 80 lbs of him. The Indians score and I start to feel sick again. One out away. So close, but so far.

But the internet stops. I have to re-set the router as there is a pitching change being made with the tying run on base. We’re back to internet buffering. My wife is looking at her phone and making a weird look.

The internet gives us just enough to watch the final out and celebration. I realize my wife was sneaking a peak online and got the news a few minutes before we got to watch it. Fortunately, she kept it a secret.

Then my family gave me an authentic Ryne Sandberg jersey (my favorite player as a kid) they found for 10$ at a local mall (God Bless the Philippines!).

And I haven’t been able to stop watching highlights and replays and bad youtube montages since.

I.CAN’T.GET.ENOUGH.

But I still feel nervous thinking about it because there’s part of me that has a hard time believing it happened.

So it was a stressful, gut-wrenching, exhilarating experience that is a life highlight, given I got to experience it with my family. It was especially fun to go through the playoff journey with Colin because he’s really gotten into the Cubs in the last year or two.

And it was all because my wife backed into a tiny, but powerful tree.

 

 

Quick Review: The Mentor Leader

One of my personal goals this year was to do some intentional development in the mentoring area.  In the last several years I’ve been doing more mentoring by nature of my role as a faculty member with a commitment to mentor several men on a weekly basis. In the last five years I’ve noticed I’ve been in a transition phase – where I’ve been moving from one looking for mentoring to having to embrace this particular aspect of leadership in new ways the older I get.  I am comfortable mentoring situationally and without long-term commitment, but I’m increasingly in situations where I need to give more in these ways.  One of the developmental resources I chose to read was Tony Dungy’s The Mentor Leader since the title was in the neighborhood of what I am looking to learn more about and develop in.

The book does have some great principles and wisdom for mentoring, but in general, this is really a good team leadership resource. Dungy at points synthesizes some of the best insights from other leaders and then adds his own principles and philosophy. His philosophy is unpacked through his 7 “E’s” that he illustrates in his final chapter. These E’s are familiar words like engage, educate, empower, elevate, encourage and a couple others.  And they cover the essentials of culture shaping leadership that puts people first.

Dungy uses a lot of business and leadership content, but he uses Scripture more and does it pretty well. In that sense, this book can be used as a good servant leadership for people just beginning to learn about Christian or ministry leadership.  I can see this being a helpful outreach resource too for those that admire Tony Dungy from his football accolades and media presence.

It is full of stories and anecdotes from the sports world, which I enjoyed because I’m familiar with many of the names and personalities mentioned. Not everyone who has that backdrop may resonate with some of the illustrations or stories in the same way, but they provided great context and depth to Dungy’s content and teaching.

The book is well structured and includes a well-structured philosophy of leadership that is rooted in both Scripture and some of the better wisdom from leadership experts out there today. For those who have read tons of leadership reading, it may feel a bit light on theory and philosophy, but that’s ok for what Dungy’s general audience is in this book.  The focus is on helping people embrace the idea that adding value to other people’s lives is foundational to how we should define and understand leadership. In this way, there’s less here about how to accomplish things than there is on how to build others up in the process.

It’s a good resource. The audiobook is great because Dungy himself narrates it and for those that are familiar with his voice from his NFL television analyst role it feels quite natural and comfortable. The audiobook is at last check only $4.

There’s some things here I can envision using in the future, but in general, its strength is how it helps people embrace the call to add value to other people’s lives. That alone is a refreshing emphasis for a leadership book.

You can download a free pdf or mp3 of the 1st chapter of his book here.

 

 

Pre-School Theology: Game 7 Prayers

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series Pre-School Theology

My daughter, who is in kindergarten now, believes she helped the Cubs win Game 7 of this year’s world series and thus, their first world series since 1908.

While stuck in typical Manila traffic last week on the way home from the kid’s school, she started this conversation.

“Dad. After that other team tied the game, I prayed that the Cubs would win. And then God answered my prayer and the Cubs won.”

My favorite part of this was that we really had had no Cubs related conversation or interaction in the previous week. It was something she wanted me to know.

I would love to know what her motivation was for praying for the Cubs and for letting me know God answered her prayer. Did she do it because she saw her father in an unusually vulnerable and rabid moment and it worried her?  Was it because she knew it was a big deal and important to at least her father and brother?  Something in her wanted a happy ending for the people she cares about so she prayed.

I loved the moment and it was fun to connect over the Cubs. But a great reminder that we need to ground our prayer life on solid theological footing.

Putting aside the fact that God is in fact a Cubs fan 😛 , I decided not to bring up the high likelihood that she had a 6-year-old counterpart in Cleveland praying the exact same thing for the Cleveland Indians.  What about her?

During the World Series I heard a record amount of animistic language from people on all sorts of teams praying to ancestors, former players, God, and who knows what else – attributing everything from good luck to timeline rainfall to the goodwill of long lost relatives and God’s partiality.   I was shocked at how much animism was alive and well in the western sporting domain!

But for now – I’m glad my daughter feels like she had a part in a great moment for me and our family.  In time, we’ll have to break the news that God probably doesn’t care much about our sports teams.

Though if God did care about sports teams, I’m still pretty sure He would care most about the Cubs.   😛

 

Succeeding From Shame

“We succeed out of our shame.”

-Mike Tyson

I’ve listened to a couple interviews with former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson in the last month and I’ve been really fascinated by learning more about his story, his roots, and some of what has been his story of redemption (from a life well-being standpoint at least since it is clear he is still is searching).  But I’ve been surprised by how vulnerable and how much depth Tyson has brought to some of these interviews about life and meaning and relationships.

One of the compelling anecdotes from one of the interviews was regarding when he first was chosen or seen as someone with potential.  As I write that it amazes me how being seen is a dignity building experience that brings a personal sense of feeling chosen – of being special.  Mike Tyson, like many others, was on a dangerous path in a dangerous world that might have led to early death had it not for being seen – being chosen.

Who saw him?  An old boxing lifer who from my understanding had been blackballed from the boxing scene.  Furthermore, it was an old white guy – “Cus.”  Tyson described the power of having this man speak value into his life, yet also the difficult journey of receiving it when one’s sense of value or worth is so low.  He even said that he had never had any white man speak such value or say such nice things to him about him that he wondered if Cus was perverted or if there was something sketchy about it. Such is the reality when you are conditioned to believe people only want to use you or abuse you – and abuse was part of his background. But Tyson’s recollection went something like this, “This guy chose me. He saw potential.  I was getting whipped and bloodied and he said, ‘This is the guy.'” That’s a transformational moment.

Tyson’s story is a roller-coaster, a wild ride.  It’s about Mike facing his demons. It’s about failure. It’s about addiction. It’s about losing control. It’s about second chances. It’s about re-inventing himself.  But it’s also the story about an outcast white guy empowering a young, poor black young man to rise above his circumstances.  In the craziness of Mike Tyson’s post champion struggles, his origin story of how he began his journey as a boxer really is a moving one.  You can check out these interviews at grantland.com

Tyson has recently re-invented himself as a media darling, a pop-culture icon, and even broadway star with his One Man Show.  It’s an impressive second act for someone most thought might not make it that far.  There’s a thoughtfulness and creative side that I would not have imagined being a part of the DNA of this guy who felt more animal and fearsome creature that was the most feared person on the planet when I was growing up.  There’s no doubt his time in jail, his work in recovery from addiction, and own self-reflection has produced a maturity far beyond what people might believe.

As I see it, from his own words he seems to have become more himself. He shares in detail how at times he was lost in who he was, how at times he was who he thought he had to be, or that he was being someone in order to not be who he deep down believed he was.  He’s comfortable in his own skin through his journey and his presence is significantly different.

Mike Tyson may not interest you. I’m not a boxing fan and you might not be either. But he serves as a great example of how we all sometimes can be driven to succeed or perform by deep and hidden areas of shame.  Such ambition or drive is a ticking time bomb. Like it did with Tyson, it will catch up with us unless we face it.

Do you have any thoughts on Tyson?  What are your impressions of his recent success in media and pop-culture?

 

Quick Review – The Power of Negative Thinking

I just finished The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results by NCAA Coaching Legend Bob Knight.  People who know me would recognize why I probably HAD to read this book just on the premise alone.  But this is essentially Bob Knight’s leadership book.

I fully enjoyed the book on the premise alone and because I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read a book where every page the author was kind of sticking it to all the blind optimism, happy talk, and militant philosophies of positivity that pervade our culture.  It was a pretty awesome reading experience personally speaking 🙂

But it wasn’t a negative book at all.  It merely was a book illustrating that it’s possible for prudent, prepared, problem solving people to be incredibly positive AND WISE in how they go about their business and accomplish goals.  There’s fantastic historical references and tons of great anecdotes from his coaching days.  I particularly loved the anecdotes from when he coached Jordan on the Olympic Team.  But there’s just great and honest and realistic perspectives throughout.  And you know what – I was prepared for a cynical and maybe edgy perspective, but that really wasn’t the case.

My favorite chapter was “A History of Negative Thinking Starting With the Bible” where he outlines the great wisdom found in Scripture and philosophers and leading thinkers that reflect admonitions of “No” or “Don’t.”  He starts with the 10 commandments with “Thou Shall Not…” and goes all the way to JFK’s speech “Ask NOT what you can do….”  All in all I found it to be a brilliant apologetic for why we have to be able to help ourselves and others understand not just what we should be doing, but what we SHOULD NOT be doing.  Loved the book in a lot of ways and I read it pretty fast.

The only thing I think was left was the elephant in the room about how people see and perceive him as being a “negative” and even volatile guy.  He never really addressed leadership from the lens of his own behavior and anger given it was such a significant element to his coaching journey.  I would have liked to see more reflection or perspective on that area of his leadership and coaching because it did feel like an obvious omission.

But if you’re a college basketball fan or just enjoy reading contrary or different leadership philosophies I highly recommend it.  I read it because I found it free on Amazon Prime and I easily believe it’s worth putting out a few bucks for.

 

 

 

Happy 5th Colin!

We’ve been having fun celebrating my son’s fifth birthday. Truly an incredible boy.  He’s a passionate, energetic, feeling, empathetic, sensitive, loving, athletic, and bright kid that is in a lot of ways the feeling heart of our family.

He feels everything.  In fact, I made the mistake of telling him he would never be 4 years old again – and he lost it with deep grieving.

Happy 5th Birthday!

 Colin chose a Cub themed birthday party this year. A highlight of his year as a 4 year old was going to Chicago with me and my dad and going to Wrigley for a Cubs game and his first baseball game.

 Props to my wife for finding these “eye black” stickers with the Cubs logo. Very fun party. Felt like I died and went to Cub heaven.

 

Stats Lie Pt 12: Large Underwear

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

I want to continue with my Moneyball inspired posts in the “Stats Lie” series as the Oakland A’s are currently enjoying a miracle season once again and start their playoff run tomorrow.  The team is once again doing things that nobody thought they had any chance of doing.

In the book Moneyball, probably my favorite line comes from an old school scout during a conversation where the Oakland scouting brain trust is preparing for the upcoming draft.  A player is proposed that is under the radar, but that has produced in college in the ways that statistically translate to the pro’s the best given history.  The problem was that he was fat.  He was a pudgy and overweight catcher. 

When the general manager says that he wants to draft this player in the first round this old time scout responds,

“This kid wears a large pair of underwear.” (Kindle Loc. 685) 

The following conversation is hysterical, but the point was that potential greatness was being dismissed because this player didn’t fit the mold.  He didn’t look the part.  He didn’t pass the “eye test.”   The player went on to do fairly well, being the fastest to accelerate through the minors of all the draft picks, despite not panning out in the big leagues.  But he was a symbolic figure in the moneyball revolution.

I’ve been writing about the hermeneutics of measurements.  Numbers sometimes tell the story. Sometimes they don’t.  The question is how do we know we are paying attention to the right things.  When is the eye test reliable?  When is it not?  Measurement, especially in non-profit and ministry landscapes, is an art form and more about vision and meaning than about quantity and assessing linear progress. 

When questioned about what he was seeing and why he wasn’t being swayed by the traditional eye tests, Billy Beane (the subject of the book) says,

“That’s all right. We’re blending what  we see but we aren’t allowing ourselves to be  victimized by what we see.” (Kindle 733-34)

I love this.  We need to blend what we see, but not allow ourselves to be victimized by what we see.  This is the heart of a proper hermeneutic of measurements.  We must expand our vision to see outside the limitations of tradition and bias.  We must blend perspectives and see from different angles to that we don’t allow ourselves to be victimized by our instinctive eye tests which are so often driven by our own biases and our own stories.  Instead of our instincts driving our interpretations, they become one factor of many so that we aren’t victimized by them as we settle for overly simplistic or black or white solutions.

Moneyball is the story of how one team had to break free from traditional perspectives and biases to see meaning in things that were previously invisible.  This is a journey we all need to be on.  We can’t let ourselves settle for “large underwear” approaches to discerning what’s happening around us or what potential people may have.  Let’s strive for more.

 

Stats Lie Pt. 10 -Quick Thots From The Movie Moneyball

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

I am re-posting this blog in preparation for my next few posts that will relate to the book Moneyball and because I think this post and those to come belong in my “Stats Lie” series. This was originally posted on October 8th, 2011.

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My wife and I pulled off a miracle and actually went to a movie together this weekend. We hit Moneyball which came on the recommendation of several folks.

I really enjoyed the movie.  I’m a baseball fan and I lived in the Bay Area during the time frame in which this movie covers so I saw some games and first hand lived through a lot of the media coverage of the events.  One of the best part of the movie was seeing its portrayal of the dramatic 20th win in the record breaking win streak.  I watched that game and Hatteberg’s game winning home run after blowing a monstrous lead was one of my more memorable sports moments to watch or live through.

But here’s some systems insights that I thought the movie illustrates through the baseball context so as to connect the movie to the themes I often post on..

First, cultures adapt certain ways of measuring greatness or effectiveness.  It doesn’t mean that people who don’t fit that grid or standard aren’t effective or successful.  It means there’s an accepted criteria for what’s successful and to go outside of that threatens the establishment and generates a lot of anxiety for folks in the “system” whatever type of system it might be. People want the “sure thing” when evaluating talent and doing leadership or talent selection, but often they settle for what feels safest to them – which leans often on tradition and cultural norms.

Second, if you do step outside the criteria endorsed by the establishment and manage to endure the ridicule, resistance, or even hostility, and actually succeed….then many of those people who made life hard for you when you were trying to be original and think differently and meet the demands of reality will come full circle and want your help or start copying what you are doing.  Beane started a revolution in the baseball world and changed the landscape of his profession, but it took a lot of nerve and passion and maybe some desperation too in order to do it.

But this is a cycle that comes with creativity and cutting edge leadership efforts. You either get honored in the end, or people indirectly affirm what you’ve done by hijacking your stuff and copy you with or without giving you credit, or you fail and you get hung out to dry.  Not a lot of middle ground here when trying to boldly lead outside of the norm.   No matter what happens – it’s still worth leading towards reality in new and innovative ways.

Third, as one of the key lines of the movie illustrates, “It’s gotta mean something.” I think the movie captures one of the tensions often experienced.  Do you keep chasing numbers and goals?  That’s a bottomless pit, even when one considers a ministry context.  What we do and how we go about it reflects a lot about who we are and who we want to be.  Meaning is often assumed in leadership and in ministry, but something that we continually have to enter into and not just assume that because our goals and objectives are significant that meaning will be embedded in our experience of what we’re doing.

On a personal note, my wife paid me a compliment after the movie. She said the main character reminded her of me.  I appreciated that because I value courage in leadership and honest assessments of reality and bold efforts to go to the heart of the issue. What I do has to be meaningful in terms of its impact on people and not just in the cliche or standards that are reflected in traditional metrics.  But if I’m honest I personally relate more to the assistant GM in the movie who is the awkward and insecure, yet smart and innovative guy behind the scenes who people don’t always listen to.  He sees the landscape with different eyes, but the landscape doesn’t see him.  I enjoyed watching his story illustrated in the movie. It doesn’t mean that’s who in fact I am in reality, it’s just that there are elements to his experience I relate to at times (but without the genius piece).

One of my values has been to try to identify folks who I think see the landscape they are in for what it is and not for what people want it to be.  Those are the people I want to platform and invest my time in as a leader.  Moneyball is a lot about metrics, but what got the ball rolling was one leader finding the right person to listen to and partner with in a time where radical change was needed.

If you saw it – what did you think? About the movie in general? About leading innovative change?