I was 14, in seventh grade when I first met my future JV Coach Matt Tamm. My seventh grade basketball season had been ugly. We were 3–7. It was the first and only time in my life, I’ve ever had a losing season. I figured out, I hated losing, and worse, I didn’t know how to change it.
Then I met Coach Tamm.
After my losing season in seventh grade, I wrote on a notecard, “Make varsity as a freshman,” but really, I was just a lost kid looking for something to hold onto, for something to become.
It was the summer of 1994 and I was leaving Flint, Michigan for good. My parents were divorcing. It was a messy time. Okay, it was worse than messy. It was chaos. And I was an impressionable kid. I needed some role models. Some work ethic. Some discipline. Instead of face the truth, I sat in my bedroom and pretended none of it was happening. I would sift through my Upper Deck and Topps basketball cards and look at Magic Johnson or Jordan NBA Superstar videos. I would lay in bed and let these images and dreams replay in my head.
Parents splitting up can really do a number on you as a kid. You feel responsible. You feel alone. You feel scared. All I really wanted was something to help me forget what was happening.
Kids can have a hard time accepting something they can’t change, especially when it comes to their parents splitting. Luckily, I had the game of basketball as an outlet for my anger, rage, and resentment. Basketball was joyful to me. It was something I loved to do, to feel, to see, to watch, to talk about, to think about, to breathe. My dad used to tell me:
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Why bumblebees fly and Michael Jordan will never forget the day he got cut from his varsity team.
Michael Jordan came out of practice and wasn’t on the varsity player team list. Do you know what it’s like to not be on the list? It sucks, it sucks bad. You can fast forward to my sad story on getting cut from the “7 Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns.”
Then the MJ story goes, he went home, locked himself in his bedroom, a young teenage boy, and cried for hours. MJ didn’t come out until the next morning. This sad event wrecked his day. Maybe even his week.
How would you react if the thing you cared about doing most is taken away from you?
I can tell you how I’d react. I’d cry too. But MJ took a negative experience and decided to do something about it. No shame. No guilt. Just pure motivation and drive to never let it happen again. Those of us that fail, or lose, or get devastated by an event, have a choice — to use the adverse event to turn our lives into something more, something better, or let it ruin, demoralize, and depress us.
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About half-way through the season, Coach Tamm brought me to sit with him in the bleachers after practice. Our JV team was over-achieving, knocking off teams and building momentum for a JV league championship.
“TREVOR. GET OVER HERE.”
“Coach, what’s up?”
“Our TC game is a huge game for you. You have been competing better, but this is a real test. Harbor Springs was a cakewalk compared to Traverse City. This is the biggest school in the state. They have 4,000 kids there. If you win this game, Coach Starkey said he may bring you up.”
A surge of adrenaline spiked inside me.
“You serious?” I asked, my eyes turning into lasers.
“You think you can do it? Coach Starkey has been impressed with your change in attitude, effort levels, and competitiveness thus far.”
“I can coach. I can do it.”
“Good. See you tomorrow for practice. Be focused and ready to go. I want you to have your best effort of the season.”
I ran back onto the practice court and started shooting some more, my mind flashing forward to playing in front of Petoskey’s home crowd on a Friday night with thousands of people screaming as the pep band played wildly as I entered my first varsity game.
Great things can happen when coaches and teachers develop your mindset, effort, and work ethic. I eventually the made varsity, thanks to Matt Tamm — the man that taught me to compete like MJ. He was my history teacher, my neighbor, and my coach.
I always be indebted to him for his tutelage, effort, and mentoring. Sorry for calling you a bear-man, but a kid’s perspective is an impressionable one.
I’d bet my life on one thing for certain: the best athletes and leaders in the world always remember that one play or big thing they could have done better, or differently.
The second thing I’m certain of is: the best athletes and leaders in the world don’t define themselves by that one thing, or one play, or their failures, but use them for personal jet fuel.
I would come home from a loss in high school and immediately pick up my basketball and head down to my basement to work on dribbling drills, and roll cement-filled coffee cans on a rope and stick until my forearms couldn’t move anymore.
This positive negativity is the essence of our own jet fuel — to lose, fail, feel bad emotions, and then bounce back and do something about it. If we can use a bad memory, event, or performance to motivate, inspire better preparation, and compete at a higher level, this is negative positivity.
I don’t want to live a mediocre life. I don’t want to be a “probably” or fall into the “probabilities” category for those not making it. When I hear, “I probably can’t do that or make this or go there or become this,” and it makes me sick to my stomach.
The meaning of words we use define the beliefs we hold about ourselves.
Educate the youth. Mentor the kids. Use basketball as a tool to empower change.
Basketball Kids Chicago
Basketball Kids Sports to Life Lessons
Every kid needs to grow their leadership, effort, and mindfulness skills, but how? There are not many coaches talking about effort over talent, grit over one-day passion, focus, breathing, or teamwork over individual stats. As a kid, my dad used to drive me to the court and rebound for me. He would ask me if I put my best effort into being the best I could be in that practice.
Of course, I'd ask as my practice session ended as a naive kid, "I don't know dad. What does that look like?"
Now I finally know (yes, at 39). Your best effort looks and feels a certain way. Whether it's your kid cleaning their room, or staying fit as an adult, after 12 years of European professional basketball, I now take pride in teaching kids how to compete against themselves and put their best effort into practice, school, and what they love doing.
"There is no one else to compete against but yourself, Trevor," my dad would say to me, stoically.
Then I turned 14 and never listened to him again, (*I'm laughing out loud here) but you get the point--kids need to hear the effort message! All the time, from as many mentors, coaches, and teachers as possible!
I'm sure Erica's dad did the same, but the whole point of the story is, if we can push kids to get out of their comfort zones with new training methods, new sports, and higher levels of effort, we can begin their path to success. Good luck and see you soon!