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What Hoops Taught Me About Business

Basketball was my first passion.

At 3 years old, my dad got me a Larry Bird basketball goal that I spent hours playing with (the only goal I could consistently dunk, I might add). At 5, I joined my first team at Millbrook Exchange Park - the Killer Bees, and the rest was history. Though I was atrocious outside of being a foot taller than everyone in the league, I fell in love with the game and wanted to be a better player.

On the weekends I spent with my father, we went to the “Honey Hole”. I sat dribbling on the sideline looking forward to my chance to be on the court. When my mother travelled, I would stay with her father and plead to stay up as late as possible watching the early 90’s Knicks.

I packed two extra shirts each day – one after early morning care and one after recess, both times drenched from schoolyard battles on the court. I finished my homework during school so I play ball when I got home. My wardrobe was consistently basketball shoes, shorts, and jerseys. When we wrote letters to a celebrity in 2nd grade, my letter was addressed to Shaq.

In 3rd grade, we moved to a new neighborhood. I dribbled in the pouring rain with a tennis ball to improve my left hand as my dad suggested. The next day at the bus stop my classmates didn’t understand what was motivating me and at the time I didn’t know how to verbalize it – I assumed I was doing what I needed to do to be successful.

Around this time, I began tracking my workouts in a notebook. Gone were the days of casually shooting around. As I matured, my commitment to the game only became stronger. My friends were inevitably tied to the game as that is what I wanted to spend my time doing. In high school, I was tight with the janitor to get as much gym time as possible. I wouldn’t allow my coaches to tell me “no” when I wanted to work out. It maddened me when I saw teammates goofing off in the gym.

After a successful run in high school I attempted to play in college. After just one season in college, my body cared less about my goals as a basketball player, and my life as I knew it was turned upside down when I could no longer stand on the court – literally and figuratively.

For 10 years, I closed the game off - I didn’t watch basketball, I didn’t play basketball, I didn’t coach basketball. It was too painful for me to be close to the game without being in the game.

It wasn’t until this past year where I began going up to my high school to help out when time allowed. My love for the game came rushing back and I had finally found my service, something many of us spend years trying to find that purpose outside of career and family.

Getting a chance to work with some of the boys on the softer side of the game, much of which surrounds around the level of commitment needed to be successful, made me realize that though I had not been on the court in years, many of the attributes I learned from the game helped mold me in to professional I am today.

  • Value efficiency – I often hear people clamoring about a lack of opportunities. My reply is simple – do the most with the opportunities you receive and you will receive more opportunities. If you are 25% from the field, get your percentage up to 50% before you command more touches. Create your own opportunities through efficiency.

  • Preparation is key – My high school coach made us watch film after every game and also watch film on our opponents (at the time, very few high school programs were doing so). Before a meeting, I research the client’s background as well as the company background, getting up to speed on any public information available so I am able to establish credibility and engage in meaningful dialogue. Repetition leads to mastery.

  • Every team needs role players – Know the strengths of each of your teammates and leverage those strengths. Everyone on the team cannot be the vocal leader. Everyone cannot score 25 per game. Build a team of people who know their boundaries and are comfortable playing the role needed to move the team forward.

  • Know your limitations – To be successful, you must take care of your body and mind. Now, at the end of the day and end of the week, I recognize that I must allow my mind to rest to be fresh for the next. In a client service business, there is a constant balance of ensuring my clients don’t feel a lapse in service, while making sure I can be present with my family.

  • Set the tone – The first quarter of the game is when I took it upon myself to crush the will of my opponent. I consistently had double figures in the 1st quarter before allowing others to get off once the game was in hand. I didn’t need to continue shooting the basketball, as I needed others to feel comfortable scoring so they could rise to the occasion when I faced a box-and-1. In business, every day I look to set the tone for my team at Vaco, hoping my energy, pace and intensity spreads to others in the stable.

  • The stakes are always high – Every game is important. Every client interaction is important. Losing in situations where you should have won hurts far more than losing in 50/50 situations. Treat every opportunity to compete with the mentality that it may be the last time. I never treat a smaller client lesser than a large client. Each time I place a professional, my name is on the line.

  • What you do when no one is watching sets you apart – Be wary of those who feel the need to be recognized when they are working. Those who believe they can cheat the system and skip the grunt work won’t last when times get tough or in the business world, when the economy dips. I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave and would work on my weaknesses during those times so I was more comfortable come game day.

  • Reward effort – When my teammates are bringing effort and adding value is when positive affirmation becomes fun to give. A high school teammate of mine, C.E. we will call him, always had a phenomenal motor. He was the “grunt” who rebounded, played great defense, took charges, roughed up the other team’s best post player, and brought unlimited energy to the team. When he ran the floor and I had the chance to get him the ball for an easy bucket, it was a no brainer to wet his beak.

  • Be a student of the game – Listen and learn from those who came before you. I invest myself in what I am doing. I wanted to learn ways to be more successful on the court and craftier with what tools I was given. Now, I bring that interest and desire to learn more about the “the game” rather than just “the job.”

  • Stay positive in a slump – My M.O. was my ability to score. If ever I was in a slump, it was imperative I changed my mind from frustration to understanding my desire to be successful would win out rather than to succumb to the slump. In business, there are frequently days or even weeks where everything seems to go out of my favor, but I must stay on the horse. Shooters need to keep shooting.

  • Take ownership of mistakes – I am the first to let my teammates know when I forced a shot or turned the ball trying to create too much. In the business world, I often swallow my pride and admit mistakes, letting my clients know that I know I could have done differently the next time around. Vulnerability isn’t weakness.

  • Write goals down – Before my senior season, I wrote down that I wanted to be the conference player of the year and it happened. As I moved in my career, I have consistently written down annual goals and held myself accountable to those goals. In my first year at Vaco, my goal was to be the top producer in my line of service – I came in 2nd place, and have used that “failure” to fuel my annual goals since. I am not fearful that I will not reach my goals – if I am not outside of my comfort zone, I am not pushing myself enough.

  • Embrace unpredictability – In sports and business, anything can and will happen when we least expect it. A teammate gets injured and cannot push through, or a candidate accepts a counter-offer from their current employer. In all unexpected situations, it is imperative to slow down and think big picture – life goes on. How we react to adversity is how we earn the most respect from the people surrounding us.

  • Understand the importance of receiving feedback – Former athletes (musicians, etc.) fare well in most work environments because they are used to being told what they are doing wrong, often in far less politically correct ways than feedback from a boss. In my sophomore year where I was at the bottom of the totem pole, I consistently felt singled out by my coaches – it wasn’t until the following season when I realized how much I learned from that difficult but critique-laden year.

  • Understand the important of giving feedback – I consistently see the high school players I work with get frustrated with one another when someone makes a mistake, the vicious cycle of passive-aggressiveness that builds over time. Instead, I tell the boys to let their teammate know what they could have done better while being mindful of the tone and body language they are projecting when delivering feedback. I provide direct constructive feedback and work with my teammates on ways to improve those weaknesses so they feel adequately supported in the progression life-cycle.

  • How you react to losses defines you more than the wins – It’s easy to debrief after a win, but losing can be a difficult pill to swallow. We can choose to ignore the loss, or instead reverse engineer what, individually, we could have done better to win the next time around. There is always a next game, or a next deal, and how you show humility and bounce back from an adverse result speaks volumes of an individual.

  • Victory is truly thrilling – The taste after a big win made me want to work harder for the next battle, and that feeling still gives me the same chills when I am able to help a client find the right individual for a project or position, and on the flip side help that individual find a place where they can continue to grow.

  • There is no end goal – Never have I “made it.” No matter what accolades one receives in sports or business, there is always room for improvement. I continuously look for ways to improve my game to make myself a better teammate, leader and partner to those I work with. The moment the growth and development ceases is the moment when I become stagnant and competition is making up ground.

In the words of Notorious B.I.G. “if the game shakes me or breaks me, I hope it makes me a better man.” I can emphatically state that the game of basketball made me better, and for that I will continue to pay the game homage.


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