Volume 36, Issue 9, September 2001
Go For It, Howie
Are you Playing to Win?
Editor’s note: Following numerous requests, we reprint the following article by Lyle Hill, which first appeared in the October 1999 issue of USGlass.
All ten of them were from the neighborhood and each one was special. They were my group of seven- and eight-year-olds and my job was to mold them into a basketball team. The primary idea was to have fun while learning the fundamentals of the game. The importance of winning was to be downplayed, while teamwork and good sportsmanship were emphasized. As could be expected, the kids handled these concepts better than most of the adults.
They were a great group of kids ... bright, eager to learn, well-disciplined and very coachable. All except one—all except Howie.
Howie’s mother had passed away just a year earlier and the loss had taken its toll on the little guy. He had become subdued, shy, almost backward. His father had signed him up for basketball hoping it would help Howie make friends while building up his self-esteem and confidence.
But it wasn’t working. You see, every time Howie got the ball, he froze. He just stood there like a marble statue. Fans and players alike would exhort him to do something with the ball ... “pass it,” “shoot it,” “go for it, Howie,” they would yell, but to no avail. Ultimately, one of his teammates would grab the ball out of his hands and continue the play.
One night after practice, I drove Howie home so we could talk one-on-one. We discussed how well the team was doing and he told me he enjoyed being a part of it all. Finally, it was time to get to the heart of the matter.
“Why do you think you have a hard time passing the ball when it comes to you?” I asked.
“Because I’m afraid I’ll pass it to the wrong person,” he answered.
“And why don’t you ever shoot the ball?” I continued.
“Because I might miss,” he said. “I don’t want everybody to be mad at me because I made a mistake. I don’t want to look dumb.”
As we rode in the car that night, I asked Howie who he thought was the best player on the team. He quickly selected Chris as our top player and added that he wished he could be like Chris.
“Does Chris make every shot he attempts?”
“Most of them,” Howie responded.
“Have you ever seen Chris make a bad pass or any other mistake?” I continued.
“Sometimes,” he answered.
“But you don’t remember his mistakes, do you? You remember the baskets he made.” We rode the rest of the way in silence, with Howie pondering my point and me congratulating myself on reaching him. Now I thought, things would be different. And they were. He did finally start shooting and passing ... and making mistakes. I would like to tell you that he became a great star, but I can’t. He was a terrible basketball player and never showed much improvement.
The business world has a lot of Howies in it—people who are so afraid of making the wrong decision that they make no decision at all. They don’t play to win, but to avoid losing or looking bad.
“The better a person is, the more mistakes they will make, for the more new things they will try,” says management consultant Peter Drucker. “I would never promote a person into a top-level job who was not making mistakes ... otherwise they are sure to be mediocre.”
No one enjoys making a mistake, but failure is usually the price of improvement. And quite often, the one thing that keeps many of us from success is that fear of failure. After nearly 15 years I bumped into Howie, and to my surprise, he had become a very successful architect. “Mr. Howie, your highness, sir, what led you to become an architect?” I asked. After a 23-minute pause, Howie answered.
“Well, coach, you really taught me well. I finally found a game I’m good at. I never have to make any decisions, nothing is ever my fault, and best of all, there are no referees.”
Go for it, Howie!
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