Monday, June 30, 2014

Abe Lenstra

The World Cup is in full swing and the Netherlands are in the quarter finals. Do you know what is happening in Holland right now? Do you haver any idea? The country is going nuts and children are watching their heroes. 

When I was a kid in the Netherlands, there was only one national sports hero, Abe Lenstra, and every boy wanted to be him. I'm not exaggerating; every boy. When I played street soccer with my friends, and I had the ball, I thought, 

'Lenstra goes left and the defender is with him. He fakes right, then goes left again. Oh my how Abe can trick defenders. He's free, he kicks HE SCOOOOOORRRREEESSSS!' 

How can I help you understand how huge this guy was to us boys? He was the idol of every Dutch boy? Who shall I compare him to, Michael Jordan? Yes, but he's Jordan times four because Holland didn't have football, baseball, or hockey. Besides the Eleven City Ice Skating Race, soccer was the only sport and its popularity dwarfed ice skating and everything else. Sports was soccer and soccer was sports. 

Here; let me try this. I played my last professional year in Italy, where soccer is also huge. On more than one occasion, during basketball practice, the guys would just start kicking the ball and playing soccer in the gym and the coach didn't stop it. It would last for ten to fifteen minutes. 

We always played on Sundays so, when we were on the road and in a bus on our way to the game, my teammates would ask the bus driver to turn on a soccer game on the radio. I couldn't believe it. Here I was getting myself mentally ready for a game and they were yelling, sighing, stomping, and cheering. Do you understand now. soccer is the only sport there, and so it was in Holland when I was a kid. And Abe Lenstra was the best, perhaps the best forward in the world at the time. 

My grandma knew my obsession with Abe and bought me his paperback book. I still have it although the cover is gone. At eight years old, I looked at that book every single night before I turned out the light beside my bed. The middle section had actual photos of Abe in action. I stared at those pictures and imagined it was me who dribbled the ball like a magician and it was me who SCORED.

You never know who you are influencing do you? Even Abe, who I never met, had an impact on me and thousands of Dutch youth. And here's the lesson. Although all I had was pictures of Abe Lenstra, it was enough for me to emulate, I did and became a professional athlete because of it. How much more of an influence do teachers have over their students every day. But it's not the books they read to their students, nor the glorious and exciting lessons they present that will influence children most.  As the anonymous poet wrote:

No written word no spoken plea,
Can teach our youth what they should be,
Nor all the books on all the shelves;
It's what the teachers are themselves. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

How to Make Students Want to Come to Class

Do your students look forward to your class? Are there too many tardies, bathroom requests, and absences? Perhaps your class is not exciting enough. There is good news, from a basketball coach of all people.

Many of my classes at UCLA were pretty boring. Granted, the information was valuable and often profound, particularly in Economics, Calculus, and Philosophy, but I really dreaded going to most classes because the format was so darned one-way didactic. What the professor lectured about was pretty much in the handouts or required reading. I found myself watching the clock, and that minute hand moved awfully slowly.

Not so from 2:59 to 5:29 at Pauley Pavilion where John Wooden conducted his basketball practices. Nobody was bored there because practices were extremely engaging and fun. Yes, that’s it! They were just plain fun. Oh don’t get me wrong; our bodies and minds were pushed to the limit and beyond, pretty much all practice long. There were times we were so exhausted our lungs burned and our legs were about to give out. But when practice was over, we didn’t want to leave and counted the hours until the next one.

How did Coach Wooden make us want to come back to practice the next day, when he subjected us to grueling, arduous, daunting, and exhausting practices, where he continuously and incessantly corrected us, apparently without any regard for our feelings, and hardly handed out a compliment, but rather, when we did something right, wanted more? Believe it or not, the answer is, basketball practices at UCLA were fun.

I can think of five ways he was able to pull this off. I’m not going to elaborate on any of them because I’m confident you will “get it.” And all five tools can be used in the classroom setting with equal success.

Start and End Class on Time
Don't Do Anything for More than Fifteen Minutes
Make a Game Out of Everything, if You Can
Enjoy the Lesson as much as the Students Do
End Every Day with Something Cool and Fun

Some might say, “A sports setting is, by nature, more exciting and fun than the classroom.” Not necessarily so. I’ve been in practices where, if it were not for the fact players were standing up, they could have fallen asleep. On the other hand, I’ve seen some classroom teachers make learning (I’m talking about hard and demanding learning) so much fun, they hold records for good attendance and the fewest tardies.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Swen Nater

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a very skilled flopper. When I was with the Clippers, I was pretty physical when playing against him. In one game, I blocked him off the board so hard he spoke soprano the rest of the quarter. He liked to get the ball close to the basket at the low block and was not pleased when I took that spot first and made him fight for it.

In one game, when worming his way to the spot, he flailed his arms like I was trying to kill him or something. Then he manufactured a painful grimace like he was being brutally manhandled, while looking right at the referee with those sad eyes as if to say, "Help me. Call the foul. Don't you know who I am?" And guess what? As sure as Lloyd Free shoots the ball every time he touches it, the ref called a foul on me. Like I said; Kareem was a very good actor. In "Airplane," he was average but on the court, he should have been nominated for an Oscar.

When I got to the offensive end of the floor, I thought I would try the same thing and get a foul on him. When I moved toward the low block and Kareem pushed me a little, I embellished it wonderfully and thrust myself out of bounds right next to the ref. But all the ref said was, "Nice try." That December, I sent the ref a Christmas card in braille.

Flopping has been around for a long time, probably since the game began. Who knows; maybe Dr. Naismith invented the flop. But flopping has taken a whole new level since the European players arrived. You see, they played soccer. Need I say more? I've seen soccer players roll on the grass in so much pain I swore they tore ACLs, and then, as soon as they get the call from the ref, they miraculously are healed. Anyway, Vlade Divac was the first one I remember and he was good. But there has never been, nor will there ever be, a flopper as good as Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs. This guy is good and more than one referee has taken his bait. For example, when he drives left handed to the basket, as soon as he starts to get past his defender, he leaves his right hand back by the defender to make the ref thing he's being held. And if he doesn't get the call then, he jerks his hand back to himself so it looks like he was able to get himself free. All of this and the defender never touched him. When the Spurs play the Lakers in LA, I wonder if Jack Nicholson is impressed with Ginobili's acting talent.

Referees were bad then and they're still bad today. Two weeks ago, when playing full court which I rarely do anymore, I was running across the key full speed and the ref called me for three seconds. Am I that slow now?  Perhaps I should join the 65+ league where we don't have jump balls to start the games. The ref puts the ball on the floor and whoever can bend over and pick it up gets possession.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

John Wooden and the Big Picture

John Wooden and The Big Picture

Swen Nater


After retiring from the NBA, I coached college basketball in San Diego and made regular trips to Los Angeles to meet with Coach Wooden in his Encino condominium. On one occasion, the Lakers were in the NBA finals and I excitedly asked Coach if he was planning on watching the game that evening. I was hoping to watch it with him.


Because NBA basketball had too much one-on-one play, where passing was option B, Coach Wooden despised it with a passion and rarely watched a game. He was a believer in team play where all members eagerly sacrificed what they could do, for what they should do to help the team.


Coach Wooden often preached, “Make each day your masterpiece,” and he practiced it religiously. For him, a perfect day was all about self-improvement and, therefore, included reading from the Bible, strengthening friendships, spending quality time with family, and doing something for someone who can’t repay you. Watching an NBA game peeved him like fingernails on a blackboard and did not have a place of priority in his schedule.


Coach Wooden saw the big picture, self-improvement, and the activity options available for him on any given day were thoughtfully weighed against it. Everything he did was perfectly in line with his objective, to make each day his masterpiece, something he learned from his father, Joshua Wooden.


Managers of people can take a lesson from the Coach and improve their businesses. Sometimes we managers keep adding programs and departments, forgetting to stop and ask, “Are they necessary to help my company move toward its goal?” We don’t look at the big picture.


If you are in business to make a profit, the big picture is making money. Everything you do should be there because it helps you make money. If something you do does not directly or indirectly positively affect the bottom line, should it be there?  


You treat your employees and customers right. You provide value and a customer service program, geared to eagerly elevate each person to complete satisfaction. You expand your business responsibly to increase stock value, taking care of your stockholders. You practice high-level ethics and go above and beyond to ensure you are doing things the right way. When you do all of that, you believe it will build customer and employee loyalty which brings you business, and business brings you money.


Jimmy Johnson, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champions said,


“Jettison everything that does not have anything to do with winning.”



So what exactly did Coach Wooden say when I asked him if he was going to watch the Lakers game that evening? “Not if I can help it.”


By the way, I’m pulling for the Spurs to take the championship. Shhh.





Tuesday, June 3, 2014

John the Used Car Salesman

By Swen Nater


I’ve lived in the Seattle area for almost nineteen years now. The first town was little Enumclaw, 30 milessouth east, at the base of monstrous Mt. Rainier (a 14,411 foot active and brewing Volcano, by the way). Enumclaw is so small, the “Welcome” and “Leaving” signs are back-to-back.


I was looking for a car that would fit me. I did fit in the one I had, but only because I took the front seat out. In town, there were only two dealers, GM and Ford. One Saturday, when it was not raining (I had to plan that), I stopped by the used car lot at Fugate Ford and was greeted by John, a middle-aged and average looking man. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Immediately, I knew he was not like any car salesman I had ever met.


The first thing he didn’t ask me was if I was looking for a car. Instead, he respectfully said, “People ask you this all the time but you look familiar. Did you play basketball?” I told him I did. He invited me inside and for the next hour, we talked about everything except used cars, and I think I drank four cups of coffee syrup that, I’m sure, had been reducing in that glass pot since five that morning. In fact, I had to bring up the subject of the car. “I was wondering if you have a car that I might fit into.”


Almost surprised, John responded, “Oh yes. I might. Let’s go take a look.” We walked outside and he lazily led me through some of the isles and pointed out a few cars, but with very little enthusiasm at all. I was actually wondering if he was working hard not to sell me a car.  


Finally, he said, “I tell you what. Why don’t I look around the area for a Bronco or something about that size? They don’t show up very often but I’ll keep my eye out. I’ll call you when I find something.” We shook hands and, strangely, I felt I had made a friend.  


In the next couple of weeks, I learned I was right. I didn’t receive a call from him but I did see him in the grocery story, hardware store, cleaners, and at the Walk for Life fundraiser. Oh yes! We also met up at the Enumclaw fall parade which lasted from a half hour. The small town combined the Thanksgiving and Christmas parades. Both police cars were in the parade.    


Where was I? Oh yes. Each time I saw John, he simply said, “Hello,” usually introduced me to someone, and didn’t say a word about the car. On one occasion, he invited me to his house for a barbecue. He didn’t mention the car at the BBQ either and it was starting to bug me, almost (I say “almost”) to the point I didn’t want to take a bite of that awesome smoked beef brisket sandwich until I found out whether he actually wanted to sell me a car.  


One week later, John called me and said he had a Bronco, black, in great shape, with nice wheels, and even a car phone. Do you think I bought the car? You better believe I did and it was one of the most dependable vehicles I have ever owned. It was worth the wait, although I almost had another birthday.


If you are in sales, you’ve undoubtedly heard, “The first thing to do is build the relationship. Relationship comes before the sale.” But John didn’t believe that. He believed in building friendships, and perhaps once in a while, one of those friends might just buy a car.


I found out later, John was salesman of the year at Fugate Ford almost every year for decades.  Why am I not surprised?