Guest Post:  Ray Lokar

Recently, I was asked, “What are some times in your life where you had to sacrifice things for the better of your career?” Or “when did you have to put things on a higher priority list then you’d like?” Obviously, as a coach, there are plenty of times when you are responsible for helping someone else’s child get better, when you could be spending time with your own. That’s a sacrifice.

Specifically, because basketball is a winter sport, any Holiday vacation is out of the question. During those two weeks when most students are enjoying some time off, the typical high school team might have a half-dozen games and some practices sprinkled in. No ski vacations for the basketball coach.

As sports became more of a year around proposition, there also became spring leagues, fall leagues, and the crazy summer schedule that has many schools playing more games in the summer than they do during the regular season. Summer vacation? Not much there either.

As coaches we make choices as to what level we want to coach, and many of us enter the profession with the desire to coach at the highest level possible. As those opportunities are presented to us it becomes time to decide what is really important to us and what we are willing to do – and how we are willing to live to have “a career”.

At some point in time a coach is then faced with answering the question “… are there some times in your life where you had to sacrifice the advancement of your career for the betterment of your life?” When faced with the decision to move up to the college level the amount of time on the road between games, and recruiting is something that needs to be considered.

Coaches spend a lot of time developing a Coaching Philosophy, but do we spend time regarding our Career Philosophy? We have Team Goals, but do we have Daily Life Goals? We work really hard at creating a winning Team Culture, but what about our Family Culture. And we certainly do things to establish our Programs Priorities with signs and posters in the locker room, but do we surround ourselves with the same kind of reminders of what OUR priorities are?.

I’m advocating using some visual reminders to help remind you to keep your priorities in order. To make any message stick we sometimes need some “message bombardment” to remind us of those priorities on a regular basis. Those visual reminders can be signs, pictures, or even “symbolic” mementos.

On top of the computer armoire in my office is the display of memorabilia pictured above, that began to develop to “pay homage” to some career successes and moments in time. That spot became a good “catch all”,  so when something entered my office, it was it’s initial landing spot.

At a point in time in my coaching career, I began to reflect on what was really important, and the display took on a different life. I began with a poster against the wall, courtesy of Jostens – our championship ring provider, that shows our championship ring design and includes a celebration photo from the floor of the Anaheim Pond.

Around that same time, I was attending a University of La Verne vs. the University of Redlands, men’s and women’s double-header. At the time, my oldest son was playing for ULV, while my oldest daughter was playing for UofR. During the games (which I changed colors in between from maroon of the Bulldogs to the forest green of the Leopards) a coaching friend had me count how many games I had attended in the past year.

Outside of the 80+ games my team had played that year, I tried to make every game that I could that my son and two daughters were playing – winter, spring, summer, and fall. Now my daughters were three sport athletes in high school and  my son and oldest daughter were playing college basketball. We came up with attending somewhere in the vicinity of 320+ games in a calendar year. And I had a two-year old son at home! Something had to give.

We like to frequent some of the great Swap Meets and Flea Markets in Southern California, such as the one at the Rose Bowl. I came across a wonderful brass clock which had a “Scale of Justice” that I had to have. I came home and I set it up on top of the armoire in front of the championship poster. Then it occurred to me that the weighted scale signified the weighing of importance – or balancing priorities. It is here that analyzing the positioning of some of my memorabilia began to take shape.

On the right scale I placed a basketball and a photo of cutting down the nets … the pinnacle of a season. Next to that scale is a gift mug with the phrase “#1 Coach”, and a salvaged trophy figurine from an old award.

So often, and so many basketball seasons we have that vision, that goal, to cut down the nets… but at what cost? The amount of time that a coach puts into a basketball season is extraordinary when you count the number of off-season games, workouts, and scouting excursions, etc in an attempt to best prepare the team for success. What is a coach potentially missing out on during all that time dedicated to their team? A great quote that I think about sometimes is:

“Success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be.”

On the left scale is a piece of driftwood found on a special family camping trip one August (the only month that some coaches allowed themselves to have off) and a photo of my four children. In front of the photo is a cross made of nails and a gift keychain that says “#1 Dad” along with some photos and books. Notice the juxtaposition of the two sides of the scale?

Guess which scale sits lower, reminding me daily what should carry more weight in my life? Basketball, awards, championships, and being the “#1 Coach”…or faith, family, quality time, and being a “#1 Dad”? It’s very easy to slip out of that set of priorities and into one more short-sighted with immediate gratification.

Sitting in front of the scale is an old set of glasses (before my RK – radial keratotomy) to remind me to “see” what is important, and to not be “near-sighted” to long-term goals. Behind it a preseason photo of that tuxedoed championship team gazing into the distance with a “vision” of where we wanted to go.

Wrapped around the back of the scale is a three-panel Family Circus cartoon where little Billy asks Dad to ” play some one-on-one”. When Bill, the father, says no because he’s busy, Billy replies, “That’s OK … I’ll just play one-on-NONE”.

In the final frame Bill and Billy are seen shooting hoops in the dark. Bill realized that, regardless of the profession, the work can wait. So there have been plenty of times when I’ve had some work that I could and should do, that I can be found in the driveway shooting hoops or playing catch with my son… because I’m reminded daily of what I believe is important.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. – – Stephen R. Covey


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  • Great Post!!! Very well said.

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