Success is not Random | Leadership & Education

Coaching is a demanding profession, or for many coaches a demanding vocation. So the suggestion to add one more thing to an already full plate, may seem counterintuitive. However, more and more athletic teams are using the idea of book clubs, or book/leadership talks to enrich the athletic journey for their athletes. Many professional and college teams already use books or leadership themes before or throughout their season to sustain motivation. Now we are starting to see high school and junior high teams implementing these leadership themes into their programs as well. At the very least, utilizing motivational books or themes, is just another way for coaches to connect with their athletes and impact them in a positive way. It is also a way to brand yourself as a coach and your program as being more than about wins and losses.

One of the many blessings I have had as a basketball coach is my association with the Michigan Elite 25 (E25) program ( run by Mr. Tim McCormick and Mr. Mike Dietz. I was hired as their leadership/education director and have learned so much from working with them. The mission of E25 is to change the culture of basketball in Detroit and throughout the state of Michigan by encouraging the top players to create a winning game plan for success. Along with helping develop outstanding basketball players, this mentoring program emphasizes educational topics, community values, family relationships, and the importance of creating a long-term plan of success, both on and off the court.

One of my charges was to help build/write a curriculum or a “model” of success for young athletes that would be sustaining. I eventually translated this“success blueprint” into a fictional leadership fable called An Elite Journey: A Young Man’s Leadership Story. It’s a story of a young man’s journey through two years of high school basketball and all the lessons he learns. It’s essentially a journey of becoming your best self, both on and off the court. The story has also resonated with many athletes beyond just basketball. In fact, along with all the E25 athletes, many different sports or leadership teams have used or are currently using the book as a leadership study. One of the reasons the book lends itself to leadership talks is because at the end of each chapter there is “thoughts to ponder” or questions to help guide discussion and/or provide summary.

The story begins with a young promising athlete (CJ Harding) struggling to reach his full potential. He is not only underachieving on the basketball court and in the classroom, but he is also struggling to form strong connections with the people in this life, especially his family. He eventually stumbles upon a leadership manual written by his late father, Chad Harding. Chad was an All-American high school athlete and West Point graduate. He tragically died on the battlefield in Afghanistan when CJ was very young. It is this leadership manual that turns CJ’s life around. The leadership manual is broken down into five sections, based on an acronym for the word ELITE.

The first section of the manual is about the value of EDUCATION. Aforementioned, CJ is a struggling student-athlete, yet the words in his dad’s book transform the way he sees himself. His dad writes about the work of Carol Dweck and the differences between a fixed and growth mindset. CJ tended to always think negatively, that he was destined for mediocrity, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was very fixed minded. CJ learns that a growth minded person creates value from effort and embracing adversity. He eventually begins to view life through a more optimistic lens, and realizes that the most important aspect of an ELITE thinker is one’s mindset. As he continues to read his late father’s words, CJ embraces the slogan “knowledge is power”, and looks for opportunities to grow with each experience. He also becomes excited about opportunities to grow his brain. CJ reads that the brain grows the more you work it. That his myelin develops with deliberate practice and hard work, and that it is myelin which is directly related to talent. CJ also embraces the power of visualization, positive self-talk, and writing down his goals. He begins to seriously ponder his future, not only as a basketball player, but as a student and leader. Now appreciating that “success is not random” and that you need a game plan, he writes down his goals clearly on a notecard and places it on his bedside table where he can visualize his success daily.

CJ’s life begins a positive change as he becomes more curious, growth-minded and goal oriented. His dad’s manual really resonated with him. He especially liked the poems and quotes that his dad wrote. One quote that really impacted CJ was by Bob Moawad. “The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses, no one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours. It is an amazing journey and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day that your life really begins.”

CJ’s life continues to transform as he reads his dad’s manual. Stay tuned as I will be writing four more blogs highlighting his transformation. I am sure you can predict what the remaining four letters stand for in the word ELITE.

For more information about the book or how to use this with your team, please view my website at or follow me on twitter @coachmassucci #elitejourney. Best of luck as you begin your own journey this upcoming season.

One comment

  1. This is an awesome book! I highly recommend all coaches, athletes, and parents to read it. Mike Massucci has taken many of the life lessons we want to instill in our players and teams and built a fictional story that teaches those very lessons in an engaging and entertaining way. While basketball is the sport being played in the story, this book is appropriate for all sports and all walks of life where people are wanting to learn how to be better leaders, students, teammates, friends, family members, or just better people. It also is a book that middle school through high school-aged kids will love to read. Do yourself and your teams a favor and read this book!

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