Get Involved in Your Community
From left: Max, Riccardo, Marcus, Edwin, Mycale, Kay, Christian, Jovanny, Andy, Me, Austin and Mahier.
I must have knocked on about forty or fifty doors asking random schools and organizations in L.A.’s affluent areas if I could volunteer for them, but none of them opened.
Everything changed for me the minute I read “How to Succeed in Business Without Being White,” by Earl Graves. Graves encourages young black people to first get involved in their community if they want to build a successful business.
Graves' words immediately stood out to me and I asked myself, “why can’t I go to my local YMCA branch in South Central and volunteer?”
I created a volunteer resume and a week later I applied in-person at the Crenshaw Family YMCA, which caters to kids in the Baldwin Village Community, better known as “the jungles,” where the movie “Training Day" was filmed.
The program director said, “have a seat,” then he asked me how I saw myself volunteering. I hadn’t even thought that far, I had only seen myself as a mentor or an extra pair of hands around the gym when needed. Yet, the seriousness of his question sunk in. I told him I wanted to teach an entrepreneurship course. I wasn’t even sure what I would teach, I just knew that starting a business was the one thing I knew a lot about.
He said “yes” right on the spot. His response surprised me because it was the first time in a long time that I wasn't shot down immediately.
Shortly thereafter, I began volunteering. I was thrown into coaching a 12-15-division boys’ basketball team. Despite playing basketball in college, I knew little about coaching other players.
I never saw myself as a basketball coach, but I realized quickly that I had this powerful ability to motivate kids. I only say this because I always knew what to say to them to lift their spirits.
My strengths were best served on game day, when I would sit at the end of the bench and motivate them as they went in and came out of the game.
I became so focused on helping them keep the right mindset; I couldn’t tell you what the final number were on the scoreboard. I just knew we lost a lot of games… all by a few points. We played good up until we let our attitudes get the best of us.
Once the negative attitudes set in, it would keep us from pulling away with a victory and we would result to falling behind right at the end.
The rest of the season didn’t get any better. Individually, their attitudes got worse. Certain players began to argue with coaches, including myself. Whenever we wanted to substitute a player to come out of the game, some players would take off their jersey and throw it on the floor.
I saw a lot of mismanagement with our team, but I kept quiet because I was the new guy and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
Every practice, I witnessed our team broke down more and more. Coaches made blatant mistakes and were too focused on winning. Bad behavior was rewarded and there was a serious lack of discipline across the board. How can you expect a player to actively adopt and model the behavior of a winner if the coaches don’t share that vision?
I eventually got put on another project at the YMCA, but pieces of the season left me wondering if I was really making a difference in my community.
So, when I was asked to coach the next season, I said no.
My answer had nothing to do with whether I had given up on the boys, I just wanted to introduce something other than basketball. – that something being entrepreneurship.
The other reason I said no was that I feared, as a black man, I was being stereotyped as an athlete, not as an intelligent member of the community.
I knew I could make a difference in another way. There was success beyond basketball, and I wanted to expose them to that while they were young. I just didn’t know how to start. It would’ve been easy for me to start a class, but I felt, if I had, nobody would have shown up. I was a new face around the “Y” and the kids didn’t know me well enough. I needed a way to build a rapport with them, and from there, introduce my class.
Although I had declined the coaching position, I came to an agreement with the program director to help him with tryouts for the upcoming Jr. Clipper’s league.
Tryouts started a few weeks later. We had about hundred kids there. I never actually ran a tryout before so I had to think like a real head coach. My mind flipped back to my old high school basketball team and I remembered what my coach had us do in practice.
First, we started off with a stretch post workout, then I had them do two-line layups. Then, I had them spread the floor for shooting and rebounding drills. I had more fun than I thought I would. Most of the kids responded well to me. It was like I had complete access to their minds, they liked my toughness, and then all a sudden I got an idea: If I coached my own team, not only could I instill self-discipline my way, I could use my authority as a coach to get them to take my class. Then it dawned on me; basketball was a perfect way to bridge entrepreneurship.
We called ourselves the Houston Cougars. I choose our name because I’m a Texas Native, and The University of Houston Entrepreneurship Program is among the top 25 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S.
Basketball Practice was held on Friday evenings and my entrepreneurship class was every Saturday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.
I wanted to set the tone on the first day of practice, so called all my players to center court. Making eye contact with every one of them, I told them we’re going to have a new focus every week. Our focus this week will be to work as a team and stay positive.
“Everyone understand.” They all said, “yes coach.” Then I read them an inspirational quote out loud from a list of quotes I collected over the years and explained my philosophy.
My philosophy was that I would tell them something once, maybe twice, but that was it. If I had to asked them three times. I would train them extra hard as punishment. I could have had them do pushups or something, but I chose to have them run 35 second suicides. Then I move into action.
“Split up into two separate lines on each side of the half-court,” I said!
A few did as I had asked, but the majority, however, stayed and awaited further action of their teammates. I repeated my statement once more. They broke out of our huddle slowly and started walking to each side of half court.
I couldn’t tolerate that. I blew my whistle until there was no air left inside my lungs and told the team to line up on the baseline.
“Hey, Coach, I did what you asked,” I heard one kid say.
“I don’t care, we are a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team, line up!”
Then I put 35 seconds on the clock and told them to sprint to the other end and back at the sound of my whistle.
One player named Max, who played on the basketball team last season, had a big grin on his face from ear to ear the whole time he was running. You see Max was used to the old coaching style, where coaches didn’t take character building and discipline seriously. But he was about to find out quick that this team was different.
I yelled “if we all don’t make our run, we all run again!” Thirty-five seconds later, the time on the clocked expired. Max didn’t make it of course because he wasn’t taking my words seriously.
I blew my whistle again, they thought it was over but I lined them up again and made them run another suicide. This time, they all made their time and the smile that once illumined Max’s face quickly vanished.
I always made sure to end our practice on a positive note by rewarding the hardest working player with an ice-cold Gatorade after practice.
I coined this ritual “Fierce player of the Week,” inspired by the bold and intense flavors of Gatorade FIERCE. It was a good ritual. It gave the boys incentive to work hard and a lot of them looked forward to knowing who would get the prize. In fact, one kid named Jovanny, he was one of the hardest working kids would always say, “Hey coach, who got the fierce player of the week?”
We all survived the first day of practice. Before we broke our huddle, I said “be at our first entrepreneurship class tomorrow guys, don’t be late.”
Then Max said, “what’s an entrepreneur coach?”
“Show up tomorrow, and I’ll tell you Max.”
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