You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Second Quarter-Riding the Tide

Character: the moral, ethical, and spiritual truth that reinforces your life and allows you to resist temptation and compromise.


In the second quarter of a football game, you're starting to get a feel for what's happening. Either it's good or it's bad. Sometimes you just have to ride it out until halftime, but take a good look at what's working and what's not. On your way to achieving your goals, there needs to be plenty of time for introspection, an evaluation of sorts of how things are going. We all need that in our personal lives as well, to make sure we're on the right path toward where we want to go.

Look Beyond the Mirror

A mirror reflects a man's face. But what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses. I challenge my players with this all the time by asking them to take a look at the guys they have around them. Are they guys who are looking for an easy ride? Or are they guys who are really looking out for you like a brother? When anyone finds some success, there are always people around who are looking to bring that person down-either intentionally or just by virtue of their character and motives.

A lot of top athletes have fallen because of the people they've chosen to be close with. Real friends are the people who don't have an agenda for being your friend. They care about your best interests as much as their own. They are the guys who take you home when you've been out too late, who come over and watch the game just to hang out.

They don't talk you into making the worst decision of your entire life.

The attraction of friendship can be alluring. Everyone wants to be accepted. But you have to stop and ask yourself why these people are suddenly in your life and what it is they're adding, or what it is they're trying to take away. Especially if you've made a name for yourself or made some money. Too many people want to latch onto that because they see easy street. A real friend never sees that street.

It's tough on a lot of the athletes who come from the inner city, where being part of a gang means staying alive. They leave to go on to the NBA or the NFL, and their guys back home expect to either come with them or, at least, share in the wealth. Guys tell me all the time how they sometimes feel obligated to maintain friendships with the guys back home, to give them money and respect; otherwise, they get their 'ghetto pass revoked.' It's a tough line to walk. Do you turn your back on those guys and risk alienating your old neighborhood forever, or do you maintain the relationship and risk your career and, possibly, your life?

I heard about a speech by a young man who said he had once been a gangbanger. His friends lured him into the life even though he knew it was wrong. He ended up deciding to go with them one night even though his mother and another friend, who had gotten wind of his decision, tried to talk him down. He insisted that he had no choice, that these guys were his friends and they wouldn't let anything bad happen to him. He found his buddies, got into the car, and crossed that imaginary line into enemy gang territory. Within minutes gunshots rang out; they sped away, but not before the young man's best friend was killed. He died in his arms. Eight years and a prison sentence later, the young man was speaking to a group of kids at a youth center. He told them he had been a gangbanger-a gangbanger for five minutes.

'Some of my friends tried to talk me out of it, but my other friends were talking me into it. I wanted to be cool. I wanted them to like me. Five minutes into it, my best friend got shot, and he died. Five minutes. He was the friend who had asked me whether I was a baby or a man. A real man would have said no and walked away, and a real friend wouldn't have asked.'

If your friends are dragging you into trouble, then they are not your friends. Be careful whom you trust. The spotlight attracts all kinds of insects and vermin. Make sure the people you are around have as much to lose as you do if trouble erupts. Find people who share your interests, your passions, your way of living. That doesn't mean they all need to be your clones. In fact, diversity in thinking can be a valuable learning tool.

My best friends, besides my wife, are the men who mentored me and the men I mentor. John Lynch remains the best athlete I've ever coached and one of the best men I've ever met. John's the godfather of our son, Marcus. That's how much Lia and I think of him. The way he approaches life is similar to the way I approach it. We know we're far from perfect, but we also try to minimize our mistakes by reading the Bible and walking the walk together.

I can look at a player, and if he is surrounded by people who make him uneasy in the company of either my staff or myself, then I know that young man could be headed for trouble. I tell them that you can learn from history or you can be part of it.The people you want to be around are those who share your goals for happiness and success.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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