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Nine Questions to Ask Prospective Athletes Before You Bring Them on Your Team

After years of helping athletic directors and coaches better connect with young athletes, we surveyed them to see what they’ve concluded about “Generation iY” players. Both NCAA and high school coaches noted they’ve seen a measurable drop in their youngest athlete’s life skills and virtues. The top seven diminishing ones are:

1. Resilience – Practice goes well, but even minor adversity defeats them.

2. Empathy – Parent’s often push them into individualism and self-expansion.

3. Ambition – Their internal drive to succeed has been replaced by external ones.

4. Work ethic – Because of short attention spans, the daily grind is a turn off.

5. Patience – Due to texts, microwaves and Google, its hard to delay gratification.

6. Academic Stamina – Their ability to stick with studies when the novelty is gone.

7. Self-awareness – Often no one has been honest with them about their blind spots.

I believe the kids born since 1990 are different than previous kids. I call them Generation iY because they’ve grown up on-line in an “i” world. Technology, culture, parenting styles and medications have harmed them. And now, you must coach them.

In a recent coaches training event, I was asked a great question: What should we ask a young “iY” athlete to signal a potential problem? Below are questions I recommend you ask to tip you off about recruits, ward off trouble with potential players, and help you when screening your recruits for character.

Questions to Ask a Potential Athlete:

1. Tell me about a difficult experience you’ve had with authority.

An honest answer to this one will reveal their attitude and respect for leaders, and how they tend to deal with submission to authority. A “rebel spirit” can be contagious.

2.  What’s your biggest frustration about being an athlete? What really gets you down?

Their answer may furnish insight into their resilience level—how much does it take to discourage them or cause them to give up. Can they handle adversity and obstacles?

3. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve gone without your cell phone?

Generation iY is aptly named because many are addicted to technology. Their answer to this one will signal how much they depend on screens to motivate them.

4. What has been your greatest challenge with teammates?

This will reveal their emotional intelligence and specifically how much empathy they possess for teammates. Their answer will tell you how well they see the big picture.

5. Talk about your three biggest habits that you’d like to break.

This answer could be huge. Are they in bondage to bad habits they cannot break? Can they delay gratification? Do they lead themselves well or are they a slave to addictions?

6. On a scale of 1-10, how much does criticism bother you from a teammate? A coach?

Many in this generation have never really been chastised or criticized, so their tolerance for it is low. Ask them to be candid, but listen to how they handle confrontation.

7. How much are you willing to compromise your personal standards?

Even if they try to give you answers you want, they may not know how to reply to this one. Do they possess strong personal values they won’t compromise? Are they ethical?

8. What word would your teammates use most to describe you? Your past coaches?

This question allows you to hear how others view the recruit. If you can get an honest answer, listen for key words that reveal what kind of teammate and leader they are.

9. Should fans leave you alone off the field and let you live however you see fit?

Some athletes don’t feel they must be a role-model, and do whatever they want off the field. The recruit’s answer to this one will let you peek into how self-absorbed they are.

Remember, the better your questions in the recruiting process, the better you can screen your players and get the right ones. You know the issues you need to cover to gain the right athletic abilities. Through the questions above, I’ve simply tried to help you get acquainted with a recruit…as a person.

Any other questions you would ask when screening your recruits for character? Leave a comment.


May I let you in on a little secret? Those of us who lead, teach, mentor, manage, parent and employ students have gotten sidetracked. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s the hype of media or social media; maybe it’s the fact we’re busy spinning so many plates or maybe, it’s just that we feel the pressure of catching and holding kids’ attention. Whatever it is, many of us have drifted from the number one most powerful weapon in influencing the next generation.

I was reminded of this secret as Pope Francis experienced his first day as Pontiff, the leader of the Catholic Church. On that first day, he didn’t sleep in, when the entire world would have forgiven him for doing so. After all, he just got the biggest job of his life. Nope, he got up early to pray for 30 minutes. He knew he needed it. Then, as he led mass that day for the Cardinals, instead of a formal sermon full of rhetoric, he gave an off-the-cuff homily on the need to walk with God, build up the people in the church and confess. While in the chapel, Francis was to sit down in the Papal chair, a sort of throne for the one who holds that office. He declined, wanting to stand instead. In fact, before greeting anyone else he walked to the back of the room to greet a Cardinal who was confined to a wheelchair. He wanted to meet everyone on their level. After appearing on the balcony to hundreds below, he declined to use the private Vatican car, (a luxury car with the license plate Vatican City 1), to return to the dormitory where he stayed before being elected Pope. He simply said, “I’ll take the bus since that’s the way I came here.”

He retrieved his belongings in his dorm, then stopped by the front desk to pay his own bill. (Yep, you read that right). Upon climbing into the bus, he asked to stop several times along the drive to greet well-wishers and to encourage them.

What a humble, authentic and fresh way of being the Pope. And do you know why he did this? When asked, he said simply, “I want to be sure to set a positive example.”

That’s it. That’s the secret we’ve forgotten.

The leader of 1.2 billion people—the one who doesn’t need to pay his own bill at the dorm or take a bus anymore—has not forgotten the power of being a role model. Somehow, in our pursuit of attempting to be a riveting speaker, becoming savvy on Facebook, trying to gain followers on social media, hoping to get noticed by doing something really creative in front of our students—we’ve forgotten what impresses them most. Quietly setting an example. Doing it before we expect anyone else to do it. I’ve found that when I’m intentional about modeling the way, my credibility rises with kids. It’s more powerful than a great speech. Our personal stock goes up faster this way than when we try to be “cool” or “funny” or “unique.”

The truth is, the number one management principle in the world is: People do what people see.  Period. They’d rather see a sermon than hear one.

So, when you’re tempted to spend extra time on your speech, or lesson plan; when you are trying to figure out how to get more followers on Twitter, remember that true followers aren’t found on social media. They’re found watching which leader walks the walk. That’s what I believe Pope Francis I is trying to do. I am not trying to get you to become a Catholic. I’m trying to get you to become the most effective leader you can be. Do it before you say it.

Hidden Treasure

March 20, 2013 — 4 Comments


This month, a story made headlines that I believe contains an important reminder for those of us who lead students.

Thomas Schultz bought a house in New York, and noticed it had a stack of paintings in the garage. They were paintings by a little known artist Aurthur Pinajian. The previous owner suggested Tom should just “throw them out.” He assumed they were worthless. Instead, Mr. Schultz and a friend asked if they could purchase the artwork, and did so for $2,500. As the Huffington Post reported, “Well, it turns out their decision to buy Mr. Pinajian’s art stash along with the house was a good one, as the collection has now been valued at a remarkable $30 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Individual works have already sold for a whopping $500,000, and now the abstract impressionist artist’s works are on view at a gallery opened by Schultz, as well as in Manhattan’s Fuller Building.”

Mr. Schultz is now rich. Great investment.

But that’s not the only lesson we learn from this episode. I believe those of us who stand in front of young people every day or every week have the same experience. At least we should.  Just as Thomas Schultz somehow saw something in those masterpieces that the former homeowner didn’t see—we must see the potential and the value in every student we meet. They are, if you will, masterpieces.

I love the fact that Schultz saw something valuable that others did not see. He rejected their suggestion that the masterpieces should be tossed aside. He invested in them, knowing he had no guaranteed return. He treasured the art, framing it nicely and displaying it for others to enjoy. And in the end…he was right. There was incredible value in that art.

I don’t know your story, but I personally have had the undeserved privilege of investing in thousands of students over the last thirty years. They’re masterpieces.

And I am now richer for it.


For years, I have been teaching and writing that students today are from an EPIC generation. Dr. Leonard Sweet is the first person I heard suggest this, and it isn’t   merely because students today love the word “epic.” It’s because the letters of that word aptly describe who they are and how they best learn. Let me illustrate.

E – Experiential

Students today love to learn from experiences. They are not looking for a sage on the stage…with a lecture. They’re looking for a guide on the side with an experience. The more we can create environments and experiences from which we can pass on life lessons, the more we’ll engage them. My friend, Tom, had two teenage sons, who weren’t showing the people skills he wanted them to display. When one announced he wanted to start dating a girl, Tom came up with a brilliant idea. Before they could take a girl out on a date, his sons had to practice with their mother. They had to take mom out, open the car door for her, treat her to dinner, offer flowers, the whole nine years. While they rolled their eyes at first, they competed for a good grade from mom, so they could reach their goal. Mission accomplished. The teenage girls they later took out were the beneficiaries of this experiential lesson.

P – Participatory

By this I mean, they’ve been conditioned to participate in the outcomes of almost everything in their life. What they eat, where the family goes on vacation, who stays on that reality TV show, you name it. So, adults who find ways to let them “vote” or participate in outcomes and direction, see those students take ownership of the task. Students support what they help create. I have a friend who noticed her kids acting entitled and ungrateful for the lifestyle they enjoyed. So, she had her kids (one at a time) sit down with her and help her pay the bills each month. They watched her at the computer, and helped her prioritize them if they didn’t quite have enough for all of them. It was a vivid illustration for them on how fast money slips away. They are now more grateful and realistic about income.

I – Image rich

Young people today have grown up in a world filled with images. Think for a minute. I grew up with TV. They grew up with MTV. Videos. Websites. Digital cameras. DVDs. Images really are the language of the 21st century, not words. This is a right-brain generation. So, in our home, one evening a week, our family made sure to eat dinner together and talk over a Habitude.Ò.  (Habitudes are images that form leadership habits and attitudes). Each image represents a timeless truth about life and leadership. We discovered over a meal that pictures really are worth a thousand words. It was fun to see my kids “get it” when we attached lessons to visuals.

C – Connected

Finally, students today are connected—both technologically and socially. So, the more we can provide opportunities to “stop the lecture” and let them connect with each other and talk, the better chance we have of reaching them. In hour home and also in the homes of countless friends of mine, we initiated a little exercise from time to time. We would have our kids watch the news at night, and choose one story about a problem. (Most news broadcasts are filled with problem stories). Then, together the kids would determine what plan of action they would take if they were in charge of solving that problem. It was invigorating…and transformed attitudes from complaining to solution-finding.

Question. How EPIC is your teaching? Your parenting? Your management and training of this next generation?

I want to hear from you. What EPIC ideas have you practiced with students? Leave a comment.


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Stop and think. Did you know many of the great achievements throughout history in the fields of art, culture, science and technology have been by teenagers? This may be because they’re able to see things in new and innovative ways, since their thinking isn’t bound by the status quo. It’s often due to a God-given talent surfacing at an early age, and the natural open-mindedness of youth before they experience attempts to indoctrinate them towards certain worldviews. Biologically the rate of brain development, according to some IQ studies, peak in smart individuals just prior to their teenage years. For instance, Mozart composed his first symphony when he was just six years old. Chopin played his first public piano performance at eight. But this is just the beginning. Did you know…

* At twelve years old…Blaise Pascal secretly worked out the first twenty-three propositions of Euclid by himself?

* At thirteen, Anne Frank began writing her diary, later published as “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”

* At fourteen, Nadia Comaneci “achieved in her sport what no Olympian, male or female, ever had before: perfection.”

* At just fifteen, Louis Braille invented the Braille reading system for the blind.

* At sixteen, Franz Schubert wrote his First Symphony; having already composed songs, chamber pieces etc.

* At a mere eighteen, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus), later published when she was 21.

* And at only nineteen, Babe Ruth began playing for the Boston Red Sox, in what would become the greatest baseball career in history.

Don’t’ you dare sell kids short. In fact, I think we expect far too little of them today. Allowing them to get lost on Facebook chats, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets…their potential lies dormant. And we often say—“Ah, they’re just kids.”

Perhaps they are minors, but through history, young people have shown the world how much they are capable of doing. A hundred years ago, four year-olds were doing age appropriate chores around the house; by fifteen, they were working the farm; by seventeen, they were leading armies, and by nineteen many were married. I am not suggesting we must return to this pattern, but simply that teens are capable of this kind of responsibility and authority.

But they’ll never do it today…unless we expect it and empower them to do it. Please, don’t sell our kids short.

What do you think? Leave a comment.