The Sports Lab: 3 Life Lessons I Taught my Younger Brother as a Pro Athlete

September 22, 2018: My Thoughts on the Growth Mindset in Sports Startups, Fitness, and All the Shit

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Sports Wisdom Applied in Life Lessons | by Fabio Jock on Unsplash

“You got this Young Huff. Three jumpers, worth two, three layups, worth one, and three stationary threes, worth three, at the five spots continuously. You got two minutes to make 60 points.”

“This sounds freakin’ hard.”

“It is hard. It’s supposed to be hard, dude. The fastest way to grow is to put pressure on yourself to achieve something just outside your comfort zone. So you think you can get 60?” I asked my younger brother. D2 (yes, after the Stars Wars character) was 16, trying to learn how to put effort, maximize his time on the court, and reach his dream of playing division one basketball.

“60 seems like a lot. Why do I need to get it in two minutes?” my younger brother asked. “Can’t we just shoot without a time limit?”

“NO. Absolutely not,” I said. I was in my second year of professional basketball and knew the pitfalls of mental resistance and laziness. “D2, there aren’t easy days when you are 16. There are no days off. You have to learn how to win, how to handle the mental pressure and push yourself every day. Plus, you need that pressure to simulate the game, to push yourself to grow because there are thousands of kids doing more than you, some of which have less talent and athleticism that are growing their game faster than you.”

“Why do I need to grow my game faster?” he asked, shifting his weight to his other leg.

Goddamn, he is always playing the Devil’s Advocate.

“Because, unfortunately, unlike other things in life, competitive team basketball ends for most high schoolers at 18. If you don’t improve fast enough, you won’t get a chance to play in college, which is your goal right?”


“D1 right?


“Did I make that goal or did you?

“I did.”

“D2, listen, getting to college sports, getting a chance to play, it is a big, hard race against some of the best athletes in the world.”

“So it’s a race to the top and my senior year is the finish line?” he asked, his eyes shining.

“Hell yeah it is, and every 16-year old kid in the basketball world is racing with you. They want to beat you. The question is can you put in the effort, and maximize your time on the court to improve faster than them.”

“I can.”

“You sure?” I asked. “What about when I leave, when I go back overseas, you gonna put in the time and effort then?

“Yes. I promise, I will,” he said.

“Well, then stop arguing and trust me. Put in the work. We got 60 minutes, let’s make the best of it right here and now and turn your effort up.”

“Okay. I got you.”

D2 smiled and I threw the leather ball to him. We started the drill and I watched him put in a new level of effort I hadn’t seen before. And that’s all I wanted from him, because I didn’t care if he actually got to 60 points. I wanted him to step up to the challenge and grow. I wanted him to realize that the best effort is one that consistently maximizes your time.

Which leads to life lesson number one:

A simple rule I’m realizing about my pro athlete life that relates to almost anything: if you want to become something greater, you have to learn how to put a greater, more efficient effort into that something.

You have to maximize your time doing the things that align you with those values.

Do you value well-being and happiness?

Write out a list of things that make you happier, or help you feel better:

Mine would be yoga, or shooting hoops, or walking with my dog, writing every morning while sipping my espresso, or training for a triathlon, or sketch comedy.

Most people don’t know their values, so maybe we should start there:

  1. Name your three values for 2018.
  2. Name three ways you can maximize your time to reach each of those three values.

And then know the difference between real effort and being in motion. Being in motion doesn’t mean you are getting shit done. It means you floating through life with no focus. If you aren’t really focusing and putting yourself in game situations in life, that make you focus like Superman’s eye lasers, that replicate the highest level of game you play, you could be leaving potential on the table.

Like if you are trying to be Zen, then shut everything down and really fucking focus for 20 minutes and mediate on being the best Zen monk you can be. Turn off everything and do it.

My roommate and I talk about this type of stuff, and I’m lucky to have played professional basketball for 12 years and save and invest my money in real estate, which allows the freedom to witness and talk about strategies for growth.

Life lesson number two, the myth that being rich means happiness:

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why do you want the money? the car? the fame? the power?

I’ve been rich, even semi-famous in a small, European town sort of way. Maybe by most people’s standards, I’m semi-retired. I own 14 real estate properties. I live on the passive income and build new businesses, ideas, and explore the meaning of what I value.

This is why the quote, “Rich people don’t work for their money — it takes money to make money,” exists, but there is a clear distinction for me that I’ve learned from pro sports life lessons:

Happy, healthy people always put effort into maximizing the values that bring their life deeper meaning and well-being.

So simple, yet so hard.

So stop trying to be rich. Or famous. Or powerful. None of these equal happiness, or well-being. Money may just magnify whatever you already are. Insecure, greedy, superficial, the game of fame, power, or what kind of car you drive means very little when we all get buried six feet under the ground.

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer. — Jim Carrey

If you want to be fitter, you have to work for it. There is joy in that work and that effort if you approach it in your way.

The last of the life lessons sports taught me, number three:

Putting maximum effort into your passion is a serious fucking vulnerable place to be. Maximum effort that is witnessed by others is like a gaping window to your soul.

“D2, you have to be okay with the feeling of trying your best and failing. Of being made fun of,” I said, knowing the words were my own advice. “There is an art of letting go of what others think when you step onto the court.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’ll start upsetting people, you’ll start ruffling feathers when you are truly competing, and giving your best effort. Your friends won’t like it. They will make fun of you. They will think you’re trying too hard.


“Because your best effort doesn’t look cool in high school. Or ever, maybe.”

A kid that wants to be the best hooper he can be could ask me to watch his game tape and I would immediately know how to help her/him improve through practice, and most of the time, it would come down to focused, consistent effort after the game ends.

Most of the time, unused potential lacks laser-like dedication to the short term tasks at hand, and a longterm plan for continually getting yourself out of comfort zone with sustainable efforts.

In real life, no one is watching your game tape, are they?


I’d like it if a coach were watching me. Telling me where I’m going wrong. But no one is watching me and giving me feedback on my daily routine, on my startup, on my fitness, on my productivity, or any of that shit matters to me day in and day out.

We are on our own journey to find the feedback and people we need to improve our effort. And understanding self-awareness and consistent learning is a key to success in any field.

It’s our job to build the bridges to the information, to the learning, to the mentors, and to the people that will help us lead a happier, more productive life that is aligned with the maximizing our values. Regardless of circumstance, we have the right to choose our mindset in how we live, how we hard we want learn, what we learn, and how much effort we put into that learning, regardless of stereotype or bias.

It takes a growth mindset-type person to shake off the world’s assumptions, stereotypes, and create their own reality. But I nod my head to those that are trying.

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“Do it or don’t do it.”

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