“Off the Court” Skills

By Marcus Shockley

The president of the National Basketball Association players’ association, Derek Fisher, speaks to reporters after taking part in contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York June 30, 2011. The NBA was on the verge of its first work stoppage in 13 years after negotiations over a new labor deal collapsed hours before the current collective bargaining agreement expires, the union representing players said on Thursday. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS BASKETBALL)


So much of a young basketball player’s life revolves around getting better on the court.

The best players work hard, day after day, away from crowds or an opponent, working on their shot, their ballhandling, their strength or their understanding of the game.

That is excellent. The players with the higher work ethic and the most drive are the players who have the best shot and achieving their dreams, either to play in college or someday play as a professional.

But, being good at basketball alone, and the work toward that goal with the exclusion of everything else, will not prepare a player for life. Players have plenty of people who want to help them be great basketball players but very few to help develop all of the skills needed to deal with the remaining 99% of their lives.

With that said, I wanted to offer some advice to young basketball players, and athletes in general, about what skills are absolutely critical to be successful in your life. Mastering these will not guarantee success, but it will help greatly.

1. Learn how money (really) works.

Time for some brutal facts. Almost nobody, in any walk of life, is good with their money. Most people are wage earners, and if they lose their job, they are in trouble. That goes for almost all rappers, basketball players and movie stars too. Most professional basketball players are broke within 4 years of leaving the NBA. That’s pathetic, but it’s no different than most people.

Don’t be “most people”.

Understand that when you think an NBA player is rich, he’s getting paid by someone who is 100 times richer. The player’s career will end, but that owner will still be there…rich. Understand where the money comes from in sports. It’s not just a big pool of cash sitting in a locker, it’s generated from underlying business principles. Learn what they are.

Understand how to live within your means. Read books like “The Millionaire Next Door” and actually take it to heart. You want to be rich forever, not just for 3 years. Look at Magic Johnson as a businessman, not any players who are still collecting an NBA paycheck. Get good at math. It’s not hard to understand profit and loss. People who don’t understand math are broke in a hurry. People who don’t understand math go out and buy Bentleys and jets while still collecting a sports paycheck.

Don’t be broke. Get good at math. Be as good at math as you are at dribbling or shooting.

Understand the Dow Jones and the stock market. Understand why someone with a lot of money might NEVER invest in the stock market, and you’ll understand whether or not you should put your money there.

Understand interest rates. Understand ROI. Read. Don’t just listen to your business advisers. Definitely don’t listen to your buddies or family members who are always broke. If you do, you’ll end up broke.

2. Learn how to communicate

Learn how to speak correctly. It’s okay to use slang around friends, but when the lights come on, it’s time to be “on”. There’s a reason why Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen and Kevin Durant sound intelligent in interviews, and it’s not just because they are naturally smart. They have worked on their ability to speak in front of reporters, in front of a crowd, to fans, to the media. You’ve spent so much time watching Durant shoot those perfect outside shots, studied his release, his form, and read all about his practice methods. Have you studied how he talks? You should.

Communication is a skill that can carry over to every part of your life, and it’s another skill that most people, not just athletes, lack. Learn to communicate with people in all walks of life. Don’t mumble and look at the floor when you talk. Don’t act annoyed. You want to be big time? Learn how to act big time.

People who communicate well will always be more successful than those who don’t. Sports television doesn’t hire people who sound like idiots, even if what they say may be disagreeable. Coaches who become more famous have to be great communicators in addition to being able to coach. Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari are all extremely good at communicating. Ditto for Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy.

Learning how to communicate will improve your ‘B.S.’ detector as well. Understanding how people try to manipulate their message will allow you to pick up on it even stronger.

Expand your vocabulary. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

3. Learn how to network.

Some people are born as natural networkers. They know just how to meet people, to work a room, to meet everyone. But for most of us, it has to be learned. For a teenager, it’s even more daunting.

But one of the great secrets of life is that getting ahead in just about anything requires at least some portion of ‘who you know’. There are many players who have gotten looks from pro teams, either in the NBA or overseas, because they knew someone. That won’t get you a roster spot, but it will get you a shot. Knowing as many people will create opportunities, will provide help, resources and support when you need it. Don’t just meet people for what they can do for you, just learn to meet people. If they need help or advice and you can offer it, do so. Over time you will find that having connections will pay off in ways you cannot imagine. A player who you played with in high school may end up as a GM for a pro team overseas. A fellow classmate in college may end up running a business that is looking for endorsement deals. A coach you worked with at a summer camp might recommend you to a scouting service.

Business runs on networking. Learn how to be “in the loop”.

And if you never play in the NBA? All of this matters even more.

One comment

  • […] It’s almost become synonymous with boosters involved in big time financial advisers who work with sports clients that there is a possibility that they are running a Ponzi scheme, which will eventually crash and take down a lot of people in the process. This isn’t entirely reality, but it does bring us back to the point we made last week that players need to develop their off-the-court life skills. […]

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