It was a warm summer day in 1992 and I was shooting baskets in Columbiaville, Michigan. While practicing three pointers, I noticed three middle-school age boys start practicing on the other side of the court. After a few minutes, I assessed the boys playing capabilities – two of the boys could play fairly well for middle-schoolers, but the third one looked like he hadn’t played basketball at all. Nonetheless, rather than continue to shoot by myself, I invited them to play a fun game of 2-on-2.
I chose the inexperienced basketball player as my teammate and called “Ice Adidas” since he was wearing an Adidas hat and one of my favorite players back in the day was George “Ice Man” Gervin. Remember, this was 1992, before I was into leadership development at all. I didn’t listen to positive CDs, didn’t read leadership books, and had no idea what a limiting belief was. Nevertheless, I was about to learn a great lesson on leadership that I want to share.
Because it wasn’t a competitive game, I decided not to shoot unless I was given a layup. Thus, “Ice Adidas” had to carry the main load for scoring our points if we planned on winning. Of course, I had watched “Ice Adidas” practice and I don’t think he was making more than one out of ten. I realized this might not be much of a game, but decided to roll with it and, to entertain myself, I decided to do a play-by-play of the game. The two competent players quickly jumped out to the lead and with me refusing to shoot, it looked like it was going to be a blowout.
Although at first the other two boys laughed at my incessant build up of their friend, “Ice Adidas,” I kept speaking it into existence. Empowering words like – the player who is smooth as silk; the one who has ice in his veins; and the star who can carry his team – were spoken over and over as I drove to the basket and popped it back out to Ice. He was getting closer to the basket but he was still missing.
Then everything changed. “Ice Adidas” made on of his shots! I poured it on just like the TV broadcasters did stating, “Ice Man” is hot! Watch out! When he gets in a groove he is unstoppable! “Ice Adidas” is on the loose and now the game is now up for grabs. We were playing buckets, which meant if you make a basket, then you get the ball back again. This permits a team that gets behind to come back quickly if they get on a roll and that is exactly what the “Ice Man” did.
I would drive to the hole and pop it back to “Ice Adidas” and he started hitting EVERYTHING! The smile on his face seemed permanent as he proceeded to live up to everything I was saying. I had no idea the power words had to change lives, but I experienced it first-hand that day. His two friends started bickering about who was supposed to cover Ice and said to each other that you can’t leave him open or he will score.
I am not exaggerating, this same kid could barely hit the backboard, not he was hitting layups, jumpers, and anything else he shot up. To make a long story short we won three straight games and when the boys left, they treated “Ice Adidas” with deference. One of the kids asked him where he learned to shoot like that. I was wondering the same myself, but he had told me he had only played a couple of times. I am convinced “Ice Adidas” left that court a changed person. His friends treated him with deference and were amazed at his shooting prowess.
What happened on the basketball court that day? That’s a good question. Especially when one considers that I had practically forgotten about the whole incident until I started studying leadership. After countless CDs, books, and events, I realized that my words to “Ice Adidas” had helped change his beliefs. Although I had not idea what I was doing, my words of encouragement to the young man transformed him from a inexperienced player and into “Ice Adidas”. My belief in George “Ice Man” Gervin abilities became his belief in his abilities. “Ice Adidas” lived up to the words I spoke and played way above his former capabilities.
In fact, this is one of the leader’s main roles – help people see themselves the way the leader sees them. I invest my time seeing the greatness in my leaders and then sharing that greatness back to them. Over time, they replace their limiting views of themselves with a more accurate assessment of their leadership abilities. When this happens, everything changes just like it did for “Ice Adidas.” Information is important, but not until they have been provided the inspiration. The leader provides the inspiration for the people to seek the right information needed to win.
In sum, treat a person as he is and he will act accordingly, but treat a person as he can be and he will move heaven and earth to act accordingly. This is the power of belief. Have you ever experienced the power of changed beliefs in your life? Please share.