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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brand You

What are your favorite brands?
Nike? Apple? Facebook? BMW? Vitamin Water?

What traits come to mind when you think about your favorite brands?
Elite? Durable? Stylish? Performance? Quality?

Do you consider people to be brands? Well they are! The most obvious is Michael Jordan (heck, his company is called the Jordan Brand!). What about Tiger Woods, Donald Trump, Lil’ Wayne, and LeBron “King” James? Do you consider them brands? I certainly do. Why? Because the characteristics that come to mind when you think of them are automatically associated to whatever product they endorse. Make sense?

Whether you are a player, a coach or a trainer; it is important you start viewing yourself as a brand. Think of it as “brand you.” Everything you do affects your brand; either in a positive way or a negative way. The way you dress, the way you act, the way you play… it all reflects your brand. And if you want to have the type of stellar reputation the companies and people mentioned above have; then you need to take your brand very seriously. And just to clarify; I believe in being authentic. I am not telling you to be someone else, pretend you are LeBron James, or to try to please others just for the sake of it. You need to set the standards of your brand, decide what characteristics you find most important and then live up to them every day of your life.

One of my favorite movies of all time is an old school cult classic called Boiler Room; starring Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck before they were Hollywood superstars. My favorite concept from the movie was a tip on how to be a self fulfilling prophet. It was called, “act as if.” My advice to you is to act as if you are already a quality brand.

Is your goal to play college basketball? Act as if you already are a college player! And by that I mean hold yourself to the same standard of excellence as an elite college basketball player would… now. Carry yourself with the same honor, character, humbleness and work ethic as a Stephen Curry or Tyler Hansbrough or Blake Griffin – the poster boys of college basketball. Who knows, it may come true?! Are you in college trying to make it to the pros? Do the same thing. I sincerely hope you understand it is going to take much more than a killer crossover and a wet jump shot to make it in the league. Hundreds of guys have that. You need to separate yourself from the pack. You need to make your brand stand out. While the LeBron’s, Kobe’s, and CP3’s have extraordinary talent; they also have charisma, professionalism, the ability to be coached, and an unmatched passion for the game. If you don’t already possess them, you can start to act as if you have those qualities as well!

In my quest to read 50 books in 2009, I just got done reading two excellent books which I highly recommend to any player or coach; Money Players by Marc Isenberg and Me 2.0 by Dan Schawbel. Both are invaluable resources and are the inspiration for this blog and the concept of looking at you as a brand. Mr. Schawbel was the one who coined the phrase “brand you.” Both books can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Now that we have established you are your own brand; what do you want people to think about your brand? What would you want them to say when describing your brand? Hard worker or lazy? Coachable or a hard-head? Energy giver or energy taker?

What makes your brand unique on the court? What do you bring to the table? Are you a great shooter? Or are you a ball hog? Are you a lock-up defender? Or do you only play one end of the floor? Are you a good teammate; the glue guy that does the little things like take charges and dive for loose balls? Or are you only focused on yourself?

What makes your brand special off the court? Are you a good student? Or are you a class clown and a jackass? Are you honest and have great character? Or are you always looking for a short-cut?
Nike cares about what people think of their brand. So does Apple. So does Vitamin Water. So does any big time brand. So should you.

If you don’t think these things matter you’re crazy. They matter more than you know. Your brand and what people think about it matters a lot and has a huge influence over the opportunities you will have in life. Think about it; you only buy brands you like and trust; why would people be any different? Would you buy an iPod if there was a good chance it would break? Would you drink Gatorade if it tasted like cat urine? Would you buy Nike’s if they hurt your feet? Absolutely not! So why would a college coach want to give you a scholarship or an NBA general manager give you a contract if they didn’t believe in and have confidence in your brand; both on and off the court? The answer is they wouldn’t!

Still don’t think your actions affect your brand? Ask Britney Spears or Michael Vick. Both are tremendously talented and both of their brands have suffered irreversible hits because of their actions.

On the flip side; your actions can drastically improve your brand. Do you think Nike signed Kevin Durant to a $70 million contract just because of his basketball talent? Absolutely not. They signed KD because his brand is an asset to the Nike brand. KD’s brand, above and beyond his unbelievable basketball ability, is about passion, work ethic, respect, and professionalism. Same as Nike.

As I mentioned before; everything you do reflects your brand – everything! The way you dress, your email grammar, your email address, your Facebook and MySpace profiles, your manners, your voicemail message, your voicemail etiquette, your handshake, your eye contact… the list goes on and on.

Now, I am not that old, turned 33 in January and I spend a good deal of time working with players in junior high, high school and college… so I am totally in tune with what’s “cool” and what’s “hot.” I believe in being an individual and expressing yourself appropriately… but within reason. It doesn’t bother me if someone has a tattoo (assuming they were of age when they got it and/or their parents approved) or has a funky haircut. But even I roll my eyes when a player sends me an incoherent email full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Or sends it from an address like chocolateadonis@aol.com. How am I supposed to take them seriously? Same goes for someone with a weak handshake, who is afraid of eye contact, has a 5 minute rap song on their outgoing voice message, or has a Facebook profile full of inappropriate pictures. In my mind, they just don’t “get it.” They might be a tremendous player; but my initial opinion of their brand is negative; so I ain’t buyin’!

According to Me 2.0, research has shown it takes less than 30 seconds for someone to form a lasting impression of you. If you make a poor first impression, it can take up to 21 follow up impressions to change their view! So first impressions are a big deal. Remember, whether it is right or wrong, people will always judge you and judge your brand. And whether you realize it or not, you do the same.

One of my favorite stories of first impressions and building a strong brand is when Michael Redd met Jerry Colangelo. Back in 2006 when USA Basketball was in the initial stages of putting together the “Redeem Team” to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics; Jerry Colangelo (managing director of USA Basketball) set individual interviews with every potential player. He wanted to meet with them face to face prior to deciding who to put on the team. Michael Redd drove straight from his practice with the Milwaukee Bucks to Chicago for the interview. When Mr. Colangelo answered the door Michael was standing there in his warm-ups with a garment bag on his shoulder. After shaking hands Michael asked if he could be excused to the rest room. When he emerged a few minutes later he was dressed in a full suit and tie. Now he was ready for the interview.

Michael Redd’s actions landed him on the team that eventually won the gold medal. Putting on his suit and tie for the interview showed respect and professionalism. You see, he gets it. He understands the importance of his brand.

Do you?

If you have any questions or thoughts on this blog post or want to contact me about my training services or MVP program; please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jordan Brand Experience

There is no argument Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to have ever played the game. But his legacy is far greater than his record breaking stats, 6 championship rings, and the fact he earned every accolade offered by the NBA from the MVP to the Defensive Player of the Year to the Slam Dunk champion. MJ changed the entire culture of the sports entertainment industry through his myriad of endorsements and business ventures. He was a pioneer, a trendsetter, and for well over a decade was the most famous person on the planet. Everyone wanted to “be like Mike.”

Everything he did was about excellence. This still holds true today with his Jordan Brand empire.

This is my fifth consecutive year to work the prestigious Jordan Brand All American Classic; held at world renowned Madison Square Garden in New York City. This event is always one of the highlights of my year. Nike Basketball and the Jordan Brand team invited the top 20 high school players in the nation (and top 16 international high school age players) to the Big Apple for, for as they put it, “the best basketball experience of your life.” The four day event offered so much more than just basketball. The group did an autograph session at the House of Hoops in Harlem, participated in a bowling tournament at Lucky Strike (with Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Asher Roth, and Vince Carter), scrimmaged at the Gauchos facility in the Bronx, and most importantly visited a boys and girls club and interacted with the kids. Staying completely authentic to the style of the Jordan Brand; everything about this event was first class – from the hotel Westin in Times Square to the buses to the food to the gear.

While the entire week was amazing, there were two experiences I enjoyed the most.

The first was hanging out with long time client and friend Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I have known and worked with KD since his junior year of high school; so it is always nice to catch up with him. KD had a breakout sophomore year in the league and finished in the top 5 in the NBA in scoring. But more impressive to me is how humble and down to earth he still is. He has not let fame or fortune change who he is and his work ethic and dedication to the game is stronger than ever. He will be an NBA All Star next year and for many years to come.

The other experience was meeting Michael Jordan and hearing him talk to the players before the game. He was absolutely captivating. He took questions from the players and his answers were dead on. Here are his paraphrased answers to a few questions:

Q: What motivated you to play hard every single night; even after you had proven you were the best player in the NBA?

MJ: “Every single time I took the floor I assumed someone was seeing me play for the first time. Maybe the guy who collects the ticket stubs. Maybe a 12 year old kid coming to his first game. I wanted to prove to that person that I was worth the hype and was as good as advertised. Plus I played hard every day in practice; so playing hard in the game was just a habit.”

Q: What advice would give us about our freshman year in college?

MJ: “Go in humble and be prepared to make a great first impression. Go in accepting, as a freshman, you are the lowest guy on the totem pole. Let your work ethic and passion for the game do the talking, not your high school reputation. Don’t expect anything to be handed to you; go out and earn it.”

Q: Who is better – LeBron or Kobe?

MJ: “Kobe is the best player in the NBA now. He plays both ends of the floor, is the most polished offensively, and works harder than anyone. But LeBron has the potential to be the best ever. As incredible as he already is, he is still learning the game. LeBron is going to be unbelievable.”

There you have it. Insight and wisdom from the best to have ever played. And I got to hear it first hand!

My role at these events is to get the players warm-up and stretched out before and after practice. If you want some info on some quality stretches to do after you workout or play, email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com and I will send you some info. I will send you the same types of stretches I do with the Jordan Brand All Americans!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Monday, April 13, 2009

Success

If you want to be successful at anything in life, especially basketball, you need to work hard every single day. Are you rolling your eyes? Sound cliché? Sound redundant? Probably, but nevertheless is it true! One of the best coaches and motivational speakers I have ever heard speak was Jim Valvano. I have an old grainy video clip of him speaking in which he said something that changed my life forever:

“Every morning when you wake up, you have only two choices. The choice to work hard or the choice to not work hard. That’s it, no other choices. Either you work hard or your don’t; it’s pretty simple. If you choose not to work hard, you will fail. If you choose to work hard, you still might fail! How is that for a deal? Success is never guaranteed, but it is impossible without hard work.”

While I firmly believe hard work is the backbone of success in any endeavor, I believe there are several other factors that contribute to whether or not you are successful. I am going to focus on three of them: finding someone to push you, accessing developmental resources, and strengthening your “want to.”

It is very rare for anyone to be successful without any help. So a key to being successful is finding someone who pushes you. Someone who pushes you to be the best you can be. Someone who holds you accountable. Someone who motivates you. Someone who tells you what you need to hear; not what you want to you hear. Someone who gives you energy. Someone who encourages you. Someone who coaches you. Everyone needs someone like this in their life. If you are really lucky, you will find several people like this and surround yourself with them as often as possible. And don’t wait for this to happen by chance, go find this person! You have a much better chance of being successful if you do.

This person can be a sibling, a parent, a friend, a teammate, a coach, a trainer, or a mentor. Who they are is not as important as what they are. Are they someone who makes you better? Are they helping you become more successful?

Tiger Woods is one of the most dominant athletes on the planet. He has natural ability, a tremendous golf IQ and a relentless work ethic. He has already attained astronomical success. So why does Tiger Woods need a coach?

He doesn’t. Tiger Woods doesn’t need a coach, he wants a coach!

He wants someone to make him better. As good as Tiger is, arguably the greatest golfer of all time, he wants to find areas where he can improve. He studies film on his swing hoping to find a flaw. Why would the best golfer of all time want to find a flaw in his swing? Because it will mean he can still get better! Tiger humbly recognizes this and uses a coach. But it is not just the fact he uses a coach that is important. It is the fact he has found someone in his life to push him; every day, every practice; every match. Tiger’s success is not an accident.

Do you have a person like this in your life?

Another important ingredient to being successful is gaining access to developmental resources. Whether you are a basketball player or coach, you have to make sure you are constantly progressing and developing. Either you are getting better or you are getting worse, there isn’t anything in between. As a veteran basketball strength & conditioning coach, I spend a good deal of time on my own professional development and am constantly seeking both people and resources to broaden my scope and assist in my success. I read the latest training books and manuals, watch the latest training DVD’s, attend numerous coaching clinics, and network with dozens of collegiate and NBA strength coaches. I know part of my success is making sure I am on the cutting edge with my training techniques, concepts, and equipment. This commitment to my professional development takes time and effort, but it is well worth it.

What resources do you use to get better?

A third ingredient of being successful is strengthening your “want to.” Everyone has a want to list. If you are a basketball player your want to’s probably include I want to jump higher or I want to gain 10 lbs. Most times people want to’s are just lip service. They just say they want something but they don’t work as hard as they can to get it. Think your want to strong? Let’s say your goal is to gain 10 lbs. over the summer. If I weighed you on June 1st and told you on September 1st I would weigh you again, and if you were 10 lbs. heavier I would give you $1,000,000 in tax free cash, would you accept my offer? Of course you would! Think you would attain your goal? I guarantee you would. Heck you would probably exceed it and gain 15-20 lbs. because your want to would be unstoppable!

One way to gauge how strong your “want to” is by seeing how many times you give in to the little voice in your head. The voice that says, "I am too tired to work out today. I don’t want to get up early. My legs are too sore to get up extra shots. I can’t do that drill, it is way too hard.” If you let that little voice win, your want to is not strong enough! If you let that voice win, you won’t be successful.

How strong is your “want to?” Do you really want something or just say you do?

I am extremely passionate about the game of basketball as well as about productive strength training and conditioning. But I am also very passionate about helping other people be successful. I have a long list of people who have helped me, including a gentleman I have never met in person, Mr. Steve Chandler. I have read several of his books, listened to countless audio tapes, and have subscribed to his Club Fearless. Several of the concepts in this blog come from things he has been generous enough to share with me.

If I can ever be a resource to you for your strength & conditioning, please let me know, I would be honored to help.

For starters; do you know what type of shoes you should be training in?

Email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com and I will tell you.

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com

Monday, April 6, 2009

Great Players

Sorry for the delay in posting, it has been a hectic couple of weeks! I was in Miami working the McDonalds All American game and then came back to Maryland to be with Montrose in the first annual ESPN National High School Invitational tournament. As always, being a part of such elite level events is both an honor and a privilege. Having access to the nation’s top high school players for several straight days gives me valuable insight at what makes them great players.

Below are some of my observations; see how you measure up.

The most elite level players absolutely love to play basketball. They want to play 24-7. They always have a ball in their hand and they are always trying to get up shots. They would rather play basketball than do just about anything else. When they aren’t playing basketball they are watching it on TV or playing it on PS2! And most of them have been this way since they were little. Do you have the same love for the game? Do you have the same passion? How important is basketball to you?

The most elite level players are super competitive and hate to lose. Whether they are playing a video game, 1 on 1, or a game of H-O-R-S-E; they always try to win. They never concede. Winning is the only option. Especially when they are playing their peers or when bragging rights are on the line. Does winning matter that much to you? How hot does your competitive fire burn?

There are usually two types of elite level players; those who are very naturally gifted and rely more on their size and athletic ability and those who really know how to play the game, have a high basketball IQ and sound fundamentals. Which type of player are you? Do you work on your fundamentals and really learn the game despite being (or not being) born with certain physical gifts?

Along those lines, there are two other categories for elite level players; those who have a tremendous work ethic and those who are lazy. Unfortunately, many of the players who are the most naturally gifted are also the laziest; because they haven’t had to work hard to be successful. They have been able to rely solely on their size, strength, quickness and explosiveness. They aren’t hard to spot. Heck, I can tell in the first 5 minutes of warm-ups which guys like to work and which guys don’t. Do you enjoy putting in the hard work necessary to be a great player? Or do you constantly look for short cuts and the easy way?

Another indicator I use to evaluate great players are the intangibles; attitude, enthusiasm, manners, punctuality, and appearance (how they present themselves). Basketball is a team game and I can always spot which are the players other people want to play with which players I would want to coach. These players are energy givers, not energy takers. Their attitude and enthusiasm raises the level of those around them. They are polite, friendly, and engaging. Are you an energy giver or an energy taker? Are you always on time? Do you say please and thank you? Those might sound like “small” things; but they aren’t. Who wants play with (or coach) a jerk?

Obviously, the players who have the best chance to excel at the next level (whether college or the NBA) are those who combine natural talent, solid fundamentals, an unparalled work ethic, and have a fantastic attitude. Those are the “Kobe Bryants” and “LeBron James” of the world.

While I was in Miami I got a chance to watch former NBA All Star Tim Hardaway take Jack McClinton (All Conference guard for University of Miami) through an individual skill workout. I had the pleasure of working with Jack this past summer at the Steve Nash and LeBron James Nike Skills Academies. Let me tell you this; if you are looking to model yourself after a player, it should be Jack McClinton. Jack is absolutely one of the hardest workers I have ever been around and his commitment to his own development is second to none. The fact that Jack is such a great player is not an accident, it is earned. He deserves all of the success he has achieved.

Upon my return from Miami I reunited with my Montrose Mustangs as we prepared to play in the ESPN NHSI tournament. The tournament was phenomenal and to no surprise, thanks to ESPN and Nike Basketball, was a first class event all of the way. This tournament was a huge step in the right direction for elite high school basketball and this event will only get bigger and better each year.

We lost to the eventual tournament champion (and now #1 team in the nation) Findlay Prep in the semi finals. Findlay was led on both ends of the floor by Texas bound guard Avery Bradley, who in my opinion is the top player in the country (regardless of position). I have been fortunate enough to spend a good deal of time with Avery over the past year; at the Skills Academies, on a Nike USA trip to Brazil, and then most recently at the McDonalds All American game. Avery is a perfect example of a player who embodies all of the traits mentioned above. He has exceptional natural talent (he can jump out of the gym and may be the fastest player in high school basketball), solid fundamentals (he has a strong off hand and a flawless mid-range game), an unparalled work ethic (his on the ball defense is stifling) and a fantastic attitude (he is the kind of player every coach would love to have on their team). Avery Bradley is the epitome of a great player and has as bright of a basketball future as anyone I can think of. Keep an eye on him in the next few years!

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein
www.StrongerTeam.com