The “Dog”in You


A few years ago, a high school senior that I coached in Atlanta, Georgia was being recruited by an NAIA school in South Carolina for basketball. I drove the kid out to the school on an official visit so he could meet the coaches, see the campus and get a little workout with the team. As I sat in the room with a few of the college basketball coaches and answered questions about how they could land this recruit, I thought it would be wise to increase my knowledge of the game since it was my first year with a clipboard in my hand. I asked the seasoned head coach of that school a series of coaching related questions. He answered the best he could, and then he got really serious when he told me what he needed on his roster.

He loved shooters, defenders, and unselfish guys, but most of all he needed dogs. “Is this kid a dog?”air bud dog

He inquired firmly and I wasn’t totally sure how to answer. I said that he had displayed spurts of “dogness” and “dogicity.”  They chuckled…but since I was still in student mode, I fired a question back at him: if a player isn’t a dog, can you inject some canine in him? He swiftly replied no. He said, “But if there’s some dog deep down inside him…I can find it.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s used in sports to define a relentless player that has a killer instinct and competitive nature that doesn’t involve backing down. Dogs don’t believe in excuses, they love to be challenged, and they exhibit supreme confidence because they train just as hard as they play. It’s deeper than being a superb talent or having a will to win. Canines are carnivorous beings that will slay their own flesh and blood on a playing field to obtain victory. Think Allen Iverson or Kevin Garnett. Michael Jordan had a cutthroat spirit that carried over into the golf course, the gambling arena, and the boardroom. He made up self-victimizing lies in his head before games so he could be angry at his opponents.jordan1 Nowadays you see guys like Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, and maybe even Draymond Green just to name a few that have a kill-switch that they hit when it’s time to destroy an adversary.

Of course during my own self-reflection I thought about this seemingly natural trait and wondered if I was one of those people with the deep down dog buried within. Shamefully, I attempt to motivate youngsters on the court with a whistle around my neck using encouraging words, but at times, I envy the potential-filled position they are in. And as much as I sarcastically scold someone for “not wanting it” bad enough, I feel like I am speaking to the 15-year-old version of myself at times. I want to tell these students that their coach didn’t play with an edge in high school, he wasn’t a killer, and he knows what it’s like to think he’s really good, but never reach his full potential. Who wants to hear that story as motivation? Sometimes I think the youth respond to the mentors that show and prove. It may be difficult to listen to a guy that’s trying to make someone into what he couldn’t be. My hope is that they appreciate my honesty and believe that I want more for them than the mediocre, delusional and sometimes apathetic path I strayed down.

So is there some dog in you? Are you super competitive? Or does your fire and desire for victory peak at being at the top spot for a Candy Crush level? I’m not mad at that. See I realize that my canine tendencies are not consistent. On the court I don’t yell often, I coast at times, and I may fall into a Rodmanesque mode if my shot is off. But does that mean I’m more feline than big pup? When does my inner mutt show up? Is it when I’m writing an intuitive blog? That’s not very doggish. Is it when I’m in the booth mastering my craft in less than two takes? Could be. Was it when I used to be on stage transforming into another version of myself? That sounds about right to me. What really happened during those moments was similar to the out of body experience I’ve felt at times on the court. Bruce Leroy described it as the point where the spirit takes over the body or something like that…but you kind of start glowing on the inside without the digital effects (Someone should remake The Last Dragon by the way).last dragon

Where was I? Oh yea, I think the answer I was looking for has something to do with our innate gifts and mental focus to push ourselves beyond what we assumed were our own limits.

I feel like I disagree with that coach that told me that you can’t inject canine in players. I believe we all have a switch that makes us go harder. I think everyone can have their senses awakened in a way that they view all goals as attainable. It’s like when that old man told Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises (Another movie reference? Got anything from real life bruh?) he needed to make the jump out of the cave or whatever it was without the rope attached to him. The rope was assuring that if he didn’t make the jump successfully that he would still live. Without that safety, he added the fear of death. Once he embraced that fear he was able to leap to the top and get out of the prison. Now that doesn’t mean you have to be presented with the thought of sudden death in order to achieve your mission in life. But it does help when a gun is pointed to your head and you have a task at hand.

So maybe that nine millimeter can be metaphoric. Maybe you can go to someone’s funeral and it can shoot you with a burst of life that you didn’t know existed. Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, a new life can literally be born that makes you a provider and instant caretaker. That parental energy has the ability to push an individual further than a limitless pill (That’s a movie and a TV show). Ask yourself what area of your life makes you attack the rim like Russell Westbrook? russ dunkWhen are you ever beating your chest and overachieving with a dose of rage that makes you impervious to failure?

Or is that even necessary? As much as I was in a dither mentally searching my past for instances of on-court canine and off-the-court grind mode, I realized that another level of focus might be above the beings that bark. Kobe Bryant said these words about Golden State Warriors All-Star guard Steph Curry in an effort to describe his current reign as the league’s most lethal weapon: “I think it’s hard for most fans to understand, because most players don’t get it. There’s a serious calmness about him…which is extremely deadly. He’s not up, he’s not down. He’s not contemplating what just happened before, or worrying about what’s to come next. He’s just there. When a player has the skills, and has trained himself to have the skills to be able to jook, shoot, dribble, left, right, etc., and then you mix that with this calmness and poise…then you have a serious, serious problem on your hands…”

steph curryCalmness, poise, being in the moment, accepting the present, weighing each moment and deciding on your reaction while trusting that every second you spent in preparation is what was needed to excel…and when things are not going the way you would like…you change something. Kobe made me rethink my position. As much as people criticize LeBron for not being Jordan, and this generation is ridiculed for being too friendly with guys that are supposed to be foes, there are players that don’t need to bark or bite to kill you. So I could have been possibly barking up the wrong tree examining my Leo self for canine when I should be paying attention to the times I lock in, zone out, and view feasting on prey as feeding my family instead of killing for sport. While there are doggish days and times, there’s nothing wrong with being more like the feline king of the jungle.

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