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David Plotkin

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Lead by Example

Posted: 06/08/2012 2:35 pm

I grew up being told first impressions are extremely important. You have one chance at making a good one. Hold the door; be the first to open it; magic words. These are some of life's lessons taught early to children. Yet there are so many lessons we learn as children that we seem to have forgotten or just don't care to remember. I believe that technology with the need to be in the "now" or "know" has caused us to digress. My wife tells me to shut down the technology. I have to admit it's not easy to do.

This past weekend I took my sons, Max and Alexander, to the basketball courts in our hometown. The courts were packed. If guys were not playing, they were waiting to take on the winning team. Weekend games start at 6:30 a.m. and don't end till the sun gets too hot or bodies surrender. It was an amazing site for my boys to see. There were many different walks of life, all with one purpose: to play ball.

Some of my most memorable times as a teenager was playing ball in West Orange, NJ. It didn't matter who you were, or where you went to school. It didn't matter your color or religion. It was all about the game.

I explain to my sons, life's lessons are best taught by example. When Max was first diagnosed with cancer in 2007, I couldn't tell him to Be Brave. He was just 4 years old and couldn't understand. Understanding this, I had to show him. At that time the road ahead was going to be long and arduous. I trained and ran the NYC Marathon. I ran in 2007 and 2008 to show Max that with hard work and determination, he can cross the finish line. Life is not about coming in first, it's about working your heart out. It is about believing you can do anything that you set your mind to.

As we walked onto the court through the opening in the fence, I could see the excitement in Max and Alexander's eyes. Max wore his Syracuse T-shirt and Alexander his Knicks hat. I tightened my back brace, put in my mouth guard and laced up my "kicks."

I didn't know anyone. I explained that in street ball, it's about playing the game, not about who you know or don't. When the game starts, an instant bond is formed between you and those on your team. The goal is to run the court. If you lose, you never quit. You wait for the next game.

In a strong voice, I asked who had next. One man from Patterson raised his hand without making eye contact with me. I walked over to him, asked him if he needed one and he said yes. I could tell that he wasn't excited to have me join his team, for which I couldn't blame him. I am almost 40, I can't jump and I was wearing a back brace. Twenty minutes later it was game time.

"Respect starts with respecting yourself," I said. "It is important to make things happen on your own and not wait for them to magically appear. When you believe in something and want it bad enough, call for it and if it doesn't come, go get it. Cut to the basket, pass, rebound, and if you're open take the shot."

I explained that the first play of the game is all about first impressions. If when the game starts I shoot an air ball, have a turnover or I give up an easy shot, it will take a lot for me to earn the respect of those on my team.

The other game ended and we were up. It was our ball. I started off down low and popped up to the top of the key for a three. I drained it. I took the ball out, passed it to the big man in the middle who missed the layup. I came charging in and tapped the ball into the basket. While trying to catch my breath I looked to the bench. Max and Alexander were sitting proud.

That day reinforced the importance of leading by example. Some of the most important lessons that I have learned in my life were taught to me in the playground and on the basketball courts. These are lessons that video games and technology can't teach to our children. It's up to us.

 
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