leisure, sports

The impact of sports on our social lives

It’s an intense time of year in sports. NBA and NHL are coming down to the wire with teams fighting for playoff spots (or sometimes tanking for draft picks, but that is another post). Fans have flocked to Arizona and Florida for the annual ritual of spring training for baseball. Golf is getting pretty interesting as we move closer to the Masters. And of course college basketball is in the tournament now.

I had a few “a-ha” moments around the power of sports to build our social life over the past few weeks. Many of them involve college basketball, and again it’s a separate issue whether all the activity around college sports should accrue to the benefit of the athletes themselves. I wrote on that last week.

For the past few years, I’ve been super busy around the college basketball conference tournaments here in Las Vegas – we have four of them, more than any other market. Combined with the thousands of folks who flock to Las Vegas for the first weekend of march madness, Las Vegas really is the home of college basketball. But for the past couple of years I hadn’t gotten to enjoy them as much as usual. In 2015, we were preparing for the opening of T-Mobile Arena a year from then, and in 2016 we were right in the midst of that. In 2017, it was the first year of the Pac-12 tournament at T-Mobile Arena, so I was pretty focused with my team trying to make sure it went well.

This year I was able to enjoy a few more games, and made sure to enjoy them with some friends and colleagues. I was able to spend some quality time with those folks – commiserating over losses, celebrating wins, and generally watching the events with a fondness of being together. It’s time we wouldn’t normally spend, including some flying in from elsewhere and getting reconnected with the group.

This year for Las Vegas also has pro sports for the first time. A group of us bought tickets in the same section for the Golden Knights games, and we have made an “event” out of going to dinner before the game and then the game itself. Building relationships through conversations on the uber ride, or during breaks in the game, etc.

During the Pac-12, we had what one of my friends described as “one of the best days ever” when we got to watch the afternoon games, then head to a nearby bar to watch the Golden Knights win a road game, then head back for the evening games. We were smart enough to bring our wives the next night, but not smart enough to avoid referring to the day before as “one of the best days of our lives.” Win some, lose some.

Recently, I visited a colleague who came from LA with about 15 people for the first week of the NCAA tournament. They also got to integrate the trip with pro sports for the first time, visiting a Golden Knights game (but keeping a careful eye on the TVs around, to check on their brackets). The group started with my colleague’s dad and his sons. And it just keeps growing, and still going 15 years later.

That kind of ritual I wrote about a year or so ago, it keeps us connected to the rhythm of time, and more importantly to our family and friends, who we often just don’t take enough time to appreciate and share meaningful time and events with. And it is a big part of the power of sports in our lives.

business, sports

College athletics at a crossroad

I was on my college’s bowling team for a couple of years. I was one of the biggest UNLV Rebels fans during the heyday and am still a rabid fan of college basketball. Clearly neither of these make me an expert on college athletics. But I have also been around college athletics through my work and through my own personal connections with former players and with current and former administrators. So let me share my view in recent issues.

It seems like college athletics is at a crossroads, having to decide what model of amateurism will be implemented for key sports going forward. The shame is that for the vast majority of college sports and student-athletes, the model works just fine. Athletes are appreciative of the free college education, and enjoy all the benefits that come with athletics and school – time management, relationship building, leadership skills, and so on.

The one issue with the majority of sports is that they don’t make money. And that drives the focus on the larger revenue-producing sports. One question I have is whether we should care that these other sports lose money. Other programs within a college might lose money, but we fund them if we think they add value. I am of the opinion that these are good programs, that there is a benefit to softball, track, swimming, golf, etc. for the schools, and for the student-athletes. But let’s leave that discussion for another time.

More timely is the question of how to manage athletes through their career from high school, college and beyond. There are several models, such as the Olympic model, the college baseball model, college football and college basketball. Most folks are saying that we should move college basketball to something like how baseball works, where the athlete basically decides whether to go to college or to the professional ranks, and if you choose college you have to stay for three years.

I like that idea, especially given the fact that the NBA G-League is becoming a legitimate “minor league” for the pro league. Plus players have several other pro options overseas. It seems that we could then get college basketball to a more “traditional” state, maybe a little less money in the system given a step down in total talent level, but stability in the system should help compensate for that.

I am not sure that model would work for football, for several reasons: 1) There is no real established minor league system; 2) There are fewer overseas options; 3) The NFL doesn’t see incentivized to build out the system at their cost, when they have such a “good thing” going with NCAA football programs.

I am skeptical that the Olympic model will work for these sports, given the amount of money that the NCAA, the conferences and the schools make from sponsorship. The Olympic model would allow athletes to be compensated by sponsors. The tension in the Olympic system is that the athletes get categories “blocked” due to the larger USOC deals. That would happen even more in the college ranks as each party I mentioned has sponsorship deals, so the universe remaining for athletes will be slim (players couldn’t have their own shoe deal in college basketball, for example).

I do not envy the NCAA and other stakeholders having to make these decisions. I am hopeful that the extent of the issue and the focus and attention on it right now will cause these hard questions to be dealt with. I feel like we’ve deferred them for too long.


Book Review – Winning Well

I recently read the book “Winning Well” by Karin Hurt and David Dye. The authors are leadership consultants, after having careers in business and at not-for-profits and government. I think this book could be summed up by a theme of “win-win” for your career and your teams. Usually, win-win is a concept used in negotiations, but I think it fits here because the authors argue that the concepts that lead to winning well aren’t concepts that have tradeoffs, or need to balance against each other. Rather, they argue that by following some key principles, you can win at business, win in your career and win with relationships.

I like that notion, it prescribes that there is a certain way to treat each other that will make us all better. I think the other aspect of “Winning Well” that I liked is that the authors provide very practical tools to implement the strategies they outline in each phase of the book.

The book covers the concept of winning well by defining four manager types. It’s four quadrants, with the axes being results and relationships. Winning well managers focus equally on both, and use each to enhance the other. The pleaser manager may feel good to work with, but without results the business doesn’t move forward; plus they are likely to not deal with their poor performers, causing their best people to leave. User managers get results at any cost, usually with a focus on short-term results. So the business suffers from a deficit of long-term strategy, and the team will get burnt out. Finally, the gamer manager fails on both ends, usually because they are only focused on their own career survival and advancement. They are manipulative and play politics.

The last piece of the opening section is on measurement, and using key metrics to drive results and keep the team focused, but not drown them in endless data and reports. We saw this concept in spades in the book “MOVE” by Patty Azzarello, and the authors do a good job of providing their own reasons and tactics for implementing key measurements. The key learning for me: Focus on the behaviors you are trying to drive, then measure how the team is doing on those and those alone.

The second section of the book covers specific tactics for the manager, like leading good meetings, getting the team to support decisions, better delegation and accountability, and terminating someone with grace and dignity. The keys for good meetings? There is a purpose, ideally a decision to be made, rather than an information dump; and the meeting flow is maintained with quick-paced comments from each attendee; building commitments into the end of the meeting, so something actually happens with the results of the meeting (like what needs to be done, by who, by when, and how will we know it’s done?).

The third section covers ways to build the team, covering areas like creating confidence, getting feedback from the team, and building credibility and influence with the team.

Asking for and receiving feedback has been a topic among my team, after we received some upward feedback that generally showed we weren’t asking for feedback often enough. So we are working on a short “training” course to help us get better at feedback. The authors define six keys to success – ask for truth regularly, say thank you, respond/acknowledge the feedback, don’t shoot the messenger, find truth tellers, and self-reflect. They then give a method for specific feedback sessions (both giving and receiving) – things like visualizing how you will react to the feedback (maintain posture, eye contact, open gestures, etc.), organizing your thoughts, asking questions, and others.

There was also an interesting discussion on how to build confidence in the team, linking results with relationships. The authors suggest a “burst” – spend an entire day on one key skill – host trainings, make it high-energy, and have everyone work on one thing. Given the intensity, the idea is that the team will see immediate results, and it can create momentum for results going forward.

The final section covers potential pitfalls, like if your boss doesn’t want to win well, or if you lose or lack motivation.

I thought the book was a good read, again largely because it was practical with specific action plans at the end of each chapter and lots of stories used to emphasize the points in the book.



Parkland Strong Part 2

As I closed my last post:

“Like many in Parkland, I wonder when we have serious conversations in this country – I wonder that about a lot of things, but especially this topic of shootings. I am inspired early on by the bravery and lucidity coming from many of the teenagers who actually lived through this in Parkland. I’m not sure we’ve seen this type of rallying cry coming from the source before. Maybe that will help us keep momentum going to try to solve these issues.”

I am glad there has been so much dialog on this issue this past week. I am amazed, inspired, proud of all the “kids” from Parkland and elsewhere who have been dealing with grief, sadness, anger, and also being bold and productive in engaging with society to get the issues out in front. If nothing else, we may be finally turning a corner to legitimate conversation and debate instead of “thoughts and prayers.” That alone is progress.

I know this is a hotly debated issue. On this more than ever we need to stay civil, talk to each other, learn each other’s point of view, think about reasonable compromises, and work together for solutions over talk. It’s a difficult issue, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tackle it or make progress, and it doesn’t have to drive us farther apart. I hope the rest of this post is seen as a civil way to express a few observations and opinions, knowing that many folks will not agree with each of them.

The goal of regulating anything is to manage risks, not eliminate them. And we have to balance personal and societal liberties. Like the right to own a gun versus the right to be free from unreasonable search versus the safety of a group at a public place. It’s the job of our legislators to do that, and it’s our job to be active and informed citizens and vote for the right leaders and hold them accountable. It’s what the kids from Parkland have been saying, and I hop we listen to them. This time. So that there are less next times for us (Vegas, Parkland, Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc.) to deal with.

Let’s keep the dialog going, let’s be civil, let’s get solutions.




Parkland Strong

The Parkland high school shooting seems to have hit everyone harder than some other incidents. I know I’ve seen some opinions that it’s because of it being in a school again, we recall vividly Columbine and Sandy Hook. And we get more emotional when kids are involved. In Las Vegas, there is another reason for an event like this to hit home, it opens up our own emotions about what happened here on October 1. Unfortunately, we are not the only community to go through that phase either.

I guess when the Texas church shooting happened it must have also resonated with us from Las Vegas given what we had been through. But it feels for me like Parkland stirs up more emotion. Maybe the church shooting was too close in time to ours and it didn’t register. Maybe we didn’t have enough time to think, “Oh, we will be fine now, I will never have to think about October 1 again.” But by now we have; and I’m sure many of us were hoping we could sweep everything about October 1 under that rug we have in our memories.

But we can’t. And Parkland is a tragic reminder, a slap in the face for us and many other communities, that what we went through is not over. We welcome an unfortunate new member to our fraternity. We wish we got to know you under better circumstances, Parkland. But here we are. And we must deal with it. Together.

Like many in Parkland, I wonder when we have serious conversations in this country – I wonder that about a lot of things, but especially this topic of shootings. I am inspired early on by the bravery and lucidity coming from many of the teenagers who actually lived through this in Parkland. I’m not sure we’ve seen this type of rallying cry coming from the source before. Maybe that will help us keep momentum going to try to solve these issues.

For now, there is grieving, comforting and healing to do. I pray for everyone to be #ParklandStrong and don’t think you have to be strong on your own. Talk to someone if you are hurting – we can only deal with this together.



food, fun, personal

My favorite pizza places


Yesterday was National Pizza Day. I was partially in mourning because one of my favorite pizza spots closed a little while back. That was Duo Forni in Summerlin. We would go and just sit at the bar, have a glass of wine from a great little by the glass list, and share a salad and a pizza.

Now that Duo Forni is not around, it made me think about where I like to go for pizza. So here’s a short list, not necessarily in order of preference.

Grimaldi’s – a great standby, and where we decided to go for National Pizza Day. Friendly staff, indoor/outdoor seating, excellent meatballs (and they slice them like pepperoni), good crust, good wine list by the glass.

Pizza Rock – downtown Las Vegas. Tony Gemignani is a true connoisseur of pizza. He stocks his restaurant with multiple pizza ovens to cook at different temperatures and different styles. I prefer the “basic” New York style pizza. Plus the atmosphere is great.

Dom Demarco’s – in Summerlin, I like the variety here. We have ordered from here to cater a dinner party before. Their variety of salads are top notch, and their pastas are also good. Of course, the pizza is still the featured dish and it’s very good. A nice room as well.

California Pizza Kitchen – in Summerlin or The Park on the Strip. I know it’s not traditional pizza, but I love the modern CPK with the new menu, buffalo cauliflower is such a cool dish. And in Summerlin we like to sit at the bar and watch sports, enjoying a beer or glass of wine from a good list, and a soup and salad combo.

Metro Pizza – old school, if you are born and raised like me, you better say Metro Pizza!

I haven’t had the pleasure of eating Naked City Pizza, I hear great things. I’m sure I’m missing some. And of course, I didn’t address great pizza places in other cities. I personally am not a huge fan of Chicago style pizza, but when I’m there I certainly enjoy it, places like Lou Malnati’s.

Hopefully you got to enjoy National Pizza Day, at one of your favorite pizza places.


business, leadership

Why it is important for everyone to understand the vision

In a recent post, I mentioned some things I heard and learned from Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A. One of them was:

“The bigger the vision the easier to sell to your team. Small dreams don’t inspire others.”

That got me thinking about vision and why it might or might not be important for everyone on the team to understand the vision.

I believe Dan Cathy would say it is important for everyone to understand the vision. He didn’t say it directly. But the way he spoke about service, and culture, and what we know about the company and its service culture, leads me to believe that he wants every employee to feel passionately about their customers and go the extra mile for them because of that understanding.

It certainly is consistent with many/the majority of leadership and business writings today. Simon Sinek built a foundation for it with his book “Start with Why.” Articles and books about transformation point out how a leader can make the transformation successful if they are relentless about speaking to their teams about the vision and modeling the expected behaviors. And we know the most successful companies are the ones where employees are empowered to act on the customer’s behalf, with the trust that they know the vision and will therefore make decisions in line with that vision.

It’s so hard though. There is so much noise. At least a couple of times a week my team catches itself realizing we’re frustrated that someone hasn’t heard a message – only to realize after discussion that the well-crafted and clear message was only delivered once, via email. And of course we then start to develop a more robust communication plan. Communicating vision effectively requires a relentless, maniacal repetition to as many people in as many ways as you can muster.

But the reward for that investment of time and energy is a team that feels motivated. A team that feels empowered and ownership in their work. A team that will fight through the inevitable failures and setbacks because they know where we are trying to go. Vision gives people hope and purpose. And those are two things we can definitely use more of!