Wooden’s Socks

by think on July 21, 2009

Wooden'sSocksVince Lombardi famously started each season’s first practice with the same speech.

“Gentlemen, this is a football.”

One year a player (probably a lineman) responded: “Slow down, coach. You’re losing me.” Lombardi knew that you had to hammer the basics year after year, or risk loosing games because players couldn’t execute the fundamentals. Block. Tackle. Don’t fumble the ball.

I thought you couldn’t get much more basic than Lombardi, but I was wrong. In their book The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval describe the annual ritual of basketball hall-of-famer John Wooden. Coach Wooden’s inaugural speech didn’t even involve the game ball. He told his players how to put on their socks.

He demonstrated. They practiced. He inspected their work. These were not acne-encrusted junior high boys; they were experienced players with ingrained individual habits, unique talents, and specific roles on the court. But Wooden knew that their individual contributions could be for nothing if they didn’t have some core skills in common… like putting on their socks.

No matter what you paid for your Nikes, wrinkles, folds and creases in socks cause blisters that can interfere with performance. Blisters are a distraction that could lead to a loss of concentration at a key moment. What seems trivial in the locker room could become critical: A tiny wince of pain and the brain must allocate some little grey cells to assess a potential threat. In the milliseconds it takes for the amygdalas to decide “It’s nothing, really…” the opportunity for a game winning shot could be gone forever.

What’s the application to small group life? Churches often create small groups to appeal to the widest variety of people. This is a good thing. From entry level “no homework” groups at one end of the spectrum to committed, Greek-lexicon-carrying study groups at the other. From “come as you are” or “drop-in” groups broad enough to appeal to nearly anyone to groups for left-handed, female CPA’s who make their own yogurt. Affinity based, proximity organized, stage-of-life filtered… a group for everyone. By focusing on increasing breadth, we move farther from the core.

We’ve forgotten how to put on our socks.

Unless our groups lead to ever-deepening relationships between group members, and between individual members and Christ, we’ve lost the game. 80% of our efforts are usually directed at “assimilation” because “involvement” is ultimately how we keep score. The result? Our groups are full of isolated individuals who are “connected” to a meeting or “opportunity.

We’re fast approaching a new small group “season.” Here’s a thought: Spend less time concentrating on how to get more people in groups.  Spend a significant amount of time on what will happen in those groups: guidance, accountability, encouragement, and application. Train your leaders to listen instead of talk; to pray instead of just taking prayer requests. Be clear in your expectations for every group, regardless of flavor

Show them how to put on their socks.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carolyn Taketa July 22, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Thanks for the reminder Dave! Here’s one of my favorite Wooden sayings that apply to life and ministry,”Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”


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