Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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27
Apr

The Vic Braden Tennis College

Last week, my wife and I spent time relearning the game of tennis at the Vic Braden Tennis College in St. George, Utah. I say relearning because the Vic Braden school is less about improving your current game than it is about changing your strokes and strategy to Vic’s way of thinking. That sounds bad, but it isn’t – at least not in my opinion. Vic is a psychologist by training, but he’s spent most of is life playing, coaching and studying professional and amateur tennis. He has researched the game and how it’s played (including using detailed slow motion photography, wireframe analysis and motion capture) thoroughly over the years and has loads of logical reasoning behind his way of playing it. While the changes he encourages are major for most people, they make a lot of sense and are somehow, easier to adopt because of it.

Vic, himself, videotapes each player several times during the session and then meets with small groups to explain what can be totally changed improved. At the end of the session, more taping is done to see what, if any, improvements were made. While Vic was very nice, my changes were almost imperceptible. Yeah, I gotta lot of work to do. 10,000 more balls for each stroke type and I may finally get it.

Vic is over 80 now and has a head full of tennis memories, fact and figures. He knows and works with all of today’s greats as he did with tennis legends in the past. He can tell stories about Roger Federer and Rod Laver and discuss details of their strengths and weaknesses as well what made them both different, but great champions. Braden is a complete crack-up too. He had us all laughing within minutes of our first meeting.

The Vic Braden Tennis College has other locations as well. We chose St. George so that we could spend some time hiking with friends in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks too.  The area is phenomenally gorgeous if you have the time and, more importantly, the energy to explore after Vic kicks the crap out of you.

If you’re a 5.0+ tennis player, you may not want your game entirely disassembled. If you’re playing below that level and feel like you plateaued years ago, this type of game upheaval may be just right for you. It’s a lot of fun and the instructors are very patient. I know, I tested them.

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 April 27th, 2010  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 1 Comment
24
Jun

The Baseball Park Tour – Phase I

To celebrate my son’s graduation from high school, we decided to spend some time this summer touring baseball parks around the country.  While it would be great to align our schedule with that of the Red Sox, practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense.  Since teams generally play 3 games in each city they visit, following the team would mean big gaps between cities and parks.  It’d just take too much time.  Even when one doesn’t care who’s playing, scheduling a trip turns out to be a bit more difficult than it might seem.  Finding times when teams within a particular region of the country are all playing at home in the same week is, sometimes, a challenge.  Add that to flight schedules, hotels and game ticket availability and scheduling becomes an effort.  Our plan was simple.  Fly into a town in the morning, hit as many tourist sites in the town as possible, attend a ballgame in the evening and crash in a hotel.  Then, start again the next day.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

We decided to start out tour on the West Coast catching four games at four stadiums – Dodgers Stadium, Angel Stadium, Safeco Field and AT&T Park.  While our benchmark for each stadium was The First National Church of Baseball, Fenway Park, we tried to objectively compare our experiences using these critical criteria:

  • Hot dogs (and other food offerings – what?  You think that’s not critical for good baseball?)
  • Field view
  • Noise level
  • Attendance (Fenway just celebrated its 500th consecutive sellout)
  • Concourse maneuverability
  • Depth of outfield
  • Scoreboard and information

Day 1 – Dodgers Stadium, LA (Dodgers vs Athletics): Built in 1962 and looks it.  Not that it’s beat, the style is just very reminiscent of the 60s.  I liked it a lot.  Maybe it’s because I’m from the cold Northeast, but the fact that there are palm trees beside the scoreboard made me like it all that much more.  The seats were comfy and roomy, the concourses, reasonably wide and maneuverable and the food was great – Dodger Dogs are terrific (not quite Fenway Franks, but close) and the garlic fries are disgustingly fantastic – I’m still digesting them.  I would have never have guessed that the stadium seats 56K people.  It feels more intimate than that.  A good thing

Dodger Stadium 2 Dodger Stadium 3 Dodgers Stadium 1

  • Food – excellent.  Dogs were great and garlic fries are to die for (or with or by, they’re pretty greasy).  Next time I’m gonna try the Brooklyn Dodgers Pizza
  • View – was great from almost anywhere, surprising since it’s such a large venue.  Even the seats further from the field have a nice view
  • Noise level – polite southern California crowd as interested in the taste of their pinot noir as the game they were watching.  The left fielder made two errors during the game.  Fenway fans would have had him taken out back and shot.  Dodger fans did little to acknowledge the mistakes.
  • Attendance – poor, lots of empty seats.  Interleague play?
  • Concourses – not as wide as a modern ballpark, but WAY bigger than Fenway and other ancient ones.  Had no issues, but there weren’t a zillion people in attendance either.
  • Outfield – deep and uniform, no adavantage for right or left handers.
  • Scoreboard – adequate, but nothing special

Day 2 – Angel Stadium, Anaheim (Angels vs Dodgers): Built in 1966 and converted to 45K seat baseball only stadium (the LA Rams football franchise played there for a while) in 1996 and looks as if it could be almost brand new.  The place looks and feels like a modern park.  Concourses are wide  and views are good.  I had to dig through my hot dog bun to find the actual hot dog part.  It looked like a foot long Slim Jim in a roll.  The rest of the food selection sorta sucked.  Seats were reasonable in width, but were scientifically engineered to make your butt numb by the end of the second inning (just like Fenway).

Angel Stadium 1 Angel Stadium 2 Angels Stadium 2

  • Food – disappointing.  Hot dogs were thin, salt strips.  Almost nothing else worth eating (or digesting) after that.  Should have stopped by one of the vendors outside the park (but within the gates).
  • View – good.  It looked like some of the upper deck seats down the first and third base lines might require a space suit or some sort of breathing apparatus, they were so far off the ground, but even then, they were pretty close to the field – horizontally, anyway.
  • Noise level – well, this game wasn’t a good benchmark.  It was a “freeway series” of the two “home towns” (see picture of the woman’s t-shirt above for how Dodgers fans feel about that) so the crowd was noisier than is usually, I’d suspect.  I don’t know what the Angels fans sound like normally, but the Dodgers fans were as loud and obnoxious as any Red Sox or Yankees fan.  There were even a few boos.  The simultaneous chants of “let’s go Ang-els” and “let’s go Dodg-ers” sounded like gibberish.
  • Attendance – surprisingly low.  Even though this was a freeway series, there were plenty of open seats.
  • Concourses – nice.  Not as wide as a new ballpark, but comfortable.  Small rest rooms though.
  • Outfield – deep and uniform, left and right field are approximately the same depth.
  • Scoreboard – uber-cool.  High res bit-mapped displays everywhere.  Totally modern with very nice graphics and video.  Loads-o-information everywhere you look.

Day 3 – Safeco Field, Seattle (Mariners vs Diamondbacks): Built in 1999, Safeco Field is a thoroughly modern stadium with a retractable roof and 47K seats.  Fortunately, there was no rain when we were there, so the roof remained open.  Concourses were big, seats were comfortable and the food selection was big.  For a Saturday night game, there were surprisingly few people in attendance.  The entire right-center field grandstand was empty and other sections were spotty.  The fans were into the game though and robustly cheered for the aqua-men.  Like any closed or optionally closed-roof stadium, stands tend to be built up instead of out.  As such, some seats are pretty high off the field.  We walked around the stadium, though, and never felt too removed from the game.

Safeco Field 1 Safeco Field 2 Safeco Field 3

  • Food – hmmm.  Selection was good and broad – including “Sushi & Sake Ichiroll” (a play off the name of the Mariner’s right fielder – Ichiro Suzuki).  Hot dogs were a bit different – grilled with toasted rolls.  Not bad, but not ballpark franks, IMO.  Yeah, I’m picky.
  • View – good.  We walked around the park during the game and found reasonable views from almost everywhere.  As usual with modern stadiums, the seats get pretty high off the field which, IMO, is better than being far from the field.
  • Noise level – great.  Even though the stadium was far less than full, the fans were into the game and were pretty loud.
  • Attendance – surprisingly low for a Saturday game.  They didn’t announce the numbers, but there were thousands of open seats.
  • Concourses – typical of new ballparks, they were pretty wide and not too bad even between innings.  of course, the ballpark wasn’t packed, either.
  • Outfield – again, deep and uniform.  Especially considering that it’s an optionally closed roof venue.
  • Scoreboard – I expected scoreboards more like the ones at Angel Stadium considering how new Safeco is.  They were pretty mundane.  Key info was always accessible, though.

Day 4 – AT&T Park, San Francisco (Giants vs Rangers): Built in 2000, AT&T is a truly unique park with it’s location adjacent to SF Bay.  At 41.5K seats, it’s rather small, but the field gives up loads of potentially seating space to open up the outfield to the Bay and beyond.  The stadium is a virtual amusement park for every age group.  There is even a playground in the outfield stands.  Food selection was enormous and the scoreboards were incredible.  The only major drawback to the park was the seat Nazi (a Giants employee) who planted herself at the end of the row.  We basically had to raise our hands to ask permission to come and go. 

ATT Park 1 ATT Park 2 ATT Park 3

  • Food – great selection.  Almost anything you’d want.  The dogs were good, close to Fenway Franks, but not quite there and the garlic fries (no, not a baseball standard, but after having them in LA, we had to try them somewhere else) were even better than at Dodgers Stadium.
  • View – great.  In our seventh inning walk around the stadium, we didn’t go anywhere that would have been poor for game-watching.  The outfield seats were pretty cool and didn’t feel too far from the action.
  • Noise level – reasonable.  It was announced that the game was a sellout, but we saw many open seats.  The fans were definitely into it, but I’d say fairly reserved compared to American League East fans.  Maybe it’s the calmer Californians . . .
  • Attendance – sold out, but I guess some people had other things to do?
  • Concourses – they were pretty wide, but always seemed to be packed.  It was hard getting anywhere.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s where all the people from the empty seats were. 🙂
  • Outfield – deep and almost uniform.  There is a nasty center field corner where several balls got trapped like in a pinball machine.
  • Scoreboard – was lifted right out of the Starship Enterprise.  This thing had more information than a baseball stats book.  This could be done because the centerfield screen was ginormous and had about a zillion pixels of resolution.  Additionally, there are high res displays around the park so that you don’t even need to strain your eyes looking at the 10 foot tall numbers on the outfield display.  Gillette Stadium, take note please.

All-in-all, phase I of the ballpark tour was fantastic.  Both my son and I would have happily squeezed in another city, park and game even with the frenetic schedule we had.  I’ll conclude with the rankings.  I’m afraid that while we shared a great time, our thoughts on the stadiums were wildly divergent.  Maybe an age thing?  I surprisingly liked Dodgers Stadium the best, followed by AT&T Park, Angels Stadium and Safeco Field, although the last two are a toss-up.  my son liked AT&T, Safeco, Angel and Dodgers Stadium, in order.  Of course, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  🙂

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 June 24th, 2009  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 2 Comments
08
Apr

Recent Reading

Power Play by Joseph Finder – I came across Power Play while cruising through some thrillers at a book store.  Having read Finder’s Paranoia a few years ago and remembering how much I enjoyed it, I picked it up and consumed it quickly.  A very fun and fast read.  I guess it would be called a corporate thriller, sorta like how Grisham’s books are legal thrillers.  I really like how Finder uses an otherwise unassuming and humble (yet cool) hero to figure things out and save the day.  The ending is a little anticlimactic, but overall, very enjoyable.

The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci – If you’re a fan of baseball, you’ll love this book.  It’s more like an expose than anything else.  If you were involved with the Yankees and you’re name doesn’t rhyme with Jereck Deter (or isn’t Jorge Pasada, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera or Bernie Williams), Joe’s got something . . . interesting . . . to say about you.  Very thoughtful stuff about steroids and even more interesting material on changing attitudes in the game.  His commentary on how the rest of the league caught up with the Yankees’ ability to outspend other teams by being smarter is also illuminating (in a Money Ball-ish kinda way).

If, as Bill Parcels says, “you’re only as good as your record,” Torre is among the best ever.  1249 wins over 12 seasons, including 4 World Series Championships.  His teams went to the playoffs every year he was in New York.  Impressive.

The only problem with the book was the amount of time Torre spend describing the 7th game, 12th inning Yankee defeat of the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS.  Very, very painful.

Why Shi*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day by Peter J. Bentley – Bentley uses the story of someone’s amazingly bad day to walk the reader through a basic how things work of anatomy, physics, medicine, electronics and so forth.  I almost punted on the book because of how basic it initially seemed, but I realized that I was learning at least one thing with each little story the author presented.  In fact, a few were completely enlightening.  You certainly have to be in the right mood to read this and some insatiable curiosity about the world around you is required.  It’s a fun way pf presenting the material, though.

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 April 8th, 2009  
 Will  
 Books, Red Sox, Sports  
   
 Comments Off on Recent Reading
15
Mar

The Percentage of a Sport’s Revenue Taken Home by its Athletes

This month’s Tennis magazine has an article discussing the fact that tennis players feel their sport should “share” more of its profits (the article uses revenues and profits haphazardly) with its players.  Apparently, tennis players feel like the low man on the totem pole, only taking home 26% of the revenue (not profits, which would result in a substantially higher percentage, one would think) generated by the sport.  The article has a graphic that compares the 26% earned (or won) by tennis players to other team sports (a fair comparison?):

  • Baseball players take home 52% of MLB revenue
  • Hockey players take home 56% of NHL revenue
  • Basketball players take home 57% of NBA revenue
  • Football players take home 62% of NFL revenue

[Note: golf is not mentioned, my guess is that it’s similar to tennis or even lower]

The article tries to  make a case for greater distribution of revenue, but points out that the primary reason that sports like tennis are on the low end of the revenue-sharing spectrum is that the players aren’t unionized and, therefore, have no collective power.  Of course, being an international sport, it would be difficult to create a worldwide union.  Even in the US, only employees of a company can create a union.  The players are clearly not employees.

The article further points out that to be successful, the top players would have to be a member of such a collective bargaining group.  The top players, who make gobs-o-money have little incentive to give up some of their earnings to make sure the group of players makes more.  Therefore, aside from the legal/structural difficulties, it’d be difficult to imagine how the players themselves would work together to establish a strong bargaining coalition.

Personally, I believe that tennis, like all professional sports are about entertainment and, I think it all works pretty well.  If I thought that competition would get better with more money at stake, I’d be in favor of major changes.  Since it’s pretty damned good right now, I don’t think I’ll be supporting changes any time soon. 

Sorry guys.

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 March 15th, 2009  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 7 Comments
02
Mar

Leadership the Bobby Orr Way

In this week’s Sports Illustrated, there is an article about Bobby Orr.  For those who don’t know who Orr is, he is currently one of the top hockey player agents in North America.  More importantly, for those who don’t know who Orr was, he was, arguably, the greatest hockey player ever.  He was certainly the greatest hockey player of his time (the 1970s).

As with most sports, one person does not a winning team make.  In hockey, there are five men on the ice at any given time and lines (the group of players on the ice at one time) change frequently.  Success can only come from a true team effort.

In hockey and life in general, there are leaders and there are followers.  Those with talent, especially off the charts talent, can choose to accept their role as a leader – because the most talented are always looked upon to lead by their peers – or they can remain an individual contributor.  In the former case, a great individual can raise the bar for others, challenge them and teach them how to be better, making a larger group of people fundamentally better.  In the latter case, a star player rides alone, doing great things, but limited by the constraints of being an island.

Orr was a natural leader who took the lead and made his team better.  Hard on himself and hard on others.  He quickly gave credit to his teammates and knew that his team would win as a unit or lose as one.  In the article, there is a quote about Orr’s leadership that says it all.  Ken Dryden, a goalie for the Montreal Canadians, who played against Orr says:

“He brought others with him; he wanted them involved.  That’s what made him so different: It felt like a five-player stampede moving toward you – and at his pace.  He pushed his teammates, [because] you’re playing with the best player in the league and he’s giving you the puck and you just can’t mess it up.  You had to be better than you’d ever been.”

Talented individuals in any type of organization have tremendous leadership potential.  When they use their talents to make their entire team better, the results can be outstanding.  The team is comprised of one tremendously talented individual and many people performing at or above the limits of their capabilities, trying to rise to the level of their leader.  When a supremely talented individual chooses to work alone, he/she leaves the team behind, missing the opportunity to leverage their ability across a larger group.  Certainly not a tragedy, but definitely a waste.

If you manage such talented people, it’s your job to teach them the benefits that both they and the entire group get from their accepting the leadership call and the advantages that come from their giving others the puck.

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 March 2nd, 2009  
 Will  
 Leadership, Sports  
   
 4 Comments
02
Feb

Is Football an Eastern (U.S.) Sport?

Watching the Super Bowl yesterday, it struck me that it’s been a while since a West Coast team has taken home the Lombardi Trophy.  While I was pretty sure I could remember the last 20 Super Bowl winners or so, I looked up the winners this decade just to check my facts . . .

Year

Team

2000 Baltimore Ravens
2001 NE Patriots
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2003 NE Patriots
2004 NE Patriots
2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
2006 Indianapolis Colts
2007 NY Giants
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

[Note: Yesterday was the 2008 Super Bowl – that’s how the NFL does it, the championship for the 2008 season]

Hmmm.  Interesting.  Every winner this decade has represented a city east of the Mississippi.  What makes this so strange to me is that when I was younger, it seemed that western teams always dominated the NFL.  In fact, only 6 of the previous 20 Super Bowl winners were from the eastern U.S. (although St. Louis and Dallas can hardly be considered West Coast).

So, is pro football really an East Coast sport?  The NFL has worked hard for many years to achieve parity among its teams.  Parity is supposed to create a more competitive environment and one, of course, that attracts more fans.  So if there’s parity, why do eastern teams win so often lately?  And if pro football isn’t an eastern U.S. sport, why does the biggest city in the country, a western city – Los Angeles – not have a single team?

Could it really be that professional football is an eastern sport?

 February 2nd, 2009  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 8 Comments
15
Sep

The Inside Scoop at the New Yankee Stadium

My son and I traveled to the Bronx this past weekend to say goodbye to the “House that Ruth Built,” watch the Yankees get their asses kicked by division-leading Tampa Bay and check out Derek Jeter and A-Rod’s new playground.

Before the game, we walked around the new stadium.  I shot a bunch of pictures, but I thought the most interesting one was the one below.  It’s from outside the new stadium, of course.  My guess is that it’s at center field.  Interesting that the “Yankee Stadium” sign faces inward, toward the field.  One would think that everyone in the stadium will already know that they’re actually at Yankee Stadium and it might be people outside that need a little help identifying the building.

 FInal Season at Old Yankee Stadium - Yankees vs Tamba Bay

I dunno, maybe it’s for the viewers watching on television?

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 September 15th, 2008  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 Comments Off on The Inside Scoop at the New Yankee Stadium
23
Jul

When Amateurs Show Up the Pros

[Update: Mr. Gullible once again ignored the old adage – when it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  Thanks to Ron and John who pointed out that this was, in fact, an ad for Gatorade that was never televised.  It’s still very cool.  I wonder why it never got airtime outside of the YouTube universe.]

 

I’m a big work ethic type guy.  Effort and hard work wins almost always.  Check out how this professional ball player gets totally shown up by someone who actually wants to make the Play.  Totally wild!

YouTube Video

 July 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Management, Sports  
   
 4 Comments
20
Jul

Day 15 of the Tour de France

Who knew, right?  One of the biggest sporting events in the world and, potentially, the most grueling, and I can’t even watch it on TV.  My local cable provider has opted out.  Such a shame, it really is a terrific event, even if you’re not a cyclist.

Of course, the economics of carrying the event probably make no sense.  It’s long – 21 stages over 23 days, each day taking many hours – and there probably aren’t enough sponsors in the US to even fill all the available slots, let alone make money at it.  Finally, if you’re in the US, there are only 4 American riders in the race – 3 of them with one team, the new Garmin-Chipotle team.  Even though Americans have won 10 of the last 22 races (not Including Floyd Landis’ doping-enhanced “victory”), four contenders from the country is hardly enough to build any fan base of cycling outsiders or noobs.

In any event, Americans do have something to be excited about.  Christian Vande Velde of the Garmin-Chipotle team (an American on an US-based team) is currently in 5th place, only 39 seconds behind the leader.  Only 49 seconds separate the leader (wearing the Yellow Jersey) from the 6th place rider.  Danny Pate, also of the Garmin-Chipotle team and another American came in third today, 10 seconds behind today’s stage winner.

Overall, a pretty good showing for the new American team and two American riders so far.

 July 20th, 2008  
 Will  
 Cycling, Sports  
   
 2 Comments
26
Jun

Russia Rejects Maria Sharapova . . . Sorta

Maria Sharapova is an immensely talented tennis player who, at 21 years of age, has 19 career titles, has been ranked as a top-ten player since Wimbledon 2004 and, in 2006, was the highest paid female athlete in the world.  Today, she was dismantled 6-2, 6-4 at Wimbledon in the third round by another Russian player, Alla Kudryavtseva.  I cheered for the 154th-ranked David (Sharapova Goliath-killer) the entire match.

What pisses me off about Sharapova is that she has made the U.S. her residence for the last 14 years having moved here when she was 7 years old.  All the while making a big deal of the fact that she’s a Russian tennis player.  Yeah, yeah . . .  this is a great country and we make that your choice.  Just because we adopt you, doesn’t mean you have to adopt us.  I just don’t like it.

So, it appears that Maria the Great requested that she be the flag bearer for the Russian team at this year’s Olympic Games in China.  Apparently, the Russian coach said:

I don’t want her to spend three or four hours in hot weather waiting to march in the opening ceremony. We want her to be fresh, not tired, during her matches.”

It turns out her first match isn’t until two days after the opening ceremonies AND she has decided not to stay with the team and will be moved to a hotel so she can get her beauty rest.  My guess is that the coach feels the same way about Sharapova as I do.  She’s clearly a prima donna – more proof that she really is an American. 😉

 June 26th, 2008  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 5 Comments