A podcast fueled by professionals bridging the gap between Sports and Business. Enjoy as guests share stories & experiences from the playing field to the board room.
021: We Not Me: How Teamwork in Sports Correlates to The Business World - with Kevin O'Hare
Kevin is joining us today from Des Moines, Iowa where he has lived, worked, and coached most of his life. During work hours, Kevin serves as an Account Manager for AssistRX which is a specialty therapy initiation and patient support company delivering informed access and improved outcomes for their customers. After the work hours or potentially sometimes before the work hours, you can find Kevin in the gym, teaching the game to the next generation of players and mentoring those players to become even better men and women away from the court. When Kevin isn't working, coaching, or playing uncle to as many nieces and nephews, you can find him searching for his golf ball in the woods to the right where he typically slices.
I want to start out with just the evolution of the high school player because you have been a high school basketball coach for 20 years now. In your opinion, what has been the evolution of the high school player, not just on the court, but also off the court throughout that those 20 years?
Yeah, so it's been very interesting to see firsthand way back 20 years ago, where, when you thought kids were bigger, faster and stronger, and they were at the time, and then you fast forward 20 years, what that bigger, faster, stronger looks like, it's insane. Back then, I would say the game was kind of an inside-outside game where you're trying to hit the posts and you're trying to get double teams in the post to kick out to guards for shots and stuff like that. Over time, the game has evolved. I mean, we literally in our practices, now we spend so much time shooting threes, and it's free throws, layups, and threes. We will shoot mid-range shots and stuff like that, but we spend a ton of time on threes because the game, not that it's not post oriented, but it's extremely guard-oriented where way back I would say you needed one or two really solid big men to play the game and to have a good opportunity. Now, you still need that and you saw it with Baylor a little bit in the championship game where they have guards for days and strength and conditioning programs, they're insane now. Two or three days a week, our kids are up in the morning, and they're doing speed and agility drills from boxes, to cone work, to jump rope, and then they're lifting weights a couple of days a week. It's just crazy where the game was, and where it is now. You talk about off the court and stuff like that and back then there weren't the distractions of social media and things like that or your phone. These kids nowadays are on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and if they're not watching somebody else, or posting something about themselves or someone else then something's wrong. They spend so much time on their phones these days and they're always trying to see the next highlight or become the next highlight. There's a lot of distractions that I think take kids away from what they need to be spending a lot of their time on, whether it be academics, or their craft, or skillset, so we emphasize that and talk a lot about that stuff.
It seems like your game might have been better suited for today's style of play a bit. Has it ever clicked for you in your head where you wished you could play in today's game with the style being more guard-oriented?
So the funny thing is when I was about 25 years old, my best basketball that I've ever played in my life was 25 to 35 without question. These were competitive leagues that we played in, and I think you hear a lot of guys talk about that nowadays is, I think the game slows down a little bit for you, you're more mature, you figured out the ins and the outs, you don't have a coach screaming at you and telling you this or that. But I mean, 25 to 35 was my best basketball by far. You're not running plays, there's not all this structure, and then to come back to it, I think the game just slows down and you figure things out a lot more as you get older.
How do you transfer that knowledge that you have to your current players?
So we talked about it a lot. For me, conditioning has always been a huge thing. It was funny, we'd go play these pickup leagues, my brothers and all of our friends and I would walk into a gym, this is no joke, people were like, "Oh, no, there's O'Hare, I'm not guarding O'Hare." The thing was that it had nothing to do with me being good, nobody wanted to chase me around. They just knew I was going to run nonstop, whether it's off a bunch of screens or constant defense. You think about it, when you get older people aren't here to guard you or work hard, they're just there to get some shots up. So the conditioning was huge. So we condition a ton at Dowling Catholic High School and the kids ask if I'm the basketball coach or the track coach, that's kind of the joke at the school. In order to do what we want to do, which is put a lot of pressure on the other team by pressing, or trapping, we need to be really good in the second half, and we need to wear people down and I can't guarantee wins and losses, but I can guarantee that we'll be the most conditioned team. More times than not, it has worked out on our behalf. That was something that I learned later in life, understanding why I'm doing all the movements and why I'm reading this screen like that. So we talked about that stuff daily so we aren't just doing these things to do them, but also why we are doing them.
How important was life after basketball for you while you were in school and playing at St. Ambrose? The second aspect of that question is how much emphasis did St. Ambrose put on that and what kind of support did you feel like you received in college to prepare yourself for the next step?
The short answer and listeners want to learn from my mistakes is I probably didn't put a lot of emphasis on what's gonna happen after college while I was there. I just always thought I would find a job and life would be great, blah, blah, blah. I can honestly tell you, I thought I was gonna play in the NBA all the way up until my senior year when I was only playing 17-20 minutes a game on my college team. I still thought somebody was going to pick me!
Where does that mindset come from for you?
Jordan and Kobe, man, like I followed Jordan and Kobe and Jordan like crazy. Their mindsets and their mentality on everything, like it didn’t matter if there was any truth to what you're thinking, nobody cares. If you don't believe it, or if you don't have it then you're behind the eight ball. So just following those guys, and watching them, and listening to them, my confidence was through the roof, whether it should have been or not. But Ambrose was huge for me. When I went there I thought I was the best thing since whomever and you get there and you realize there's a lot of people from a lot of different states that are a lot better than you think. Every year I was a backup point guard and so the next year is going to be my year because that guy's going to graduate and all of a sudden, here comes the new junior college player who's a stud that wanted to move home and be close to family. Then he graduates and now it's like, oh, my God, this is my team, I can't wait to take this team, we're going to do great things, and here comes this other transfer from a D1 school. So that was the challenge of that. These guys just easily put me in my place left and right, but it was great for me. You learn so much from the struggles, and the adversity, and the challenges of trying to accomplish something bigger than yourself which was huge for me. But so I was a business management and economics major and my senior year was probably when I really had to start my plan B. I wish that I would have done internships and all those things in college, and I would 100% recommend that to kids nowadays. I mean, just to get the experience, to build the relationships, and add it to your resume then maybe those companies are going to ask you to work for them full time when you graduate if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. But those things would be huge, where I was just a gym rat all summer focused on this and that. I don't take it back, but that's a mistake, I probably would have gone back and spent a little more time on my studies and looking for experience. I wish I would have put a little more time and thought into my future plans when I was in college.
Did what happened to you on the court and on the team with feeling like you were number two translate then to the professional world as well?
I think anytime you go into the real world and start working with companies, everybody has a role. We talk about this with our high school players, you have to play your role and you have to do your job, whatever that is in order for the company or the team or whatever to succeed. So translating that from high school and college sports where you learn so much from teamwork and what it takes to accomplish the end goal, and it takes from a sports perspective 15 people to accomplish that. Then when I got into the data processing world, I was on a team of eight and if somebody wasn't doing their job, then our team would struggle. So you find other people helping each other reach sales goals and stuff like that, you know, it's the old, "You can't drive a car with three wheels." I mean, it takes literally everybody on your team in the real world, or on your team in sports, to accomplish goals and there's no one person bigger than the other. So I didn't come into the real world and think that I would head straight to the top right away. There's always a process, and there are always steps before you get to wherever, you're shooting to go to, or you're trying to get to.
What I've had to find in coaching, is that you have to take your own experiences and take your own mistakes, and find a way to slowly implement them into your coaching philosophy and your team's culture so that if nothing else you're adding tools to your players' toolbox, so when life gets a little bit harder, they're more prepared for that. What kind of things have you put in place there at Dowling that you're super proud of that you see?
So here's what I've learned. Being there for 20 years, I think at the end of the day, and I just had this conversation with our athletic director the other day who has done unbelievable things at our school, and he's also our football coach. But if you can get kids or people to understand what they mean to you, from a love, care, and respect standpoint, I think more times than not anything you tell them is going to go even farther than what you would think because they know that you're only there to help them at the end of the day. Everybody's sports career is limited, whether it's one year after your freshman or four years after high school and if you're lucky, you get another four years of college. I try to build and create these relationships with players from day one and even in the summer before they're starting to come in, whether that be with their AAU programs, or with our grade school programs. Again, I'm trying to show them the ropes of basketball, but I'm also very genuinely concerned with what's going on in the classroom and their personal life, like asking what their dog's name is, and things like that. You say those things and it seems kind of funny, but there's 100% genuineness in reality behind them and I don't ask things just to ask them because if I ask somebody something it's because I care. I've found that when you do that with kids, they're gonna run through walls, and they're gonna do everything in anything they can because they believe you and they know you're not trying to steer them in the wrong direction. If they look good, you look good, and if you look good, they look good. So that's gone a long way and some of the things we talked about a lot are the whole "We not me," process. We talk about we not me a lot. We also talk a lot about accountability. That's going to translate to the work world too. Commitment, like, you can't just be interested in doing something and being interested in something doesn't cut it anymore, it might have 15-20 years ago, but if you're not committed, you're doing yourself and your team a disservice, you're going to get passed by other kids. Work ethic, again, you take your work ethic from the sports world, and then you take it into the real-world environment. If you can't hang your hat on your work ethic, you're in trouble, and you're struggling at some point. So those are a couple of things that we talk about daily. Grades are huge and if you don't have the grades, you can't play sports. So we can talk about sports till we're blue in the face, but without grades, you can't play and then without grades, you can't get into the school that hopefully, you want to go to and at the end of the day without being at school, you want to go to your employer more times than not isn't going to give you too much of a look, if you haven't done all these things leading up to the end result. So a lot of steps throughout the process, can't skip one to get to another, details are super important, it takes time, and it takes a ton of work. The steps to get there are insane, and everybody wants to skip one or two to get to three or four, and you just can't do it if you want to be great.
And so much more...