Home Court Advantage: How Basketball Prepared Me to Run a Business

I recently gave a short dinner presentation to a small group of key donors and staff to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield.   I was invited to speak about my experience growing up and playing basketball at the “Boys Club” (as it was called back then). In the days leading up to this presentation, I spent a lot of time thinking about my past experiences, and how influential both the Boys & Girls Club and the game of basketball, have been on my life.  In my reflection I had an EPIPHANY - many of the lessons I learned at a young age playing basketball were more than just lessons in basketball – they were lessons in LIFE. Many basketball principles have provided me guidance both on and off the court, including in my professional career as the managing attorney for a medium-sized law firm.  The business of law and playing basketball - who knew they had so much in common?

As for a background, I started playing basketball in first grade, and continued to play on organized teams through high school, then played intramurals in college.  Additionally, my dad started playing in a regular “pick up game” twice a week with a group of local businessmen about 35 years ago, and he started bringing me along during summers or on days off school when I was about 12 years old.  Through the years, I continued to play with that group, still playing with them every Tuesday and Friday to this day. I also play on my local Rotary team from January through March each year and coach my 7-year-old daughter, Helen.

When I was around my daughter’s age, my dad taught me to play.  I still remember it like it was yesterday; there was chatter among my fellow first-grade classmates, rumors of a basketball team forming.  For whatever reason, I remember saying I did NOT want to play. However, my dad had other ideas – namely, saying “Joe, you’re playing” - and it was decided.   My dad could have said “Son, you don’t have to play if you don’t want to”, but I am very thankful that my dad did not listen to a six-year-old. If he would have let me make the decision, I might have missed out a whole lifetime of fun, fitness, and good memories, and it is hard to imagine my life without basketball.  It is funny how one seemingly small decision made in a single moment, 35 years ago, has made all the difference in my life. This is a concept I think about frequently as a father now with my own small children.

I did end up joining that first-grade team, and it did not take me long to fall in love with the game. Now, back in 1983 at the Boys Club, all the first graders played on a regulation sized 10-foot goals.  It was not like today, when kids start out on a 7-foot goal, then to 8-foot, then 9, then eventually graduate to a regulation size 10-foot goal. Back then, we were just a bunch of 6-year olds shooting air balls at a 10-foot goal until we all eventually got strong enough to hoist the ball over the front of the rim.  I do distinctly remember that the final score at the end of our first game was 0 – 0. As I watch my daughter’s games now, I think back to my first season, and I find myself appreciating how much patience all the parents must have had as they watched one airball after another for four quarters! However, us kids were having the time of our lives, and can you imagine the uproar and applause when one of us finally made that first bucket?

We all did eventually get stronger and better, and the games got more exciting.  That team played at the Boys Club from 1st through 6th grade, until we eventually funneled into our school junior high team. Our school did not have a basketball team for 1st through 6th graders, so I am very thankful that the Boys Club existed, and we had a place to play.

Looking back, I truly believe that many of the lessons I learned in the first years of basketball apply to life in general and have served me especially well in my professional life as an attorney.  On that note, I would like to mention just a few of those lessons:

HUSTLE! (Learning the Value of Hard Work).  For anyone who has ever played sports or had children who played sports, you know that one of the most important things in any game is to “hustle”.  What is the point of having skills or knowledge if you don’t put in the effort? Basketball taught me to work hard and put in my best effort, and this lesson has served me well time and again throughout my life.  I had to work hard in college, in law school, and when I hung out my own shingle and established my own law firm. I worked evenings and weekends, built websites, had phone calls forwarded to my cell phone so that I would not miss out on a single call, and did anything and everything I could to grow the business.

Teamwork – It did not take long for me to realize as a young attorney that I could not do everything myself.  Today we have 15 employees working for the firm, and we’ve served thousands of clients over the last 14 years.  Working together as a team is something that challenges our business every day and is a skill I have been continually working on since I first learned it playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Club.

Follow your shot – (Humility and Resilience).  In basketball, we have the phrase “follow your shot”, referring to when you shoot the ball, you should always follow the ball toward the rim after you release your shot.  Essentially, no matter how good the shot feels leaving your hand, you should never assume the ball is going in. In fact, you should assume it might not go in, so you should be there to get your own rebound and try to shoot again.  

I believe there are multiple life lessons we can learn from this basketball principal.  “Following your shot” is about humility – realizing that no matter how good you are, that you are going to miss some shots, and there are never any guarantees.  This approach to life helps keep me humble, always hoping for the best, but preparing for other outcomes. Additionally, “following your shot” is a lesson in resilience and never giving up, which has served me well in life.  You’ll make some, you’ll miss some, but never hesitate to go grab the ball and try again.  Keep shooting until you make it.

Run the Business the Way I Play the Game.  A couple of January's ago, I was writing out my goals and resolutions for the year, and one of the items on my list was “Run the firm the way I play basketball”.  This may sound like a strange resolution, but to me, it made perfect sense. When I play basketball, I do not tend to criticize my teammates or the opposing players; I find myself continually saying things like “nice shot”, “great pass”, “good rebound”, and “nice hustle”, etc.  In short, I tend to exude positivity, and when someone makes a bad play, I rarely if ever say anything negative. I am more apt to say “good idea” or “nice try” if I say anything at all.

I really do want to operate the firm more like I operate in court – the basketball court.  At workplaces in general, I fear that good work often garners no comment at all, because it is expected.  Thus, any comments about job performance are often limited to how one can improve, i.e. “corrections” and “reprimands”.  How different might my business be if I were to replace an occasional correction with a “nice job” or “well done”.

Basketball Mottos.  Finally, as I think about the years of basketball, there are a couple of sayings that come to mind, versions of which various basketball coaches have uttered through the years, some that may sound familiar to anyone who has played organized sports.  While a bit cliché, as I watch my own life and the lives of those around me, I find that the following have proven to be true:

“If you work hard and play by the rules, you will always come out ahead”, and “If you go out there and give it your very best effort, whether you win or lose, you will always be a winner”

It is difficult to think of my life without basketball, and I am not sure where I would if I had not learned the many lessons that the game has bestowed upon me.  I am very thankful for the Boys & Girls Club for giving me a place to play when I was growing up, and I appreciate the long-term, positive impact that both basketball and The Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield have made on my life, which impact continues to this day with every game I play and every case I take.

Joseph Piatchek is the Managing Attorney at The Piatchek Law Firm, LLC and Affordable Legal Services in Springfield, Missouri.  

Savannah Jackson