Raise Your Game

High-Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best

Contributors

By Alan Stein Jr.

By Jon Sternfeld

Foreword by Jay Bilas

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Performance coach Alan Stein Jr. shares the secret principles used by world-class performers that will help you improve your productivity and achieve higher levels of success.

High achievers are at the top of their game because of the discipline they have during the unseen hours. They have made a commitment to establish, tweak, and repeat positive habits in everything they do. Raise Your Game examines the top leaders in sports and business and proves that success is a result of the little things we do all the time.

The basic principles provided in Raise Your Game are simple, but not easy. We live in an instantly downloadable world that encourages us to skip steps. We are taught to chase what’s hot, flashy and sexy and ignore what’s basic. But the basics work. They always have and they always will.

Raise Your Game will inspire and empower you to commit to the fundamentals, create a winning mindset, and progress into new levels of success.

Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 2013, USA Basketball invited me out to Las Vegas to work at a camp alongside some of the best college coaches in the world, giants like the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari, the University of Florida’s Billy Donovan, and Gonzaga University’s Mark Few. The first day was dominated by shooting drills and scrimmages before the coaches conducted a formal draft, led by CBS’s Bill Raftery and ESPN’s P. J. Carlesimo, to select the teams. But as I looked out onto the court, I wasn’t watching college stars or future NBA prospects. No, the players were all middle-aged men with lots of disposable income, a willingness to hustle, and an undying love of basketball. USAB was getting into the sports fantasy camp business, a booming industry. Incredibly successful men will pay serious money to run up and down the court for hours, shoot hoops, and get yelled at from the sidelines by their heroes. That’s their dream.

I worked this camp for several years, and it’s a fantastic experience. The participants may take their private jet to Las Vegas and get chauffeured to the gym in a Bentley, but they are almost universally down-to-earth guys. They are just incredibly driven and enormously successful. The glamour of being a multimillionaire and Fortune 100 CEO drains away as they pant up and down the court with their headbands, gym shorts, and for some, beer bellies. But this doesn’t diminish them in my eyes—not at all. In fact, it elevates them. I love how seriously they take the games, how intensely they prepare, how they get out there early to do foam rolling and stretching, how they scream their heads off at the referees after a blown call.

During breaks in the day, they’re making calls, conducting deals, and running their businesses. Then the games start up and they’re on the court again, boxing out and hustling back on defense. They’re hypercompetitive. It’s how they got where they are in life. And that competitive element is not a switch they can turn on and off—it’s in their nature, part of who they are. Athletic skills may not transfer from the boardroom to the court, but the approach, fundamentals, and attitude most certainly do.

Sport is the great equalizer, and these guys know it. Everyone might “yes” them all day—waiters scurry to find them the best wine, valets hustle after their car—but deep down they want someone who will get on them for a poor shot or swat their layup into the stands. They want to earn their buckets. They know that you get strong by going uphill. And there’s nothing like a basketball game against other fierce competitors to see what you’re made of.

Vasu Kulkarni, CEO of sports analytics company Krossover and CourtsideVC, has made basketball the frame around which all of his businesses revolve. He gets incredibly enthusiastic talking about basketball and wears his love for the game on his sleeve. “The court brings out your true colors,” he told me in an interview. “A lot of times what you see on the court is what you get off the court. So many people I do business with, I try to bring them to a court.”

A game of hoops is a shared experience. It’s intense, it’s exhausting, and you get to experience the highs of victory and the lows of defeat with others who care about the outcome. “I find basketball to be a great way to forge relationships and build bridges with people,” he said. Vasu is taking his perspective from one of the all-time greats. Hall of Fame legend Larry Bird reportedly said he knew everything he needed to know about someone based on how that person behaved on the basketball court.1

The link between the sports and the business worlds is a natural one. It’s not a coincidence that the top coaches do double duty as leadership and motivation experts. John Calipari of Kentucky and Jay Wright of Villanova write business leadership books, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski works as a motivational speaker in his free time, UNC coach Dean Smith was invited to give lectures at management schools in far-off places like Switzerland.

Institutions, companies, and regular people just trying to get ahead will cough up serious money, sacrifice weekends, and travel substantial distances to hear what a top coach has to say. And they’re not taking notes on zone defenses and how to execute the pick and roll. Some attendees may not even follow sports, but they understand the jewels of wisdom that these coaches carry. The coaches’ lessons are universal, and their results are concrete and inarguable.

College coaches also have to start over from scratch every couple of years or so, with a new crop of talent and new strengths and weaknesses. The coaches—and the programs they develop—are the consistent factors, so a college team’s long-term success is a testament to their leadership. They understand the basic priniciples of success because they have to continue to execute them year in and year out.

It’s an important reminder: Success is a result of what we do all of the time. The highest performers in all walks of life have embraced this fact; they have taken full ownership and have chosen to create and implement positive habits. They understand that you can’t be selective when it comes to excellence. As the saying goes, how you do anything is how you do everything.

Most of my career has been spent helping elite basketball players improve their athleticism and their mind-body connection. I’ve worked with the likes of Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo and watched superstars like Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry in their private practice routines—and two things stick out. One, they stick to the basics. They study and practice the basics to the point that they’re automatic, as if the actions are doing them. Two, they work harder than anyone else. They might lose, but they simply will not be outworked.

I’ve been a basketball performance coach since I graduated from college in 1999. Major companies from all over the world now hire me to teach, train, and consult on effective leadership and teamwork because the principles of achievement on the court parallel the principles necessary to succeed in any industry. I believe in the fundamentals, and I preach the fundamentals. I’ve seen people fail or succeed based on their commitment to the unsexy, the unpopular, and the unglamorous. “Success is neither magical nor mysterious,” wrote one of my heroes, Jim Rohn. “Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.”

I want to teach you how to live present in a distracted society so you will be a more connected, productive, and influential leader and teammate. Monumental change occurs only with the accumulation of the little things. Never forget: it’s what all the big things are made from.

Success isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you attract, you choose, and you create. Successful people do the little things better than everyone else. This is what makes the best the best. World-class performers and the uber-successful amassed their achievements by sticking to the fundamentals and doing the little things—every single day.

We can look to athletes and businesses because they are masters at willing a certain outcome into existence. LeBron James can visualize himself catching up to an opponent on a fast break, see when and how that player is going to go in for the layup, and then time his movement to smack the ball against the glass. He saw it before it happened; he willed the result into existence. The great athletes like LeBron do that all the time—but so did Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

I’ve spent the past fifteen-plus years working with the highest-performing athletes on the planet. I now teach people how to utilize the same strategies in business and life that elite players and teams use to perform at a world-class level. My goal for this book is simple—to educate and inspire readers to take immediate action to improve their mind-set, habits, and value.*

The very first step to raising performance is learning how to live present. The happiest, most influential, and most successful people I’ve ever met are able to put their full attention into the present moment. They have learned how to focus on three things:

1. The next play

2. The controllables

3. The process

In my quest to help organizations run more efficiently, I’ve befriended, learned from, and interviewed successful CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders. In doing so, I’ve found that the traits that are needed to be a successful player, coach, and teammate are the same characteristics that are used to run some of the biggest and most significant companies in the world. The parallels are eye-opening. I’ve been fascinated by how these aspects of culture, commitment, and teamwork transcend industry.

The tools required for success are available to everyone. They’re shared openly by countless individuals who have made it to the top. Everything we need to maximize our happiness, fulfillment, confidence, influence, and success is readily available. But it’s up to us to put these strategies into practice, make them habits, and live them out daily. And that’s the reason I wrote this book.

You need to make the choice to act—to apply the information here and become a more influential leader, and teammate. You need to make the choice to close the gap between what you know and what you do. Because the choices you make today will determine where you are tomorrow.

This book will help you drill down on your answers to these vital questions:

1. What sacrifices do I need to make?

2. What skills do I need to acquire?

3. Whose help would I benefit from?

4. What challenges should I expect?

5. What habits do I need to change?

This book will be the initial spark to raising your game, in every area of your life. It will provide you with the tools, concepts, stories, lessons, and actionable tasks that I’ve learned from a variety of high performers. Along the way I will share the meaningful and impactful conversations and observations I’ve been so fortunate to have gained from countless high achievers. But the real work is up to you. After all, you can’t pay someone else to do your push-ups.

I was taught at a young age that knowledge is power. But that is actually incomplete: Knowledge by itself is useless. The power is in the application. Knowing without doing is the equivalent of not knowing at all.

So it’s not necessarily about knowledge. The vast majority of people know what foods they should eat, how much sleep they should get, and what they should do for their physical fitness. Yet obesity has been on the rise for years. Why? Although people know what they need to do, they just don’t do it.

When it comes to improving performance—in any area of life—the most basic and effective strategy is to close performance gaps. These are the gaps between what we know we are supposed to do and what we actually do. Everyone has performance gaps, but the world’s highest performers and achievers have found ways to eliminate or reduce them in the most important areas.

We live in the information age. Thanks to technology, we can find quality information on just about anything in a matter of seconds. Not knowing something is hardly ever the reason our performance suffers. The reason we get stuck, frustrated, and exhausted is not from lack of knowing—it’s from lack of doing. This book will help motivate, inspire, and guide you to start closing your most pressing performance gaps.




HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED

The book is divided into three parts: “Player,” “Coach,” and “Team,” which correlate in business to employee, manager/CEO, and organization. Each part contains the five characteristics required to be successful in that specific role.

All three parts flow into each other like this:

*graphic designed by Jeremy Stein

It’s important to note that none of these parts are mutually exclusive and each section has valuable characteristics applicable to everyone. The key traits for a coach can be utilized by a player now (or later, if he plans to become a coach)—and vice versa—and a team works only if the players and the coaches are fulfilling their roles.

I intentionally divided this book into three parts to take a closer look at each vantage point and perspective, as every one of us fulfills the role of player, coach, and teammate throughout our lives. Regardless of your age or vocation, I guarantee you are constantly flowing from one of these titles to another (and are often serving as two or three of them at once).

Part I: Player

A player is any individual who is part of a team, company, or organization. This section is divided into five chapters, each focusing on a single quality that is necessary for an individual to have (and work on) in order to succeed. Each characteristic builds on the previous one, and the final one—confidence—is a result of the previous four working in harmony.

Chapter One: Self-Awareness

This is what everything else in this book is built from. Making “you” your business. Self-awareness means having and developing an understanding of who you are, and what you can and can’t do. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, then it is impossible to develop the tools to move to the next level. It all starts here.

Chapter Two: Passion

This is hard to teach but monumentally important to emphasize and tap into. It’s the possession of a love for what you do and the inner drive to pursue your goals. It’s a willingness to do what needs to be done—even the unpleasant stuff—because the outcome matters that much to you. It’s about having heart and putting yourself—all of yourself—into your work.

Chapter Three: Discipline

Discipline is about developing the routine, structure, and habits to achieve your goals. It’s about doing what others aren’t doing, investigating how to get ahead, and understanding that talent alone is never enough. This is the system that the self-aware and passionate put into place and repeatedly develop, adapt, and hone.

Chapter Four: Coachability

Successful people are open to learning. The best never stop, and it’s their commitment to finding their gaps and filling them that brought them to where they are. It’s also what keeps them moving up. They possess the humility to understand that good enough is never good enough. If you aren’t coachable, you will never progress. Coachability is about having the right attitude and approach toward self-improvement.

Chapter Five: Confidence

This is the accumulation of the first four. Confidence, earned confidence, is about outlook and attitude. It’s knowing that you will succeed because you have put in the time, effort, and learning into mastering what it is you do. It’s the face you wear out in the world because the mechanics on the inside are solid and humming.

Part II: Coach

A coach, for our purposes, refers to someone who has been given authority over others. This could be a CEO, a director, a manager, a supervisor, a coach, or a parent. It can be someone who has one direct report or can be someone who has a thousand. Part 2 is for anyone looking to improve their ability to lead, impact, and influence others.

This part is divided into five chapters, each focusing on a single quality that is necessary for a coach to have—and develop—in order to succeed. As in part 1, each characteristic builds on the previous one, and the final trait—empowerment—is a result of the previous four working together in harmony.

Chapter Six: Vision

A coach must work to stay ahead of the competition and see what others don’t or can’t. In order to move yourself and those you lead forward, you must envision what you want to create and take the steps to make it happen. Vision is carrying a map to the future, and it includes how you communicate that map so that others are inspired to get behind you.

Chapter Seven: Culture

A coach is only as strong as the environment he creates. It should be a place of safety, motivation, and inspiration. Culture includes the physical space where you work, the manner in which everyone interacts, and the rules and values the coach instills, encourages, and rewards. A coach should build a work environment where everyone is able to achieve both their highest selves, as well as what is best for the team. The right culture will convince everyone that these are one and the same.

Chapter Eight: Servant

True leaders serve their people, not the other way around. Leaders make themselves available and accessible to those they lead. Being a servant leader is about understanding your people’s desires and responding to their needs. It is an antidote to the brute force management style that is outdated and ineffective. A servant leader empathetically listens, remains open and adaptable, and is willing to get his hands dirty in the service of the vision and the culture.

Chapter Nine: Character

Character refers to who the coach is as a person, even when there’s no reward involved. It’s about being someone of honor and integrity whom others can trust and get behind. No one wants to work for a liar, a jerk, or a cheater. Having character means you are the kind of person you would work for. Though the short-term may occasionally reward those who take shortcuts, the long term always rewards high character.

Chapter Ten: Empowerment

Empowerment is the culmination of the first four coaching traits. It’s the final step because it is about leaders letting go, allowing their people the freedom and support to become leaders themselves. To empower is to make your people feel valued and valuable. A leader trusts his team in a way that lets the members know they are each integral parts of the whole.

Part III: Team

A team is any group, business, or organization that collectively works together to accomplish a shared vision and mission. Like the previous two parts, this is broken down into five characteristics, each building on the previous one. Once again, the final characteristic, cohesion, is the culmination of the previous four.

Even if you work for a nontraditional company or by yourself, you are part of a team. No one achieves success alone. While you may have to do most of the heavy lifting, everyone needs and receives help in some way, shape, or form. All of us are a part of something bigger than ourselves—in our work, our families, and our communities. We all depend on teammates whom we count on and those we need to serve and support. In ways big and small, we are all teammates.

Chapter Eleven: Belief

Belief is the first trait in this part because it is the groundwork that enables any team to be successful. It refers to the underlying attitude that a team has about itself. Believing means having the conviction that the team can succeed and carrying a commitment that what they are trying to do is valuable. It’s how a team knows they can trust each other: Each member is “all in,” gaining strength from knowing this fact about one another.

Chapter Twelve: Unselfishness

Selfishness will destroy any team. Every member of the team needs to be unselfish and genuinely care about his teammates, coaches, and mission—not just his own success, advancement, or credit. Each member must be willing to put the team before his own agenda and desires and acknowledge that he is simply part of a whole. Unselfishness means recognizing collective achievement is the primary goal.

Chapter Thirteen: Role Clarity

Role clarity is a key aspect of how a team operates and interacts with one another. Each member understands his specific place in the whole and where others fit in. Successful teams know that every member matters, that they are a puzzle made up of different interlocking pieces. The whole doesn’t work or make any sense without each piece fulfilling its part.

Chapter Fourteen: Communication

Communication is the glue that keeps the team together. It’s about having the openness to talk and listen with respect, purpose, and attention. It’s not just about the verbal, but body language and tone as well. This trait is applicable across all industries, relationships, and organizations.

Chapter Fifteen: Cohesion

Cohesion is the accumulation of the previous four traits discussed in part 3. It is the natural result of all members understanding their individual role, communicating with the others, believing in the mission, and being unselfish in the execution. To cohere is to operate successfully as a whole, which is stronger than the sum of its parts.




PART I

PLAYER




CHAPTER ONE

Self-Awareness

Embrace the people who tell you you’re full of crap.

—Gary Vaynerchuck

Here’s a foundational argument for the rest of this book: the single most important thing a person needs for success is self-awareness. This includes who you are, what you can do, what you can’t do, where your value comes from, and where you need improvement. Nothing I teach or preach in this book will matter if you don’t start here.

Self-awareness is not just the most important quality; it’s the hub of all the others. In today’s business world, recognizing your edge and your deficits is the go-to skill. What to capitalize on, what to hone, where to build, where to delegate—it’s all part of that pool of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is not something you just do as a once-in-a-while inventory thing—at the start of a project or job or at the end of the year. It’s far too important for that. It’s a habit that you have to cultivate and sharpen every single day. Remember that: Practicing self-awareness is a habit.

When Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, a pioneer in advanced statistics, was asked what things he wished he could forecast about his players, he answered, “Do they have the self-awareness of where they’re not as good as they need to be, meaning do they understand there’s a gap between them and Chris Paul or James Harden or any of these great players in the league? And then… what are their habits to improve that gap?”1

Self-awareness is like the arrow on the Google map—you start there, figuring out where you are. Then it’s about the commitment to do what needs to be done to get you where you want to be. “The best performers observe themselves closely,” business journalist Geoff Colvin wrote in Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else. In the book, Colvin looked at what distinguishes top performers in all arenas and found, “They are in effect able to step outside themselves, monitor what is happening in their own mind, and ask how it’s going.… Top performers do this much more systematically than others do; it’s an established part of their routine.”2

I’ve given many corporate talks around the country, and I would argue that most people are sleepwalking through their work routine or, at the very least, comfortably on autopilot. Be honest: How often do you take this kind of inventory of yourself? Is it a daily habit? If not, ask yourself how you can make it one. It will be a game-changing decision and will lead to growth on a variety of different levels.

Self-Test

1. What do you do really well?

2. What do you need to improve on?

3. What is your plan for addressing No. 2?

Meeting the Gary Vee: The Whole Ball Game

Gary Vaynerchuck is booked down to the second. When I called his office for an interview for my podcast, his assistant said, “The next time he’ll have a thirty-minute window is three months from now.”

“I’ll take it,” I said, because I’m not stupid.

Serial entrepreneur, marketing expert, and investor Gary Vaynerchuck is already a legend. He’s like a flash of light, a meteor across the media landscape whose effect is still being felt. But his beginnings were incredibly humble.

Gary is the son of immigrant parents from the Soviet Union. When he was growing up, his father owned a wine store in New Jersey where Gary worked from a very young age. In 2006 Gary started a wine show on YouTube, back when that was still called a webcast and people were just figuring out what YouTube even was. In just five years, he helped his father grow a $3 million retail store into a $60 million online wine business. Not resting on his laurels, he then parlayed that into VaynerMedia, which is now a $300 million consulting business and one of the world’s hottest digital agencies.

Along the way, Gary became a prolific angel investor and venture capitalist, investing in companies including Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Venmo, and co-founding the VaynerRSE fund. One day he’d like to buy the New York Jets. Unlike most people, this is a totally realistic goal for him.

Three months after that phone call, I was at VaynerMedia, in Gary’s New York office. It was surprisingly small given that it’s his company, but Gary doesn’t come off as the kind of guy who cares about pomp and circumstance. The walls and shelves were covered in sports memorabilia, mostly Jets and Knicks, along with framed pictures of his book covers and photographs of Gary with various celebrities and big-time influencers.

His office had a comfortable sports bar feel to it, a place you can imagine killing an afternoon in. It was designed for function; there was a stand-up desk with a computer and a small conference table with four chairs for meetings. One wall was floor-to-ceiling glass with no blinds, so everyone could see into his office 24-7. The whole vibe was approachable transparency, just like Gary.

At 9:00 a.m. on the dot, he walked in, passionate and fully present, telling me he was fired up after hearing my podcast’s opening theme music. Gary has this rapid-fire intense way of talking that just ropes in his audience. It’s hard to focus on anything else when he’s in a room. He is who he is, and he doesn’t pretend or apologize.

“Self-awareness is the game

Genre:

  • "Alan played a huge role in my development on and off the court and his guidance helped me get to where I am today. This book is a must read."Kevin Durant
  • "Alan shares what it takes to take your game to the next level. Raise Your Game provides tools, concepts and strategies you can utilize today to enhance your influence and make an immediate impact on your team, culture and organization." —Jon Gordon, bestselling author of Training Camp and The Carpenter
  • "Alan knows exactly what it takes to Raise Your Game. The stories, principles and strategies he shares in this book apply to basketball, business and everything in between. If you want to be a more influential leader and impactful teammate--you will read this book."—Jay Wright, Head Coach of Villanova University (2016 & 2018 NCAA Champions)
  • "Raise Your Game shares the principles required to be an impactful leader and an influential teammate. This book looks at what the highest performers in sports and business do consistently to create winning cultures and championship teams. The stories, lessons and practical take-a-ways will help players, coaches, executives and entrepreneurs unlock new levels of performance."—Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures
  • "Whether building a start-up as an entrepreneur, or a developing innovations as an "intrapreneur" at a Fortune 500, the fundamentals of success are the same. It comes down to habits, preparation and mindset. Raise Your Game shares the building blocks used by the world's top athletes, executives, coaches and entrepreneurs to reach unparalleled success and perform at the highest level. I am recommending Raise Your Game as a must-read for all of the entrepreneurs and executives I work with."—Mark French, Serial Entrepreneur (Sports / Entertainment / Media / Technology)
  • Praise for Alan Stein, Jr.:

    "Simply put, Alan Stein is the best in the business. I worked alongside Alan for years and his ability to motivate and inspire is second to none.. His passion inspires everyone he connects with to push their limits. Alan gets results. Period."—Jay Bilas, ESPN
  • "Alan's first hand experience with elite basketball players provides an unmatched angle on exactly what is needed to help any business or organization thrive. Our entire team was really empowered by his talk."—Angel Roberts, Founder, Love, Peace and Hip Hop
  • "Alan's talk was an unbelievably motivating way to kick start our company off-site. He was funny, interactive, and engaging, all while driving home extremely important take-a-ways for our team to get better."—Vasu Kulkarni, C.E.O., Krossover
  • "If you need a speaker that can captivate and engage an audience, you will be blown away by Alan Stein. He walks the walk and gets the audience to relate to his stories in a way that they too, feel empowered to lead. He delivers a powerful message in a practical, insightful and entertaining way."—Danyell Johnson, Founder, Find the Money Project
  • "Alan's innate ability to speak passionately and with substance make him one of the best corporate speakers I've had the pleasure of experiencing. He recently received a standing ovation after his keynote performance in Cancun, Mexico at our annual company convention (where he address hundreds of fitness executives, managers and directors). His talk was one of the highlights of our event. We will undoubtedly have him back to speak again."—Kirk Galiani, Founder & Co-Executive Chairman, U.S. Fitness
  • "Alan has a unique ability to enthrall any audience with his passion, energy and authenticity. His experience with world-class athletes provides an unparalleled perspective on teamwork and leadership. Alan is extremely impactful when sharing the tools needed to level-up any organization in today's hyper-competitive and dynamic marketplace."—Michael Cohen, C.O.O., Whistle Sports

On Sale
Jan 14, 2020
Page Count
304 pages
Publisher
Center Street
ISBN-13
9781546082859

Alan Stein Jr.

About the Author

Alan Stein, Jr. teaches proven strategies to improve both individual and organizational performance by empowering people to develop winning mindsets, rituals, and routines. As an internationally renowned veteran basketball performance coach, he spent 15+ years working with the highest-performing athletes on the planet (including NBA superstars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Kobe Bryant). Alan served as a performance coach/consultant for Nike Basketball, Jordan Brand, the NBPA Top 100 Camp, and the McDonalds All-American Game. Alan has been a featured guest on over 200 podcasts and his list of corporate clients include American Express, Pepsi, Sabra, Starbucks, Under Armour, UGG, Orange Theory Fitness, and Penn State Football, where one of his quotes is featured on 12-foot mural outside their locker room (see below). His first book, Raise Your Game: High-Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best, received wide acclaim.
 
Jon Sternfeld is a former editor and the coauthor of Alan’s first book Raise Your Game, along with other works of non-fiction including Hack Your Anxiety with Alicia H. Clark, A Craftsman’s Legacy with Eric Gorges, and Make Something Good Today with Ben and Erin Napier. His new book, Unprepared: America in the Time of Coronavirus will be published by Bloomsbury in September. His website is jonsternfeld.com and he lives in New York.

Learn more about this author