Watching the VCU Rams basketball team beat the U of K Jayhawks to enter the NCAA final four is a great example of the many character traits required for criminal freedom. The NCAA tournament is a long, hard series of games that results in one team beating every team they play on their path to the national collegiate championship. Key traits that have led the VCU team to the final four include:
- stamina and effort
Persistence is a word that has described the VCU team since its first round one win. The team was initially derided by announcers for even being chosen to participate in the NCAA tournament. Other teams were seen as more worthy of the selection and they were continually expected to fail in each of their successive games. In a similar way, people searching for sobriety and criminal freedom must engender dogged persistence to remain on the straight and narrow path of responsible living. Ex-offenders are often expected to fail in their attempts to live responsibly. They face numerous obstacles to employment and sobriety and usually return to the same environment where they face all the problems they left when incarcerated. Persistence in the face of criticism, reduced expectations and even name-calling can be used as a source of positive motivation like it has for VCU. The attitude of ‘doing whatever it takes’ to win the game, or remain crime free, is the driving force to success.
Stamina and effort are also hallmarks of successful NCAA teams. When facing bigger and more experienced teams, VCU has had to exert and sustain extreme amounts of effort to achieve their current ranking. By contrast, criminal thinkers typically quit at the first sign of failure which is an example of the thinking error “Lack of Effort.” Criminal thinkers lack effort for anything that is boring or disagreeable. Putting in the intense hours of practice required of a collegiate team while still maintaining college level coursework is a testament to the stamina and effort required for success. Similarly, job searching, staying sober and following through with responsibilities and retribution will also feel like a herculean effort for the changing person. Maintaining a focus on the long term goal of positive living, which is a metaphorical parallel to the national championship, can help the ex-addict and/or offender make the choices needed for the day to remain drug and crime free.
Leadership to a criminal thinker means power and control. It means getting what they want at the expense of others. True leadership, as demonstrated by NCAA teams, means trusting others to make decisions and providing feedback so that the team will benefit. VCU coach Shaka Smart was asked by an analyst why he didn’t call time outs more often especially when the other team started to make a run of points. He said he trusted the decision-making ability of his team. Good coaches, good leaders and good teammates provide timely feedback to people they lead. They don’t pretend to have all the answers and they consistently defer personal praise to their team. They would rather pass the ball to make an assisted score than try to shoot every time they get the chance.
Life lessons for criminal freedom can be gleaned from every day events and even March madness.