NBA’s rookie transition program presents information in a compelling way in order to promote real discussion

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The NBA has held its Rookie Transition Program for first-year players coming into the league since 1986, in an attempt to provide an extensive support system during an educational event that takes place over the course of three separate days.

Seminars cover a wide range of topics — family demands, relationship management, financial management and personal development are just some of the subjects discussed, and sessions related to character, image, driving safety, sexual health, nutrition and stress attempt to give players all the knowledge they need to have a successful start to their professional basketball careers.

While the program obviously has the best of intentions, at first glance, and perhaps viewed slightly out of context, some of the information may have seemed to have been presented in a way that was unsavory.

An article that appeared in The New York Times Style Magazine contained some of these details, and one in particular involving a potential domestic violence scenario struck a chord, especially in light of what the NFL is currently experiencing.

But in speaking with Greg Taylor, Senior Vice President of Player Development for the NBA who runs this program, it became clear that cherry-picking a detail or two that may seem negative on the surface doesn’t come close to explaining how it all works.

“So essentially, in that specific session, what we’re trying to do is really talk through and educate the guys on what constitutes good decision-making,” he said. “And so we talk about good decision-making being alignment between your heart and head. So objectively, am I doing something that makes sense and is smart to do, and then emotionally, am I doing something that sits good with who I am as a human being.

“So what we try to do is to use very compelling movie clips and articles and situations to really very bluntly put out some of the challenges and decisions that we feel the guys will have to make. And then we have a Q+A, we open it up for a really robust discussion — both in the larger group of more than 50 guys in one big lecture hall, and then we break up into smaller groups of 10 or 12 that are much more intense conversations.”

Taylor estimates that the discussion portion among the players attending the program accounts for 50 percent of it, the point being that he wants the players to learn from one another, and come to the right conclusions themselves.

“We know, just like any young person, that our ballplayers learn in very different ways,” he said. “Some people want written material and to sit in a room by themselves, some people want the opportunity to get up and move around for an experiential fit, some people like movie clips, where we kind of debate and move forward. Compelling is just meant to imply that we take a good amount of time to select which movie clips or articles or information that we share in hopes of inspiring a conversation that’s going to be real that the guys can learn from. It’s not meant to trigger the actions and responses that we think leads to a strong learning moment and a strong level of dialogue amongst the players. Our goal really is to get the player in the small groups to talk openly and honestly about their understanding and their reaction to the clips, and really almost educate each other. That’s what’s been most compelling about it.”

Taylor understands how some may view the way information is presented as questionable, especially without seeing it implemented in the program’s broader overall setting. But as he explained, the discussion that comes out of it is invaluable in terms of getting the players to see how their decisions may be affected in real-life situations.

“Essentially what we were trying to do was to say, here’s a situation and a scenario — how does this sit with you emotionally, how does it sit with you intellectually, and what are the decisions you would make moving forward — now break up into your smaller groups and talk more completely so that you can be clear about the next step,” Taylor said. “Taken out of context, it does sound random, I would say, but if you were privy to the entire session — the framing of decision-making, and the framing of five or six very provocative and compelling movie clips — all of them are driven towards, let’s talk about what a good decision in this situation would be and look like.”

Even if the situations presented were uncomfortable initially, Taylor believes the dialogue that resulted was a powerful teaching tool that made it all worthwhile. He plans to continue that strategy moving forward while educating the league’s incoming rookies in the future.