Born hearing impaired and raised in a polygamous commune, Lance Allred started playing organized basketball later than most future pro-athletes; he was in the eighth grade the first time he touched a basketball, the same year he and his family left the sect that had defined every detail of their lives. Thanks to extensive hard work and grit, Allred defied the odds to become the first legally deaf basketball player in the history of the NBA. He is the best selling author of the books Basketball Gods and Longshot. Since retiring from basketball, he has become a mesmerizing motivational and inspirational public speaker, as demonstrated by his hit TEDx Talk, “What is your Polygamy?” which gained a million views in less than 2 months.
SPEAKING.COM: When did you start dreaming about becoming a professional basketball player?
ALLRED: When my family escaped from polygamy I was 13. It was a huge social shock for me. We went into hiding for several months and eventually settled in downtown Salt Lake City, where it was a new school. I grew from 5’10 to 6’4 that year. The 8th grade basketball coach saw me walking down the hall and told me to come tryout. I didn’t have any friends so I figured playing basketball would be a good way to make some. I also figured that all I would have to do was put a ball in a hoop, which in my mind wouldn’t require much communication with others; I was still very self-conscious of my speech.
Little did I know that team sports require an extreme amount of communication.
I was not good at first, but for a myriad of reasons, basketball became my obsession. Right away, just as they have my whole life, people put limitations on me. “I was too deaf to play basketball, let alone college and heaven forbid the NBA,” they would say, since I couldn’t play basketball with my hearing aides in. I chose not to listen. I couldn’t hear very well anyway.
SPEAKING.COM: What effect did your hearing impairment and OCD have on your performance as an athlete and relationship with your coaches and teammates?
ALLRED: I have had many wonderful teammates and coaches who were very patient with me, not only with my hearing loss but also my OCD. As a boy it had been impressed upon me by a religious figure in my polygamist upbringing, that God had made me deaf as punishment for something I had done in the pre-life. So I had this huge chip on my shoulder, plus this fear that I wasn’t worthy of love, which began to manifest in the form of OCD. Luckily, around the time the OCD was starting to get out of hand, I began playing basketball and was able to channel it through the game, keeping the OCD hidden for several years.
You can imagine how intense I was, when I came to the sincere belief that I had to become the first deaf player in NBA history: not just because I truly enjoyed basketball and wanted to prove people wrong, but because I felt that that was the way I could earn love, from God and everyone else. I was very intense, wound up, and put tremendous pressure on myself. Many of my teammates were incredibly patient, but also many that misunderstood me. I cannot blame them, since I didn’t even understand myself at that age.
A few of my coaches became the greatest mentors in my life, and some were the greatest obstacles of my life, they would berate and humiliate me – even taking the time to learn sign language to “finger spell” obscenities at me!
SPEAKING.COM:What were some failures you had in your basketball career that ultimately served as stepping-stones for success?
ALLRED: I have failed over and over in my life, but I choose to get back up every time and that is why I am successful. The essence of grit is choice, and getting back up is always a choice.
My very first game, I was ejected because the referee thought I was ignoring him, when I simply couldn’t hear him. At the University of Utah, I crumbled psychologically under the pressure of the coach there, and everyone who doubted me believed they were vindicated when I left the school and transferred to Weber State.
My senior year at Weber, I led the nation in rebounding for most of the season, but was not drafted into the NBA. I had to go play overseas, but never received my paychecks. At one point I injured my knee, but the team said they didn’t have to pay for medical care on account of it being a “pre-existing” condition. My second year I only received one job offer: a position as the lowest paid player on an NBA minor league team at $900 dollars a month.
Those setbacks and many others continually challenged me and my realities and truths, always pushing me out of my comfort zones. Success is found outside of our comfort zones, where we dare to fail by trying something new.
SPEAKING.COM: You gave a very intelligently layered and moving TEDx Talk on breaking out of the thought patterns we’ve been socially conditioned with. How did you come to the realization that your own thought patterns were limiting you?
ALLRED: It was the loss of my marriage and learning how to finally grieve. In the world I grew up in – polygamy and the thought patterns I inherited – emotions were repressed. Anger, sorrow, grief and other similar feelings were considered bad or evil so I didn’t know how to grieve. I didn’t know how to have disagreements or arguments. I didn’t know how to do anything other than stonewall when the pressure grew intense. This contributed to the dissolution of my marriage. The loss of my marriage, more so than the loss of my NBA job and dream in 2008, was the most painful experience of my life. I retired from basketball because of the divorce and because I wanted to be with my son.
If I had tried to be a motivational speaker without knowing how to grieve, be authentic, and walk the walk, I would have been a charlatan. At first, I believed the TEDx talk was going to be me giving a male perspective on polygamy, but what it really became was me going through and coming out of the grieving cycle, the grief and loss of my marriage. It was the power and beauty of the grief cycle, that drove that talk, and the same power that allowed that talk to receive 1 million views within two months.
SPEAKING.COM: What is your advice for dealing with people who think in absolutes and are convinced their beliefs and values are the only way?
ALLRED: After ten years of traveling around the world and playing basketball on every continent, I have learned that in every culture, people make the false assumption that we all have the same thought patterns concerning how we interpret and analyze information. Our brains are like computer hard drives, but they are installed with an operating system, like Microsoft, or Mac, or Linux: namely, our culture and surroundings. We learn to process and react to things as we see those around us doing.
Many times though, people fail to realize that we don’t have the same thought patterns; therefore, they assume that we should have the same morals and values, and those who aren’t prioritizing said values, “have lost their way”, or are “bad people.”
Facts and Truth, are not always, or necessarily congruent. Truth is a perspective, a stance, or a story someone wishes to take to justify their paradigm or experiences, to make them feel superior, or to remain within their comfort zone, nestled safely within their absolutes.
But we were not born to be caged within our comfort zones. Absolutes are prisons which prevent us from truly stepping out, being vulnerable, and fully experiencing being human. Most people fear “Failure,” but for me, it means you are simply stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new. Whereas, staying inside your bubble, allowing yourself to feel that you have all the answers, and preventing yourself from learning new things, is short changing yourself out of your life experience.
Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to all prejudice and biases.” I wish everyone could travel, see the world, and realize it isn’t the scary place that many fear it to be.
SPEAKING.COM: How can someone detach his or her self-worth from outcomes?
ALLRED: While we have the ability to choose our path at every moment, many of the circumstances and outcomes are beyond our control, as everyone else has their power to choose, as well. Some choose assertiveness. Some choose omission. Some choose passiveness. Since so many variables come into play, we really have very little control over most outcomes, and much of what happens comes down to luck and timing. Rationally speaking, then, it is a losing game to attach our self-worth to an outcome. However, we always have control over how we respond with each outcome.
SPEAKING.COM:What are the “5 Principles of Perseverance” and how did they help you achieve your goals?
5. Be Leader of your own life
When I picked up a basketball at age 14 and decided this was what I was going to do for a career, I made a promise to myself: “I will never use my hearing as an excuse.” There were many times throughout my career when a coach didn’t use a hand signal on a play gone bad, where I could have said “Coach, I need you to use a hand signal or else look at me so I can read your lips.”
Instead, I would say, “You’re right, Coach: I forgot the play.”
I was never going to prove all my doubters right with my excuses. When I took the blame for all my shortcomings or even things that weren’t my responsibility, I could then take full credit for my success. Don’t prove people right with your excuses.
I ask myself every night before I go to bed: Am I the same person in every room that I walk into? The same person no matter who is in the room, wealthy or poor? Do I treat everyone the same?
Playing for many coaches who put on one face when the locker room doors were closed and another face when the media cameras were on, I have learned that Integrity is maybe the greatest Achilles heal of those who want to be in leadership positions, yet, it’s the characteristic that should come the most easily.
Are you the same person to everyone? It’s not that hard. Treat people how you want to be treated. Don’t ever behave in a way that you wouldn’t want people to know about. If you are behaving in a way that you wouldn’t want your mother or peers of equal standing to see, then you probably shouldn’t be acting that way.
As a basketball player, it was very confusing to have a coach who said one thing to the media, to the owner or to the rich fans, and then turned around to say something contrary on the practice court when the gym was locked. No man can serve two masters, especially if those two masters reside within the same psyche!
“To thine ownself be true.” When you know you are functioning in your true authentic self, you know you cannot fail, no matter what the outcome may show itself to be. And when you know you cannot fail, you can endure and persevere anything.
Compassion protects you. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not. Compassion is how I learned to combat bullying and depression as a boy. I put myself in the shoes of my tormentors and asked myself, What is going on in their home life, that is so bad that they need to torment me and try and make me feel bad about myself?
By putting myself in their shoes, I was able to get outside my head, and no longer able to internalize it. Eventually, my tormentors and bullies grew bored with me because I was no longer giving them the reaction they wanted. This skill served me well as a basketball player and still does today as a motivational speaker. People inflict pain when they are in pain.
When you walk through life with compassion and patience for others, you realize their pain is simply a projection which they are trying to pass on to you, and it has nothing to do with you. It is not about you.
Question: How uncomfortable are you willing to be, to get what you want out of life? Everyone says they want the “American Dream,” but what price are they willing to pay for it? We are entitled to the “pursuit of happiness” by our American constitution, but nothing more. How much discomfort are you willing to endure? How much instability are you willing to risk, to have your dreams come true? I have a high threshold for pain and discomfort, as anyone will see when they hear me.
5. Be a Leader of Your Own Life
You can read all the leadership books you want, that talk about qualities displayed in other “leaders” current or past, but if you don’t know how to be a leader of your own life, you are wasting your time trying to lead others. You become a leader of your own life by empowering yourself with the accountability of choice. It is your choice to be aware and accountable for your thought patters, triggers, reactions, emotions, and the accountable for the healing and growth you choose to go through after you finally become aware of said thought patterns. Most people do not, or choose not to go this far. When you take ownership of your own life, accountability of choice, you are no one’s victim. You are a leader of your own life.
SPEAKING.COM: What are a few of the most important truths of a team and how can they help in finding a successful balance?
ALLRED: Transparency and Vulnerability.
In one of the most successful teams I ever played on, a championship team, the coach began the year by having us sit around the table and share what our greatest fear was, what we were playing for, and why we wanted to make the money we wanted. We are taught to be ashamed or that we are selfish or not being team players if we have our own agendas. However, if you bring those agendas to life as a team, with everyone being vulnerable about the motivations behind those agendas, you will be surprised at how quickly you will rally around each other and find happiness in each other’s success – which is exactly what happened on my basketball team.
To bring inspirational speaker Lance Allred to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com