The Playmaker Project

Stray Bullets and Cookie Jars: How to help our Junior Athletes find their Love of Sports

Stray Bullets and Cookie Jars: How to help our Junior Athletes find their Love of Sports

Goal:  The Goal of this article is to help parents understand the importance of “Ignition” when it comes to their kids’ talent development in sports.


Behind every Star Athlete lies an ignition story – the potent moment when a young athlete falls in love with their sport.

This moment is a moment where they feel an instant connection to their sport. Call it purpose, call it magic, but that junior athlete feels the need to start relentlessly playing that sport day/in and day/out.

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code, calls these moments “Ignition” moments. Coyle says that these moments are one of the 3 factors needed to develop peak performance along with deep practice and master coaching.

I love the word ignition, just writing it gets me fired up. I also am curiously thinking about how I, as a teacher/coach/parent, can create environments for those I serve to have these Powerful moments of Ignition.


We all need a little motivation to get started. But what separates truly the Best athletes from the rest of the pack?

A higher level of commitment—call it passion—born out of our deepest unconscious desires and triggered by specific primal cues. Understanding how these signals work can help us ignite passion and catalyze skill development.

These Ignition moments are doorways to years of work and passion — the slow architecture of what it takes to be a World-Class athlete.

How do these Ignition moments happen?

Is there something special about certain kinds of inspiration?

And more important, how do we set up an environment that provides our kids with the opportunity to find their ignition moment?

I think we can find one clue by looking more closely at the moments themselves. So let’s break it down. Here is how Coyle describes it,

“1. The moments are serendipitous. Nobody sets it up; there’s no mediator. It happens by chance, and thus contains an inherent sense of noticing and discovery.  POWERFUL!

2. These Ignition moments are joyful. As if a new, secret world is being opened.

3. The discovery is followed directly by action. Ok, for those fortunate enough to find our Ignition moment now, it is time to relentlessly act. For how long? As long as it takes.”

Have you had a moment of Ignition in your life?  Have you seen that moment of ignition in your kids?


Ok, so let’s say one of your kids had an ignition moment.  Maybe a cousin of their’s was just draft into the NBA and now they feel destined to do it too.  Now what…

Now it is about investing years of time and effort.

There will be days when the time and effort invested will be easy. There will also be lots of days when the time and effort spent will be CRAZY hard.

There will be certain days where our junior playmakers are just not going to feel motivated.

Then what… We need to teach them how to reach into their cookie jar.

I learned this psychological tool from David Goggins.

As I have mentioned before, I think Goggins is one of the few people on earth who has dived entirely through all of his psychological baggage and bullshit. I make a conscious effort to not swear in my articles, but since I am writing about David Goggins I might as well:)

Goggins has done all of his inner work, and he is “Free” to be totally authentic in everything that he does. This is crazy rare and inspiring. It makes me want to go do some therapy right now followed by an 8-hour solo training session.

One of the tools Goggins has utilized to rise to peak performance (Retired Decorated Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, Professional Endurance Athlete} is a tool he uses called the “Cookie Jar.”

The cookie jar started when he decided to raise money for the Special operations warrior foundation. This fantastic foundation uses the funds for college scholarships and grants for children whose parents have died in combat.

Goggins signed up for a 24-hour Ultra-Marathon to raise money for the foundation.

At mile 70, Goggins felt like he couldn’t take another step, his body began to shut down.

He collapsed on the side of the road. With bloody urine and diarrhea, he found himself asking why. Why am I still doing this to myself? He then remembered that this wasn’t the first time he had been in a situation where the odds were against him, where he was faced with a humanly impossible task but made it possible. This gave him that little piece of motivational juice to stand back up and start moving forward again.

With each step, he remembered that he had accomplished unbelievably difficult tasks before.

The cookie jar method is storing all of the things we’ve endured and conquered in a metaphorical or physical cookie jar. For the times where we feel like giving up, or not doing what we know, we need to do.

This can be in your mind or a real cookie jar. It’s about remembering the times that obstacles have been put in our kids way, and they could have given up but didn’t.

They broke a bad habit, they made a big play, they were a leader on the team.

Whatever the case may be and whatever they have conquered, this should go in their cookie jar for when things get tough.

I also have a similar tool that I use in my daily playmaker system called the Breakfast of Champion.  You can learn more about that here.  


At the time that I am writing this, Keshad Johnson (Oakland, California) is a highly regarded basketball player for the San Diego State Aztecs.

Johnson’s journey to becoming a highly recruited basketball Star started with an ignition moment on Nov. 4, 2011. On Nov. 4, 2011, there was a confrontation between rival Oakland gangs at a bowling alley.

Members of the Lower Bottoms gang allegedly broke into a car from the Acorn gang. They stole a jacket with the slogan, “Hustlanity Mobism” – the name of an Acorn-associated rap music label. “Acorn members,” according to a sentencing memorandum prepared by federal prosecutors, “appear to have retaliated with at least three shootings.”

The first was two days later at 11 a.m. near an elementary school in a Lower Bottoms neighborhood of West Oakland, where a 14-year-old boy was walking home after a sleep-over at a friend’s house.

An SUV pulled up. Two men got out and started shooting… The 14-year-old Kenny Johnson Jr survived, but one of the bullets grazed his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. Kenny Jr. was in eighth grade. Keshad, his younger brother, was 10. “It was just wrong place, wrong time, living in Oakland, rival neighborhoods coming through,” Keshad says. “He got shot right outside my fifth-grade classroom. If I looked out the window, on the sidewalk, I could see the blood. It was still there for the next couple of days when I went to school.”  Wow, heartbreaking…

A few weeks later, Keshad went to watch his brother’s youth basketball team at a local YMCA. Kenny’s coach let Keshad put on his older brother’s jersey while watching the game. Shortly before halftime, the coach decided to put the 10-year-old Keshad into the game with the much bigger teenagers. The coach told a teammate to set him a screen. “I came off the screen … 3 … 2 … 1, and then just launched it from the 3-point line,” Keshad says, “All net. At that point, I just felt like there were angels over me. That was my moment that started my life in basketball. My brother was basically my idol on the court. I wanted to do everything like him, pretty much.”

“When that happened, it just changed the whole way I think about life. I felt like it was my time. When I step on the court, that’s what I think about. I can’t say I’m glad that this happened, but I understand now that there’s a reason for it. Without it, I wouldn’t have the mindset that I do today.”

Keshad Johnson had experienced his moment of Ignition.

Side Note: This story really resonates with me personally for a number of reasons. #1 my friend Bervin has had a very similar life experience as Keshad’s brother, Kenny. Bervin was lying in bed sleeping when a stray bullet came through his window, went into his spine. This paralyzed him from the waist down. The second reason is that I had a really powerful conversation with Keshad’s mother a couple of weeks ago at the grocery store. Amazing Woman, Super Inspiring.

Have your kids had their moment of ignition yet?  If not be on the lookout!

Let’s do this,
Coach Jackson

Have your kids build their own Cookie Jar. For me personally, I am a super kinesthetic learner. This means I learn by doing. This is also one of the reasons why I struggled so much in school growing up. Spending 8 hours a day at a desk is not a strategy designed for kinesthetic learners. So the actual building of a cookie jar is super useful to me. It is also a fun project I can do with my sons’ KJ & Maceo:)

1. The jar: To start, you need a Big Jar. Then you need to put your individual authenticity to it. You want to design it, make it uniquely yours. PIMP THAT JAR OUT! Is “Pimp” still a piece of slang that is still used?  Doubt it, oh well.

2. Making the cookies: Write down or make mental notes of things you’ve endured, overcome, and accomplished, no matter how big or small it might be to someone else isn’t necessary, this is their cookie jar! As long as they feel like they have achieved something, that’s good enough.

3. Baking the cookies: Make as many notes as you like – I’ll bet there’s a lot more they’ve achieved than they might initially think; just be honest and support them as they give themselves their deserved props.

Fill that jar up: Have your kids put all the cookies in their jar and put the jar in a place that they can see it every day.

Coach Jackson
Coach Jackson
Master’s Degrees in Education (Specializing in the Work of Abraham Maslow and Human Potential) and an MBA in International Leadership and Coaching. He is a N.A.S.E certified Speed and Explosion Specialist and Optimize Coach.
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