"Basketball Beyond the Floor"

"My proudest times as a coach are those when I recognize that a group of players has become a team, a whole that is truly greater than the sum of its parts" (Mike Krzyzewski in The Gold Standard written with Jamie K. Spatola). If you were paying attention to the 2010 World Basketball Championships this year and wondered, how did Team USA do it? The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team is the answer to this question. While it doesn't talk about this year's team, it explains how Duke University Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski took over the Team USA program and brought it to life with some key tools. It certainly helps he was blessed with some serious talent on the squad, too. This is one of the first 'how to' coaching books one can take seriously. Each chapter lays out the layers to building a great team and shares the 'moments' from his coaching career which exemplifies this. Think about it. For the past 30 years, he has been the Head Coach of the Duke University Blue Devils, won 3 NCAA Championships and 12 National Coach of the Year awards. Why wouldn't you listen to what he has to say about coaching? There is so much meat to the book that we can't possibly touch on everything, so let's dig into the highlights.

Take the time

This was the underlying thread which ran through the book. Take the time to choose your people, understand context, gain perspective, form relationships, develop a support system, establish standards, cultivate leadership, learn the language, adapt internally, practice, for self assessment, get motivated and last but not least, game time. This is how he lays out each chapter - a sort of 'good coaching techniques' checklist. One of the first Krzyzewski techniques that stood out for me was the notion of 'selfless service'. Coach Krzyzewski wanted to see if his 2006 Olympians had a capacity to feel at a deeper level than looking out for number one. So he brought in a former player of his, who was a General in the United States Army, Bob Brown and 3 wounded soldiers, to give the players a pep talk: "What makes teams great is the selfless service - It's putting the needs of someone else before yourself. On the basketball court that might be diving for the loose ball or taking a charge. On the battlefield it may be running into a wall of bullets or putting your life on the line for someone". Clearly fighting for your country and fighting for Olympic Basketball gold are two very different things. But the point was made. I agree. It is OK to have an ego and be driven, but the ego cannot be bigger than that of the team.

The 'moment' which exemplified this point was my absolute favourite. Captain Scott Smiley was one of the wounded soldiers and was permanently blinded by a piece of shrapnel in his eye. USA Basketball staff got him a set of earphones which were connected to the lav mics on Dwayne Wade and Gilbert Arenas. With Wade and Arenas doing the play-by-play, Captain Smiley could experience practice. Well, doesn't Dwayne Wade pause to express his pride for wearing the Team USA jersey to Captain Smiley but acknowledges people like the Captain were the real heroes? There are a few players I can think of which need this lesson - to think beyond the end of their nose.

Knowing when to "me" and when to "we"

"The best leadership your team can have is a combination of your strengths and theirs" - Mike Krzyzewski. You may or may not know, as Head Coach of the Duke Men's Basketball program, Krzyzewski recruited Kobe Bryant to come play for him. Had he not decided to got straight to the NBA, Krzyzewski says in the book Kobe would have played his college days with him. This is what I find interesting. Krzyzewski saved an email from Kobe and in it Kobe describes his vision for the Olympic team: "...I think our team should be filled with players who are willing to play for you. Guys who want to be coached so that you can do what you do best with no worries of communication between pro players and college coach". This was my concern back in April of 1989 when FIBA voted to allow pro basketball players to play in international competition or for a national team outside the NBA. Olympic players and coaches are not paid so what is the draw for these players? Some come from teams where they are catered to, so how does a college coach get these guys to listen to him? By getting players with Kobe's mindset to model that type of behaviour. Krzyzewski also touches on this when he talks about adapting within the team: "When leaders make clear their willingness to change, it establishes an environment in which everyone can be comfortable adapting". Again, it is OK to have an ego and be confident in yourself but you can't see yourself as above the team. Let's face it, we all have egos and if someone tells you they or someone else doesn't have one, they are clearly delusional. The idea here is, keep the ego in check.

Throw away the rulebook - sort of.

Instead of a list of rules, Mike Krzyzewski believes in establishing a set of standards. He believes once a group agrees on a set of standards, they unite and become focused to a single purpose. In the book, he lists a set of 20 standards his Duke team needs to live by. Here are the ones which stand out for me:

(3) Confront Immediately - Let nothing linger.
(12) Flexibility - We don't complain.
(17) Unselfishness - We make the extra pass. Our value is not measured in playing time.
(18) We are This Duke team - The time is now - not the past.

#12 and #17 kind of go hand in hand since the one thing you hear players complain about is playing time. However, I am not sure it is OK to be satisfied with, say, 5 minutes of playing time. Sure, you don't complain and realize your contribution might have been helping your team gain possession in the transition let's just say, but I think the 5-minute-a-game player needs to continue to work hard and improve his game to show why he deserves more playing time. More playing time means more time on the floor to become better. Something which can't be accomplished in 5 minutes. But I think this is what Krzyzewski is trying to say: work for more playing time, don't try and complain to get it.

Flick Pick of the Week

See if you can find the made for TV movie "Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story". It's a true story about a college player named Hank Gathers, who collapsed and died during an NCAA Tournament game. Keeps with the theme of keeping things in perspective.

To follow this week's discussion, I thought we would read Rebound Rules - The Art of Success 2.0 by another NCAA coach, Rick Pitino. You will also know, Rick Pitino was Coach and President of the Boston Celtics. I want to see how this compares to The Gold Standard. I will see you on Tuesday for another serving of Jiggly Bits. So until then, happy reading.

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