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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

GOING AGAINST A COACHING AXIOM: IT'S THE STRONGEST LINK THAT MATTERS MOST

I have thought often over the course of the past two years about this particular blog post.  Rarely do you want to tackle one of those life-long coaching axioms.  But that's what I'm going to do.

"You're only as strong as your weakest link."

Now don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that your team wouldn't be better if your weakest player had a great attitude and was a hard worker.

But I am saying this:

"You're only as strong as your strongest link."

I base my premise on years of coaching.  I have been fortunate to have coached some special teams.  During my tenure on the college level I have been to six Final Fours -- special teams indeed.

Some of those teams had a player or two that didn't work as hard as they could have or didn't have the best of attitudes.  In fact, with a team, it is almost a safe bet that you will have one or two. 

But the one thing those Final Four teams had was a player or players that were incredibly committed to having a great team.  They were leaders in their actions and in their words.  The best players on those teams were the harderst workers.  The best players on those teams were the unselfish.  Coach Don Meyer said at the very first clinic I ever heard him speak nearly 20 years ago that "if your best player is your hardest worker than you have a chance to be good...but if he's not, you could be in for a long season."

The strongest link is the most important because it is the link that holds the chain together.  The stronger that link, the more links it can "carry" and "lift."  If you have a team that is top heavy with strong links than you are about to have a great season.

I believe a good coach can minimize the effects of a player with a bad attitude or poor work ethic if they are at the bottom of the chain...but if that weak link is at the top it's going to break at some point and you will be scrambling to hold it together.

As a coach, I think it is important to recognize that and make sure that you put the necessary energy into communicating and motivating your strongest link.  Too often we get caught as coaches spending 80% of our time on the bottom 20% of our team.

Work hard to find and develop strong links.  Talk to them about how important they are to the success of the team.  Let them know that it is up to them to be the hardest workers when the coaches aren't around.  They need to be the most enthusiastic whenever everyone else is flat.  Yes, they need to get on their teammates when necessary to hold them accountable but they most also know when and how to lift them when need be.

Make the time to meet periodically with your "strongest link" to coach him or her up.  Give them the attention they need and make sure the team knows that you have his or her back.  Coach your strongest link on what you need from him or her in all areas of the game -- including on the floor, in the weight room and in the locker room.

I have also coached teams that had good talent but did not have a strong link at the top and those teams ALWAYS felt short of their potential. 

Last week we watched the movie "Miracle" about the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team and Coach Herb Brooks use the quote "the legs feed the wolf" to explain the need for conditioning. 

I would add "the strongest link carries the chain."  How strong is your strongest link(s) and what you doing to make them stronger?