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Monday, November 25, 2013

THE HEALING POWERS OF BASKETBALL

I posted the above photo on my social media accounts last week and it got a lot of responses.  The photo actually came from an article www.Grantland.com written by Rafe Bartholomew .  Here are some excerpts but please read the entire article here -- it will be worth your time.

There’s not much to say here. Almost two weeks ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan — called Yolanda in the Philippines — made landfall, laying waste to coastal areas in Eastern Samar and Leyte provinces and leveling much of Tacloban City, a regional hub where more than 200,000 people lived before the storm. It was one of the most powerful — possibly the strongest — storms to make landfall since weather satellites became capable of measuring hurricane-force winds. Thousands are confirmed dead; thousands more are missing. The images and stories of the storm’s aftermath stretched our imagination — it was the kind of devastation the CGI masters behind science-fiction films strive to imagine, only it was harrowing and gut-wrenching and real.

The situation remains dire, but the Philippine government and the international aid effort have managed to stabilize the storm-hit areas and begin to rebuild what can never be totally restored. And with that, some extraordinary images of otherwise ordinary, everyday life started getting passed around on social media yesterday.

It started with a moving essay by the Associated Press’s Todd Pitman, who happened across a half-court basketball game amid the ruins in Tacloban. “The basketball goal was one of the first things this neighborhood rebuilt," he wrote. Before long, Twitter and Facebook were lighting up with images of Filipinos playing hoops in the wasteland, capturing the country’s intense love for the sport and its people’s awe-inspiring resilience. Photos like these have actually become a recurring meme in the wake of disasters — shots of men and boys playing ball in chest-deep floodwaters after August’s Tropical Storm Maring and 2009’s Tropical Storm Ondoy enjoyed similar viral runs through the Internet and are now imprinted in the minds of many Filipinos who remember those trying times and all the strength it took to bounce back from them.

Basketball is not going to rebuild Tacloban or Guiuan or Bantayan Island or Roxas City or any of the other towns that suffered from Yolanda’s wrath. But it will help people heal.

Again, see more amazing stories and photos by clicking here.

TONY DUNGY ON INTEGRITY

Tony Dungy: Integrity is what you do when no one is watching; it's doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage. Integrity is keeping your word. Integrity is that internal compass and rudder that directs you to where you know you should go when everything around you is pulling you in a different direction. Some people think reputation is the same thing as integrity, but they are two different things. Your reputation is the public perception of your integrity. Because it's other people's opinions of you, it may or may not be accurate. Others determine your reputation, but only you determine your integrity.

Integrity is critical to everything we do because it is the foundation of trustworthiness in our own eyes, in the eyes of those around us, and in God's eyes. Integrity is also a critical element in marriage. Can I count on you to be my marriage partner? Do you mean what you say when we exchange those wedding vows, or is it only for better...or better? Do I have to worry about you having an affair because you aren't honest in other areas of your life? Can I count on you to do what you say you will do, no matter what may come along to make it difficult?

Excerpt from an article posted on www.thechristianpost -- read the entire post here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

WHAT IS YOUR TEAM'S ROAD MENTALITY? IT STARTS WITH YOU!

Teams that have long-term success over the course of a season, and certainly over extended seasons do a lot of things well.  There is a culture they have created that permeates that success.  Part of that formula has to be the attitude you take on the road.  How are you going to treat road games and road trips? 

Of course, this all begins with the head coach and then the assistant coaches.  Players can feel when the staff is comfortable and confident on the road.  To me the thing the road represents is the unknown.  At home, you can control so many more things.  On the road, you are often at the mercy of bus companies, hotels, restaurants, weather, etc.  How do you respond?  Coach Dale Brown always talk about this with our staff.  He told us to never let our team see us sweat on the road.  We were to laugh off problems and give the team the feeling that anytime of little setback has nothing to do with our preparation and performance.  When we got back, we would work to see how we could correct a problem -- but the team was to stay focused.

A big road success story the past few years have been the Texas A&M football team.  Being in Aggieland I can tell you that this team takes on the attitude of their leader -- Coach Kevin Sumlin.  He has done a great job of keeping them focused in light of a lot of distractions -- and that includes road games.  Here is a little insight via some excerpts of an article written by Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com:

While Kyle Field has always stood as one of the best college football environments -- and a tough venue for its visitors -- the Aggies have had much better success in big games away from home since the Manziel-Kevin Sumlin era began last season. In the past two seasons, Texas A&M has gone 9-0 in road and neutral site games, compared to 10-4 (the only four losses under Sumlin) at home. While the Aggies have averaged five more points (48.3-43.8) and have an average points per game margin of 22.4 at home, Texas A&M has averaged 34 more yards (587.7-553.7) and is 4-0 in games decided by seven points or less on the road, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
I feel like when we go on the road, it's us against the world," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr said. "We go into the stadium with a mindset that we have to come out here on top. Coach Sumlin has instilled in us that we have to focus and keep the same mindset, just like we're playing at home, but we're away."
"You go on the road, you try to create your own energy," Sumlin said. "We don't make a big deal about road trips. That's part of it. As a competitor, the same type of enthusiasm you get from the home crowd, from an electricity standpoint, you ought to be able to utilize that on the road, and I think our team does a good job of that."

Saturday presents a unique experience/challenge for the Aggies. Tiger Stadium is no walk in the park; it's a trek through a savage jungle. LSU is 55-7 at home under coach Les Miles, including 27-7 in SEC play. The Tigers have also lost just one home game since 2009.

One does not simply walk into Tiger Stadium, but the Aggies don't seem fazed by raucous environment they're strolling into.

"It'll be a tough challenge, but it's an exciting one, one that we're all looking forward to," senior receiver Travis Labhart said.

"It's a good feeling to know that when you go on the road that it's just you and your teammates -- band of brothers -- and we go out and play our hardest and luckily we've prevailed so far with Coach Sumlin [on the road]."

For junior receiver Malcome Kennedy, playing on the road is intoxicating. Instead of battling the crowd, he chooses to admire them, and inhales their energy.

"You just look around and you see the crowd and, a lot of the times, I don't know if other players get the feeling but I get the feeling that they're cheering for me," Kennedy said. "It's something weird. Different players have different methods of approaching it but it's a very awesome experience."

WHAT IS YOUR POINT GUARD DEVELOPMENT PLAN

I've yet to be a part of a good team that didn't have outstanding point guard play.  What the point guard means to the team in some ways can vary by his/her strengths and weaknesses as well as the philosophy of the head coach and the system of play that is utilized.  But in each case, a big part of outstanding point guard play will come about because the point guard buys into what the head wants and needs.  We've heard it before but an excellent point guard is an extension of the head coach.

This of course takes a commitment from the point guard but also the head coach in terms of teaching and developing.  I really enjoyed an article by Genaro Armas of the Associated Press which details some of the growth and development of the point guard position at Marquette. 

My question to you as a coach is what are you doing to cultivate the development of your point guards?  Are you meeting with them on an individual basis?  Are you having video sessions to talk about what's going on at practice and games?  Do you show them video of other point guards (pro and college) so they can see what it is that you want? Do they fully and completely understand your expectations?  Do you have open conversations -- meaning that you are taking the time to listen to him/her -- so that you understand them better (not just on the court but off)?  Do you have your point guard's back?

Here are some excerpts from that article (you can read it all here):

Want to be the point guard at No. 17 Marquette? Get used to the pressure.

The Golden Eagles open the season Friday night against Southern with Wilson presumably inheriting the point guard job held more than capably last season by Junior Cadougan.

"You've got to be one of the hardest working guys on the team every day," Wilson said. "You've got to be ready every day, mentally and physically. It's a hard thing to explain."

Last month at the team's media day, on the day preseason practice started, coach Buzz Williams talked at length of building trust with Wilson. It's a natural inclination given the point guard position is often considered the coach's eyes and ears on the floor.

Especially with four freshmen joining a team picked by Big East coaches to win the reconfigured conference.

"You've got to make sure that people are where they're supposed to be," Wilson said. "I know I may know it, but I know the other kids may not know it. I'm speaking up for them."

"He's trying really hard, wanting to do right. He's starting to ask quarterback-like questions, like 'When this happens, what am I supposed to do,'" Williams said.

"I think it takes a lot of pressure off all the guards," Derrick Wilson said about the presence in the frontcourt.

Williams said the only starter that he's settled on for Friday night is Otule. Otherwise the other spots are up in the air — though really Derrick Wilson seems like the only true option at the point.

Just like in practice.

"Change the team, change the lineup, mix and match: Derrick's team wins," Williams said.

SIR ALEX FERGUSON: A CHAMPION'S FORMULA

I came across the following article written by Anita Elberse for the Harvard Business Review.  These are just a few excerpts of well-written length article on Sir Alex Ferguson who for 26 seasons as the manager of the Manchester United soccer club.  In that span his teams won 13 English titles and 25 other championships.  As Elberse opened her article, "Some call him the greatest coach in history."

Here are some of the excerpts of the story:

Winning a game is only a short-term gain-you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency. You don’t ever want to take your eyes off the first team, but our youth development efforts ended up leading to our many successes in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
I always take great pride in seeing younger players develop. The job of a manager, like that of a teacher, is to inspire people to be better. Give them better technical skills, make them winnners, make them better people, and they can go anywhere in life. When you give young people a chance, you not only create a longer life span for the team, you also create loyalty. They will always remember that you were the manager who gave them their first opportunity. Once they know you are batting for them, they will accept your way. You’re really fostering a sense of family. If you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you.

Dare to Rebuild Your Team
Even in times of great success, Ferguson worked to rebuild his team.

“He’s never really looking at this moment, he’s always looking into the future,” Ryan Giggs told us. "Knowing what needs strengthening and what needs refreshing-he’s got that knack.”
Set High Standards and Hold Everyone to Them

Ferguson speaks passionately about wanting to instill values in his players. More than giving them technical skills, he wanted to inspire them to strive to do better and to never give up-in other words, to make them winners.
I had to lift players’ expectations. They should never give in. I said that to them all the time: “If you give in once, you’ll give in twice. “ And the work ethic and energy I had seemed to spread throughout the club. I used to be the first to arrive in the morning. In my later years, a lot of my staff members would already be there when I got in at 7 A.M. I think they understood why I came in early-they knew there was a job to be done. There was a feeling that “if he can do it, then I can do it.”

I constantly told my squad that working hard all your life is a talent. But I expected even more from the star players. I expected them to work even harder. I said, “You’ve got to show that you are the top players.” And they did. That’s why they are star players-they prepared to work harder. Superstars with ego are not the problem some people may think. They need to be winners, because that massages their egos, so they will do what it takes to win. I used to see [Cristiano] Ronaldo [one of the world’s top forwards, who now plays for Real Madrid], Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, and others out there practicing for hours. I’d have to chase them in. I’d be banging on the window saying, “We’ve got a game on Saturday.” But they wanted the time to practice. They realized that being a Manchester United player is not an easy job.
There are occasions when you have to ask yourself whether certain players are affecting the dressing-room atmosphere, the performance of the team, and your control of the players and staff. If they are, you have to cut the cord. There is absolutely no other way. It doesn’t matter if the person is the best player in the world. The long-term view of the club is more important than any individual, and the manager has to be the most important one in the club.

Why should I have gone to bed with doubts? I would wake up the next day and take the necessary steps to maintain discipline. It’s important to have confidence in yourself to make a decision and to move on once you have. It’s not about looking for adversity or for opportunities to prove power; it’s about having control and being authoritative when issues do arise.
Ferguson: No one likes to be criticized. Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player-for any human being-there is nothing better than hearing “Well done.” Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.

When their teams are behind late in the game, many managers will direct players to move forward, encouraging them to attack. Ferguson was both unusually aggressive and unusually systematic about his approach. He prepared his team to win. He had players regularly practice how they should play if a goal was needed with 10, five, or three minutes remaining. “We practice for when the going gets tough, so we know what it takes to be successful in those situations,” one of the United’s assistant coaches told us.
United practice sessions focused on repetition of skills and tactics. “We look at the training sessions as opportunities to learn and improve,” Ferguson said. “Sometimes the players might think, ‘Here we go again,’ but it helps us win.” There appears to be more  to this approach than just the common belief that winning teams are rooted in habits-that they can execute certain plays almost automatically. There is also an underlying signal that you are never quite satisfied with where you are and are constantly looking for ways to improve. This is how Ferguson put it: “The message is simple: We cannot sit still at this club.”

I think all my teams had perseverance-they never gave in. So I didn’t really need to worry about getting that message across. It’s a fantastic characteristic to have, and it is amazing to see what can happen in the dying seconds of a match.
One of the things I’ve done well over the years is manage change. I believe that you control change by accepting it. That also means having confidence in the people you hire. The minute staff members are employed, you have to trust that they are doing their jobs. If you micromanage and tell people what to do, there is no point in hiring them. The most important thing is to not stagnate. I said to David Gill a few years ago, “The only way we can keep players at Manchester United is if we have the best training ground in Europe.” That is when we kick-started the medical center. We can’t sit still.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

HALF-COURT OFFENSE: PHILOSOPHY, COMPONENTS, DEVELOPMENT

A few years ago with did a series of blog posts on Half-Court Offense.  We spoke of philosophy, development and strategy.  We got a lot of great feedback at that time so I thought we'd list all three parts below:

In the first part of our series we talked about why it is important to execute in your half-court offense. For teams to be consistently efficient offensively, they must be taught and coached to execute their half-court offense.  We could certainly debate the advantages and disadvantages of the various half-court offensive approaches from motion to continuity to quicker hitters and beyond but we will skip that instead just to stress the need to be good in the half-court. Click on the link below to read the entire post on our thoughts on half-court execution:

THOUGHTS ON HALF-COURT OFFENSE (PART I)

In the second part of our series we talked about the key components that go in to the making of a good half-court offense.  What are those components of good half-court offense and how can we give you some things to consider when your are putting together your offensive system of play?  Click the link below. 

THOUGHTS ON HALF-COURT OFFENSE (PART II)

In the third part of our series we asked what are some of the things that promote the best teaching of half-court offense. Though years of coaching and, more importantly, watching some of the best teach in their programs, I have noticed a few common denominators and share them in the link below:

THOUGHTS ON HALF-COURT OFFENSE (PART III)


CONGRATULATING A FRIEND

Going a little bit off the beaten path this morning from our normal blog post to send congratulations to a dear friend.  The official word came out yesterday that Bill Martin, Associate Sports Information Director at LSU will be leaving to become the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at Mississippi State.

Unless you work in an Athletic Department for an extended period of time, it is hard to understand the depth of relationships that are developed.  Certainly those that work 9 to 5 jobs create friendships in their work place but in the world of collegiate athletes there are no 9 to 5 jobs.  We work with each other in the evenings and on the weekends...we travel around the country and even the world with each other...we often share holidays together.

For me, that experience at LSU was made richer because of my relationship with Bill who served as our Sports Information Director in women's basketball while working along side Michael Bonnette to handle football.  You could also always count on Bill to jump in and help with baseball as well, especially when the NCAA's rolled into Alex Box.  In fact, anyone could count on Bill to help with anything at anytime -- that's the kind of man he is.

My wish for everyone is that in their lifetime they get the opportunity to work along someone that has the passion for their job as does Bill...someone that cares deeply about the student-athletes he works with as does Bill...someone that has the level of commitment to his craft as does Bill...and someone that brings that energy to life each and everyday like Bill.  They say the key to living a successful life is maintaining your enthusiasm for what you do -- that would explain Bill's success.  Whether it was his LSU Tigers, his St. Louis Cardinals and now his Bulldogs, you'll be hard pressed to find someone as loyal.

There is a hole in the LSU Athletic Department that will need to be filled with his departure but I can tell you that Mississippi State just got better.

CONGRATULATIONS BILL!

Monday, November 18, 2013

HAMMERS AND HUGGERS

The following comes from an outstanding book I'm reading titled "Damn Few" by Rorke Denver, the former head of Basic and Advanced SEAL Training.  The book, which I haven't quite finished yet is a great read into how the SEALS train.  If was fascinating to know that  not only did they develop roles within the SEALS but in the instructors as well:
 
The students have a term for the most fearsome instructors, instructors who demand the most, yell the loudest, and seem the most impossible to please.  They are the "hammers" -- loud, hard, and unyielding.  They are the opposite of the "huggers," instructors who are warmer, friendlier, and kinder.  The truth is that BUDS/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) need both.  The BUD/S huggers, who'd be considered hammers anywhere else, motivate with support, encouragement, and understanding.  The hammers motivate by demanding more and more and more.

DEFINING AND DEVELOPING YOUR CONTRIBUTION

I actually posted this in our blog for players, Hoopboost but after reading it, I think it is just as important for assistant coaches, support staff, managers and others who have important roles in successful program.  So when you read "player," think "assistant coach" or whatever role you are filling...

The mindset of a player who wants to contribute to a team's success is much different than a selfish player that is just looking to be a start and standout.

The following comes from "On Managing Yourself" which is a book sponsored by the Harvard Business Review.  This particular passage comes from the great Peter Drucker who believes we must start with the first essential question:

What should my contribution be?

To answer it, they must address three distinct elements:

#1 What does the situation require?

#2 Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?

#3 And finally, what results have to be achieved to make a difference.

Drucker's questions seem quite simple but it takes a truly honest, self-evaluating team player to ask these questions.  Then it takes a committed, team-oriented player to go about doing the work necessary to create the contribution that he/she wants to truly make.

THE GROWTH OF KOBE BRYANT

To follow are excerpts of an outstanding article written on Kobe Bryant for Sports Illustrated by Lee Jenkins.  It is a very lengthy article and you can read it in its entirety here.  But here are some of the parts I've pulled out to share with our team:
 
"I have self-doubt," Bryant says. "I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I'm like, 'My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don't have it. I just want to chill.' We all have self-doubt. You don't deny it, but you also don't capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. ... I don't know how I'm going to come back from this injury. I don't know. Maybe I'll be horses---." He pauses, as if envisioning himself as an eighth man. "Then again, maybe I won't, because no matter what, my belief is that I'm going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I'm going to stay with it until I figure it out."

 *****

Summer of 1994 and Bryant struggles to sleep in a dorm room at Fairleigh Dickinson in Hackensack, N.J. He has earned one of the precious spots at the Adidas-sponsored ABCD camp, but he's not sure if he belongs. "I was lucky to grow up in Italy at a time when basketball in America was getting f----- up with AAU shuffling players through on strength and athleticism," Bryant says. "I missed all that, and instead I was taught extreme fundamentals: footwork, footwork, footwork, how to create space, how to handle the ball, how to protect the ball, how to shoot the ball. I wasn't the strongest kid at that camp. I wasn't the fastest. I wasn't the most athletic. I was probably the most skillful, but that didn't matter. It was all about the 360 windmill dunks."

 *****

He returns to Lower Merion High in suburban Philadelphia and works out daily at 5 a.m., often alongside coach Gregg Downer, with the intention of becoming the top high school player in the U.S. "My coach used to yell, 'We're steak and potatoes! We're the real thing!' " Bryant recalls. "When I went back to ABCD the next summer, I was ranked third, behind Tim Thomas and Lester Earl. I told myself, I'm not leaving this camp until I'm No. 1. I'm not leaving! Back then, if you were a highly rated player, you could stay in a nice hotel. I shacked up in the dorms. I could tell that the game meant more to me than everybody else. Other guys could leave it afterward and detach from it. I couldn't. It stuck with me. I thought about it all night. ... They let players vote on who was best, and one day this kid was eating breakfast across from me. He said, 'Hey, have you seen number 143? Have you seen that kid play? He's unreal. I'm voting for him.' He didn't know it because I was so skinny, but that was me. I was 143."

 *****

Winter of 1996 and Lower Merion has a chance to win its first state championship in 53 years. Vaunted Chester High is waiting in the semifinals. "They'd already beaten us a couple of times with Kobe," Downer says. "The week of the game, our starters were competing pretty hard with the subs, and there was a collision diving for a loose ball. I look over and see Kobe lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. All your worst fears are realized in that moment. He's got a broken nose heading into one of the most electric games in a long time. We spent a couple days frantically trying to find a mask that would fit him. The day of the game, at the Palestra, he warmed up with the mask on. But in the locker room, right before we went out on the court, he ripped it off in front of everybody. He threw it against the wall and yelled, 'I'm not wearing this thing! Let's go to war!' He scored 39 points. We won."
 
Three days later Lower Merion takes state.

 *****

Winter of 1999 and Bryant is bracing for his third straight season coming off the bench. "I was looking at Ray Allen and Allen Iverson, guys I came into the league with, who were already starting and kicking ass," Bryant says. "I'm sitting here on the bench thinking, I'm just as good. Why aren't I playing?" Jellybean puts similar questions to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who explains the benefits of patience, but Jellybean's son is still years away from comprehending that concept. Bryant takes out his rage on the starters, punishing them in practice to prove a point. "I had to kick their ass every day," he says.

 *****

“Once your culture becomes such that your leader communicates, then everybody does the same. We still didn't hang out together off the court, but on the road we'd all go out for dinner. I learned that a lot gets accomplished over dinner and a drink."

 *****

Summer of 2007 and O.J. Mayo, the No. 1 high school player in the country, attends the Kobe Basketball Academy at Loyola Marymount. Mayo asks Bryant if they can work out together. "Yeah," Bryant responds, "I'll pick you up at three." The next evening Mayo sees Bryant and asks, "Where were you?" Bryant looks confused. "Three in the morning," he says. "Not three in the afternoon." Mayo slinks away. The back-patting era, however long it lasted, is over. "I can't relate to lazy people," Bryant says, speaking generally, not about Mayo. "We don't speak the same language. I don't understand you. I don't want to understand you. Go over there. If I drive somebody too hard, and he feels like he's over-committing to the game and cracks because of it, I don't want to go to battle with him in the seventh game anyway. ... Some guys don't want this. It's too much. It's too uncomfortable. If that's the case, then we can't play together. It won't work. I believe you need a confrontational crew. If I have to resort to this [shaking his head] instead of telling you that you're being lazy and f------ up, then we'll never resolve anything."

 *****

"Maybe I won't have as much explosion," Bryant says. "Maybe I'll be slower. Maybe I'll lose quickness. But I have other options. It's like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There's a reason he's still at the top after all these years. He's the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time. He can fight myriad styles at myriad tempos. He can throw fast punches or off-speed punches, and he can throw them from odd angles."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

USING LOCKER ROOM SIGNS TO GET A MESSAGE ACROSS

We all have signs in and around our locker rooms.  It's yet another way for us to develop culture -- with a message.  Here's a story about one of the signs in Nick Saban's locker room at Alabama as reported for www.al.com by Michael Casagrande.

Nick Saban never misses an opportunity to motivate.

Sayings and quotes are found all over the Alabama football locker room walls. Asked about the famous "never again" signs after the 2010 Iron Bowl, Saban got to talking about his favorite sign and saying.

"Dumb players make dumb decisions. Smart players seldom make dumb decisions. Which are you?

It came from legendary coach Bill Parcells and Saban spoke about it on his weekly radio show Thursday night. It came from an incident when Parcells was a sophomore high school basketball player and he yelled at an official. The technical foul cost his team the game.

Parcells told the story and the quote his coach uttered in a clinic Saban holds every year.
"I said that's going on the wall," Saban said.

Saban said the locker room has a lot of these sayings because he's always looking for a lesson to teach the Tide.

JOHN MAXWELL: INSIGHTS ON IMPROVEMENT

John Maxwell's latest book, "Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn," is outstanding.  It of course gives a great blueprint for life in terms of handling both success and failure but it certainly hits home with some great lessons to share with your team through the season.  The following comes from a section Maxwell titled: Insights of Improvement.

The desire to improve themselves is in the DNA of all successful people.
1.       Improving Yourself Is the First Step to Improving Everything Else
Success does not always bring growth, but personal growth will always add to our success

“It is the capacity to develop and improve themselves that distinguishes leaders from followers.” – Bennis and Nanus

2.       Improvement Requires Us to Move Out of Our Comfort Zone
Novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky observed, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

What does it take to get us to move out of our comfort zone? In my observation, it requires two things:

Handling Our Aversion to Making Mistakes
Mistakes are not failures. They are proof that we are making an effort. When we understand that, we can more easily move out of our comfort zone, try something new, and improve.

Overcoming a Life Controlled by FeelingsImprovement demands a commitment to grow long after the mood in which it was made has passed.
“The most common trait I have found in successful people is that they conquered the temptation to give up.” – Peter Lowe

3.       Improvement is Not Satisfied with “Quick Fixes”
Losers don’t lose because they focus on losing .They lose because they focus on just getting by

Accept the Fact that Improvement Is a Never-Ending Battle
Carl Sandberg said “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar and a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

I’m not where I’m supposed to be, I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be. I haven’t learned how to arrive; I’ve just learned how to keep going.

Accept the Fact that Improvement Is a Result of Small Steps
As Andrew Wood observed, “Success in most things comes not from some gigantic stroke of fate, but from simple, incremental progress.”

Elbert Hubbard observed, “The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it—so fine that we are often on the line and we do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a  little more patience, would have achieved success?”

4.       Improvement Is a Daily Commitment
David D. Glass, the president and chief executive officer of Walmart, was once asked why he admired Sam Walton, the founder of the organization. His answer was, “There’s never been a day in his life, since I’ve known him, that he didn’t improve in some way.”

As I have worked to improve on a day-by-day basis, two words have helped me to stay on track. The first is intention. Every morning as I start my day, I intend to learn something that day. This develops a mind-set in me to look for things that will help me improve. The other word is contemplation. Time alone is an essential for self-improvement.

“The most important words we will ever utter are those words we say to ourselves, about ourselves, when we are by ourselves.”

If you want to spend some time each day to try to improve yourself, you might want to begin by asking yourself three questions at the end of the day, as I do. They are:

What did I learn today? What spoke both to my heart and my head?

How did I grow today? What touched my heart and affection my actions?

What will I do differently? Unless I can state specifically what I plan to do differently, I won’t learn anything.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

WE ARE MARSHALL

It's November 14 and today at noon there will be an emotional gathering at the Memorial Fountain on the campus of Marshall University.  I know this because as a student and later as an assistant basketball coach, I attended and witnessed one of most unique experiences I have ever had on a college campus.  
 
On November 14, 1970, a plane carrying the Marshall football team, staff, administrators and boosters crashed upon approach of the airport in Huntington killing all 75.  I will have problems remembering later today where I placed my car keys but I will never forget sitting on the floor in front of the television those many years ago on a raining night in West Virginia only to have the television show I was watching be interrupted by a news bulletin.  I can remember clearly an extremely emotional broadcaster named Bos Johnson come on the air to give us all the news that the Thundering Herd's plane had gone down in the hills just short of the runway.  Later as a journalism student at Marshall, I had a class taught by Bos Johnson where one day he spoke about the difficulty of delivering the news that night when he knew personally so many on the plane.

The Memorial Fountain will be turned off today in honor of those lives lost and remain off until the spring.

Huntington is like a lot of college towns -- it's special and unique and makes up a lot of what the community is about.  College football is a big part of that and in a brief tragic moment it was taken away.  As is documented in the movie "We Are Marshall," with great debate, the university opted to continue football the next season without pause.  What the movie doesn't tell is the story of the next few decades and how incredibly difficult it was for the football program to rebuild.  While I was a student at Marshall in the late 70's, there was actually a vote to eliminate football at Marshall with a few believing it would never return to a program of respectability.

But rise from the ashes we did.  Today Marshall is preparing for a game tonight in a season where they will have an opportunity to again play in a bowl game.  And that speaks for the spirit of more people that can be counted that over the years have worked hard to restore and maintain excellence in the Thundering Herd program.

I am biased of course, but I think it is the most devastating story in sports followed by one of the great comeback stories certainly of my lifetime.  Not the comeback of an injured player or a team that was struggling.  But of a program that was briefly but completely erased from the field of competition.

Above all, however, today is a day to remember those who perished while representing Marshall University.  Today is in their memory.

WE ARE MARSHALL

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

WHO'S RUNNING YOUR LOCKER ROOM?

Game are won and lost in the locker room -- when the coach is not around.  The term "culture" is thrown around too much because not enough truly understand it or are committed to creating it.  The key to "culture" is that is must permeate in all facets of your program to truly be "culture."  Coach Don Meyer talked to me once about creating culture and he asked me, "Who runs your locker room when you aren't around?"  He spoke to me about how critically important this was and how we need to know as well as help direct and create what we wanted in the locker room when we weren't around.

Below are some excerpts from an article written by  of Yahoo Sports.  It's a great look into the Patriots team and their thoughts on the culture that effects their locker room.  You can read the entire article here.

The Patriots' organization is not perfect. One of its best, young, former players is currently awaiting trial on murder charges. The fall of Aaron Hernandez demonstrates how even the best-run organizations can make major misjudgments of character. Belichick and his staff either didn't see, or ignored Hernandez' spiral into an alleged lifestyle of violence. But that spiral took place outside the walls of Patriots Place in Foxboro. You could argue, and probably successfully, that New England's oversight was even more egregious than Miami's. If Hernandez is guilty, at least one man lost his life, and maybe more. But there's only so far an employer can be held responsible for the actions of their employees outside the workplace. In the NFL, the workplace is the locker room. And that's where the Patriots' issues have been few and far between since Belichick took over.

Inside the walls of the locker room, Belichick has developed a culture of player equality, one that treats future Hall of Famer Tom Brady exactly the same as a rookie free agent like Kenbrell Thompkins.

"He treats me like a rookie. You want to say 'Go screw yourself' but you can't because he's your coach and you say 'You know what, he's right,'" Brady said in 2012 before the Super Bowl (via ESPNBoston.com).

There's no hating on rookies, because everyone is treated like a rookie. No player is made to feel superior in the eyes of Belichick, so conversely, no player is made to feel inferior.

Do your job. If you live by those words, there's a place for you in the Patriots locker room. If you don't, nobody is sent to "toughen you up." You're cut. Or traded. Either way, you're gone.

The Patriots are not perfect. The multitude of references to "Spygate" that are sure to populate the comments section below this column will attest to that. But one thing critics can never accuse Patriots' management of is lack of control inside the locker room.

The New England Patriots begin and end with Bill Belichick. Period. And Belichick addressed how he lays down the rules of the locker room each season on Boston sports radio station WEEI:

"I state certain guidelines, and as things come up during the year that I think need to be addressed as an entire team -- and I'm not saying talking to the players, I'm saying the coaches, myself, we're talking all of us: 'Here's how we're going to do things' or 'Here's something that has come up, and here's how we're going to address it' if it's 'We're not going to have any more of this' or 'This is OK, or in the best interests of the team.'

Now, a lot of times those conversations also come up with the captains, whether they bring them up first or I bring them up first. We all talk as captains and they are representatives of the players -- you can't talk to all 53 guys, but they represent the players and will say 'How do we feel about this? How do we feel about that?'"

If the Dolphins coaching staff really did encourage Richie Incognito to "toughen up" Jonathan Martin, it made as big of a misjudgment of Incognito's character is it did Martin's. And while Belichick hasn't always been a perfect judge of character when it comes to who plays for him, the Patriots seem to consistently have core group high-character team leaders. From Willie McGinnest, to Tedy Bruschi, to Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, Belichick has always found models of hard work and steady leadership to take the reigns when the coaches aren't around.

"I'm fortunate. I've had a lot of great captains through my time here with the Patriots," Belichick said on WEEI. "Those guys are not only great players and great leaders and workers, but they also have a very good sense of what's right and what's wrong for the group, for the team in the locker room. A lot of times they can see things that are potentially coming over the horizon that are better to address before they become a problem than after something happens and then there's hard feelings or maybe a misinterpretation of something. I think it's definitely important to try to stay ahead of it, and I certainly bring that up at the beginning of the year, and on an as-needed basis during the course of the year."

In the end, there is something to the "Patriot way."

Do your job.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

HANDLING HIGH EXPECATIONS

We often blog about what teams have to do to improve.  We blog about turning a program or a player around.  But there are those teams that don't need to be turned around.  They have established themselves as the best among the best.  Unless you have been fortunate enough to coach in those situations, you may not realize the difficulty in keeping that type of team/program focused and moving forward.  There are many distractions and pitfalls for successful teams/players and you must have a philosophy and plan to keep your team growing.

This past week we had a road trip.  I like to grab a book and magazine/internet articles to take with me while we travel and get some reading in.  Often I will grab previous read items that I have earmarked as worthy of another read.  This past trip, one such article for me was written by my friend Don Yaeger -- an article from 2008.  Having been blessed with being involved with some outstanding programs, Don's article gives a lot of insight about the challenges involved with and how to continue to improve when you are at the top.

I strongly encourage everyone to click here and read the entire article -- it's a tremendous read as Don gets input from UNC's Roy Williams along with Joe Torre and Tom Coughlin.  Here are some of the nuggets I pulled:

Roy Williams doesn't hesitate in saying which he prefers: "Give me great players and big goals anytime."

Roy Williams: "But I want them to have dreams, not expectations. I want them to have goals, not be concerned about what others say.  I wanted them to realize from the earliest point that others who have lots to say have nothing invested.  We will be successful if we make the investment and ignore the hype.  If you have dreams and goals and are committed to them, are working toward them, it becomes easier to block those outside forces."

Joe Torre told Tom Coughlin: "Leading when everyone expects you to win really requires that you convince every member of your team that last year doesn't matter.  And that's tough to do because all year long they're seeing the words Defending Champion placed before their names.  The only thing that winning last year means is that your opponents are looking forward to playing you."

Roy Williams: "I recruit character as much as I recruit ability.  And if you've built a team of character, they can handle moments that others cannot and they accept coaching on how to manage pressure."

Joe Torre: "The second you think you've arrived, someone passes you.  You have to always be in pursuit."

Roy Williams: "Most elite teams have elite players.  And the guy others look up to also happens to be dedicated to constant development, that's a dream situation.

Roy Williams: "...the way you deal with expectations is to focus only on today.  Yes, we have a plan for the entire year, but it all begins with what we are going to do today, you're preparing yourself to be the best you can be tomorrow.  It sounds simple, but it's not.  If each of us works every day to be the best we can be on that day and then come back and do the same tomorrow, then we have a better chance of being our very best at year's end.  Will the be enough to win a national championship?  That's hard to say in college basketball today.  But handling as high expectations as we are gives us our best chance for success."

BILL SELF ON REBOUNDING

"If you're going to value what is important in rebounding, boxing out is definitely 25-50 percent part of it.  The other part is having guys who are relentless on the glass, not allowing yourself to be blocked out.  Desire outweighs footwork when it comes to crashing the glass."

-Bill Self

Sunday, November 10, 2013

SABAN ON TEAM CHEMISTRY AND PRACTICE MOTIVATION

We often blog about the importance of team chemistry.  We believe you have to meet as a staff and have a plan of attack in developing it just as you would your offense, your defense, your transition game.  It was a topic that Coach Sue Gunter brought up each Monday in our staff meetings.  "What are we going to do this week to improve/maintain our team chemistry."

Here are is what Michael Casagrande of www.al.com wrote about Nick Saban and how he handled some chemistry issues this year.  What's impressive is that its been a long time since Alabama has lost yet Coach Saban is cognizant of how his team is meshing. 

It's a great column by Casagrande which you can read on line here.

The month of September didn't include an Alabama loss, but coach Nick Saban wasn't happy with a few things.

These were internal things that were visible if you looked closely on Saturday afternoons.

"I didn't like the chemistry of the team in the beginning of the season," Saban said on his radio show Thursday night. "There was just something not right."

It was a generational thing.

"The older guys and the younger guys weren't gee-hawing like you'd like for them to. The younger guys weren't respecting the older guys like they should and the older guys probably didn't care enough about the development of the younger guys."

That doesn't fit with Saban's vision of the way his program should run.

So in the third or fourth week of the season, he implemented a new approach.

"I started to call the players in," Saban said. "I said you have to go talk to five players. I'm not going to ask you which ones, you choose them, but you have to make it a point to go talk to five players and say 'How do you feel? What's the problem?' Show some understanding. I've been there before. This is how I managed this, this is how I handled it so you're doing something to invest some time and help somebody else be able to mature and do the things they need to do to be able to mature and be successful."

Communication improved a lot since then and the breakdowns tailed off on the field. The effort continues. Every Wednesday the older players meet with the younger players.

"They just talk, no coaches in the room and nobody is trying to infiltrate some kind of propaganda or anything like that," Saban said. "But just so the younger players gain a respect for the older players and the older players can express some of the things that helped them be successful so it helps those players."

Saban also explained another form of discipline that helped with accountability.

"And the other thing I do, if a guy's not doing what he's supposed to do in practice and it's really upsetting to some of the older players who are trying to do the right thing, I say 'Look, you don't have to practice today. Just go over there and stand in the box. Just go stand in the box. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to practice, you don't have to do up-downs, you don't have to do exercises. Just stand in the box and everybody out here's going to know you're not doing what you're supposed to do.'"

How many have visited the box?

Two, Saban said without identifying them.

Friday, November 8, 2013

SABAN: COACH'S OFFICE DOESN'T HAVE TO LIKE A VISIT TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Matt Scalici for www.al.com.  You can read the entire article here.

Nick Saban and Tom Rinaldi arrived at Saban's office, where Saban asked Rinaldi just how terrified his players typically are when they enter the room.

"I'm really in my older age. I don't yell at players. They don't really think this is the principal's office. A lot of times there's teaching done here. Lessons are learned. Here's what you did, here's the outcome of it, this is how it's going to affect your future, this might be a better way to do it. Sometimes it's things we can't tolerate and sometimes you can bring guys in and tell them what a good job they're doing, whether it's community service, how they affected another guy on the team. The meetings in here are not all bad meetings. Most of the time they're to teach a guy so he has a better chance of being successful."