I had the great honor of working for Dale Brown for 13 years but the privilege of calling him a friend and mentor for 30 years. There are a lot of things I love and respect about Coach Brown and a ton of lessons I've learned.
First, his constant thirst for knowledge. He was an insatiable reader, constantly underlining passages to share with others. He always searched out success people to generate conversation. He was a great questioner -- always know what to ask of the person he was speaking with. And the most important thing, he never stopped. Long after leading LSU to Final Fours and SEC titles, he is the poster child for a "continual learner."
Below is an email he shared with me last week on his relationship withCoach Wooden. It details his visits -- which became annual events. I loved how each year he would go visit Coach, we would have his questions already written out -- he had a game plan and goals to meet each visit.
I appreciate Coach Brown for sharing the following with me and wanted to share it with you:
The moment I was hired at LSU in 1972, I knew that I
needed to reach out to the very best people I could in all walks of life and
ask them if I could visit them and ask questions about how they became
successful and, more importantly, how they maintained their success.I didn’t want to just talk to people in
sports.I decided to ask the very best
from the worlds of entertainment, public speaking, positive thinking and, of
Several people were on each list, but when it came to
picking the first person I’d send a request to I wanted people that had the
greatest longevity in what they did.In
entertainment it was Lawrence Welk, and when I called Lawrence at his office in
California he immediately said come on out.So I went out and had a marvelous experience asking him how a man from a
tiny and isolated town in North Dakota rose to the top of his profession.We became close friends.Then in the speaking business I had studied
Bob Richards for years and years, watching him on old 16 mm Wheaties films and
he was the best I had ever heard.I
called him, and he said come on.I went
to his ranch in Gordon, Texas and looked through his library and asked tons of
questions.We became soul mates almost
As a motivator and positive thinker there was none better
than Norman Vincent Peale, the father of positive thinking.Another mentor who became a life-long friend.
In basketball, there was no list.If I wanted to learn, I needed to visit John
Wooden the greatest coach of all time.
I called him and he immediately invited me to visit.I spent 5 days with him.So in preparation, I decided to take the
alphabet and put a letter on each page of a notepad and ask questions about
words that began with that letter.So
with that in mind let me give you a few examples:
A—Achievement.What does he consider achievement?The first thing he told me is “Don’t ever mistake activity for
achievement.”I talked to him about
attitude—attitude of players, coaches, his attitude towards pressure of winning
and problems that occurred with players off-the-court.
B—Box and one defense…did he like it?What problems did it create for him when he
saw it, and when he did see it, how did he attack it?Bulletin boards, did he have them to motivate
C—Coaches that he admired and why.Correspondence, did he answer all of it or
did he have someone to do this?
D—Defensive drills.What did he think were the best defensive drills and how long should you
run them?Did he practice defensive drills
more than offensive drills and did he do them every day?Diamond and one defense…did he like it and
how often did he use it?What was his
favorite delay game?
he have study periods for the team and how did he encourage them to secure a
college degree?What penalties did he
implement for them missing or being late to class?
F—Full court man to man press.Did he run and jump, double team, or did he
stay man to man?Fundamentals…how many
minutes a day?What were the fundamental
drills he used?
H—Half court zone press.Why didn’t he use it as much as full court and three quarter court zone
press?Half time organization – what
were his thoughts on half time organization.Did he and his assistants meet first?For how long? Once he addresses
his team, what did he go into first?
M—Man to man defense.Did he switch, fight over the top of the screens or jump the
dribbler?Motivation, how much did he
do?I knew he was low key but how did he
feel about motivational tactics?
O—Offensive drills.What were his favorite offensive drills?Why did he use them?How did he
use them?When did he use them?How did he intermingle them into the rest of
his practice?I talked to him about
officials.Did he believe in getting up
and staring them down?Did he believe
you can intimidate officials?How did he
The first day we started at 8 AM and about 6 PM I felt
that I was imposing on him after about 10 hours so I said, “Coach I have taken
enough of your time today and I’m sure you are tired.I will see you tomorrow.”He immediately responded by saying, “No I’m
not tired, sit down and we will continue.”He never seemed to tire and when I left at 10 PM I thought, wow he is a
P—Passing drills.Were they stationary, with movement, with defense, and what type of
passes?I showed him our pressure
release offense and asked him to critique it.
it true that he seldom ever went into a recruit’s home?Where did they do most of their
recruiting?Would you hire a coach to do
just recruiting?What was the first
thing he looked for in a potential player?
remember reading and hearing that he never really scouted any opponent.Why didn’t you scout anybody?He said he felt if he taught his team
properly and prepared them for all potential situations they might face in a
game it is not necessary.He said they
obviously told players about individual characters of opponents.We then talked about scheduling…how important
did he think scheduling was?Did he do
his own scheduling?Does he schedule
easy games early in the year, or does he schedule tough games to get his team
ready for the conference?
was his philosophy on time outs?Did he
present just one offensive thought and one defensive thought?Did he talk to his associates before he went
into the huddle to talk to the players, did he let assistant coaches talk at
time out?Tournament preparation…how did
he prepare teams for tournaments?Did he
prepare them differently?What was the
longest he ever practiced?What was the
average practice time?
W—Weight training.Did he believe in it?Did he hire
a strength coach or have his assistants do it?When did they lift, how long, and what type of program did they use?
Z—Zone defenses.Seldom did he ever use zone defenses.Why did he not use zone defenses?Zone offenses.Did he have a
combination of zone offenses depending on the structure of the defense?
I remember one day we were on our way to his office
before basketball season started, and some UCLA players were on the floor
playing full court in Pauley Pavilion.As we walked up the sidelines towards his office, I believe it was Larry
Farmer who went in for a lay up and just laid the ball up over the rim.Coach Wooden instantly came to a screeching
halt.Calmly he said, “Larry, lay the
ball up on the back board as you were taught.”That was all he said, that was all that needed to be said.“Yes sir,” Farmer said.Another example of his attention to detail.
Then the last day I was there, I went to his house and
thanked him for being so gracious.I was
about to get in the car and leave when Coach said to me, “Well Dale, I’m really
glad that you came out, and it’s been a delightful time.However, really it wouldn’t have been
necessary for you to waste your time and money and all those pages of notes you
took because if you do the following three things, you will be successful in
major college basketball.If you don’t
do the following three things, it will be most difficult."Now remember he didn’t say it would be
impossible, typical of John Wooden, he said it would be most difficult.
I was scrambling for my pen when he said, “Those three
things are fairly simple:Number one,
make certain, you always have better players than anybody you play.Now with that locked up, make sure you always
get the better players to put the team above themselves, and number three, this
is very important, don’t try to be some coaching genius, or coaching guru, or
give the guys too much information, or too much stuff…he said always practice
simplicity with constant repetition.”
I made sure that was not the last visit I made to learn
from Coach.In fact, I stayed in touch
with him for 38 years.I loved going out
to sit and listen to him tell stories, recite poetry, you name it; and he
remained so very sharp and giving of his time to help others till he passed
away at 99.
Coach Wooden and I
were asked to speak at a convention in Mexico.My wife said to Coach Wooden at breakfast one morning, “Has anybody
asked you as many questions as Dale?Every time Dale’s on the phone with you, he’s taking notes.I see him writing you letters, he’s coming
out to see you. Has anyone asked you more questions in your lifetime than
Coach smiled and he said, “Let’s just say this, Dale has
a lot of interesting questions and I always wonder where he gets them.”Vonnie laughed and asked her follow-up”“Well Coach, has he picked your mind more
than anybody else?He said, “Well, I
suspect he has.”
“So with all he’s gotten from you,” Vonnie asked,” when
you watch his teams play, do you ever sit there and think did he learn anything
from me ?" Coach Wooden laughed in a way that I will never forget but was
polite enough not to give my wife an answer.
I understood instantly that John Wooden would be among my
life’s most significant mentors. I think John Wooden could have been just as
happy teaching in a small school in Indiana and never coaching but just
He was a teacher.He was a mentor.I can remember
many, many times sitting in his house and the phone would ring…it would be
someone who had always wanted to meet him and he’d invite them over.One day, it was the national basketball coach
of Spain.He’d say, “No, I don’t
mind.Come on over.”His phone number was listed in the phone book
and you did not have to be a celebrity to enter his house.
He wasn’t the kind of person who was trying to display
his knowledge.People from all walks of
life and from around the world were seeking him out for his knowledge,
simplicity, and sincerity.
Every time I left his presence there is something new I
had learned.Outside of Bill Walton, I
believe I’ve heard more of his quotations and phrases than just about anyone,
but I am constantly amazed by his memory and knowledge on a variety of
Unfortunately, many of the things I’ve learned from him I
haven’t even remotely been able to do nearly as well as he did.I told him one day when just the two of us
were together that after 44 years of coaching I then clearly recognized my
limitations, mistakes, and distance from the ideal.Again vintage John Wooden, he said, “Did you
try to do your best and if you did then you are a success and that is the most
The greatest lesson I learned from him was to love what
you are doing every day and love people.I can remember many times when someone was refilling his water glass for
him in a restaurant, and everyone else at the table just keeps talking, Coach
Wooden would stop and say “thank you.”He is loaded with love.He seldom
brings up religion or spiritual things…He lives it.He’s teaching by example.
Edgar Guest explained John Wooden’s mentorship method
“I’d rather see a lesson
Than to hear one any day.
I’d rather you’d walk with me
Than to merely show the way.
The eye is a better teacher
And more willing than the ear.
And counsel is confusing,
But examples always clear.
The best of all the teachers
Are the ones who live the creed.
To see good put into action
Is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it
If you let me see it done.
But your tongue too fast may run.
And the counsel you are giving
May be very fine and true,
But I’d rather get my lesson
By observing what you do.”
John Wooden was truly an American treasure.He was kind, caring, highly intelligent,
vibrant, strong-willed, principled, humble, and one of the most fascinating men
of this or any generation.
Why, is the greatest coach that every lived like this and
not egotistical, selfish, arrogant, and greedy like so many that reach the
pinnacle of what the world often defines as success?It is because he firmly believed in what the
first dictionary ever printed in 1806 described success as fortunate, happy,
kind and prosperous.However, the
dictionaries of today define success as attainment of wealth, fame and rank.
Coach Wooden’s definition of success parallels that of
1806, he said that, “Fame, fortune, and power are not success.Success is peace of mind, which is the direct
result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best
that you are capable of becoming.”
I have also heard him mention on several occasions that
the four things mankind craves the most are freedom, happiness, peace and
love.He say’s none of these can be
obtained without first giving them to someone else and oh, how he gave to so
many for so many years.
Every time I left him I felt so much better about mankind
and had a quest to strive to be a better human being.Perhaps, a better way to define Coach is what
Einstein said about Gandhi: “Generations to come, will scarce believe that such
one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
He is indeed a legend in basketball but more importantly
he is a legend in serving mankind as a master teacher and mentor to so many of
I am eternally grateful to have had him in my life.
It's not the first time I've raved about the email newsletter that comes from Coach Mitch Cole and the Texas A&M men's basketball staff and I'm sure it won't be the last. It's not that their right across the hall from us but because it's great stuff! If you haven't already, email Coach Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org and asked to be added.
Here is part of what they sent out yesterday:
times as coaches, being intentional about team
building and leadership development can get lost in the shuffle. Most
coaches would agree that a healthy team is one that consists of strong,
confident leaders and players that are willing to sacrifice for one another. If
we look closely and study our players, we will usually find some unhealthy
traits that can be a detriment to their growth as players and ultimately, the
success of THE TEAM.
I came across an article that revealed several “Toxic behaviors that drive people away." I have reworked them
into a basketball context because as you will see, they definitely apply to some
of the players with whom we all come in contact.
are an explanation of the first 3 of 7 behavior traits coaches might find in
players which need to be exposed and
1. Blame-Shifting and Excuse
- Inability to take personal responsibility
for failures or problems. Its always someone else's fault!
-“Coach just isn’t using my talents”.
- “The coach, the Refs, or my
teammates cost us the game”.
- “If we had ____________ we
wouldn’t have this problem.”
Instead of pointing the finger, we need to change our thinking into: What can I
do to change the situation? How can we fix the problem? Learn to take personal
responsibility for problems and control what we can control.
2. Constant Negativity
-Always seeing the negative in every
situation. Negative “self talk”. -Never giving praise where praise is
due. Nothing is ever good enough. Discontent.
-Being an “energy sucker” through
your words and body language.
Train yourself to have positive thoughts about people and situations. Embrace
the challenge of “turning a negative into a positive.” Acknowledge good when
you see it. Identify an enthusiastic, positive person and imitate them!
3. Taking Everything
- Inability to handle confrontation,
conflict, or criticism of any kind.
-“Coach, teammates just don’t like
-“Coach always singles me out”
Learn the mantra, “Its not all about me!” View constructive criticism and
conflict as a way to eliminate mistakes and grow. If enough coaches, teachers
or teammates tell you the same thing, you might want to acknowledge your fault,
address the rest of these behaviors in the coming weeks:
There was an article written by Beckley Mason onESPN.com titled"The Book on Tom Thibodeau." It's an excellent article in which Mason delves a lot into Thibodeau's philosophy and system of play. You can read the entire articlehere. For now, here is a segment on his defensive principles:
Thibodeau’s defensive system is the pinnacle of team defensive strategy in the NBA. He is often credited with being the first coach to fully leverage the abolition of illegal defense by loading up the strong side box while having the weakside defenders zone the back side of the defense. In effect, Thibodeau's defenses force ball handlers -- whether in isolation or in side pick-and-rolls -- to the baseline and then send a second defender from the weakside over to the strong side block to cut off dribble penetration.
He is especially detail-oriented when it comes to pick-and-roll defense, getting down to the specific angles that each defender’s feet should be pointing. Thibodeau wants to send everything away from the middle of the court and force lob passes or bounce passes out to the perimeter, allowing defenders more time to get back to their men.
Off the ball, every defender in the Thibodeau system will have his hands up and active, with arms stretched as wide as possible. The goal isn’t actually to get deflections, though that happens. The real objective is to take away the first passing option of the offense -- to make the ball handler hesitate and throw a slow pass rather than whipping a chest pass to an open shooter. This gives the defense more time to recover from screens and cuts and often forces the ball away from the offense’s primary option on a given play.
Thibodeau knows he can't ask his defenders to do everything, rather he teaches them to take away certain high-percentage options for the offense. When everyone does their jobs, the odds tilt heavily in the defense's favor.
Most of Thibodeau’s offensive sets are not rudimentary, but he tends to keep things basic in big moments. It’s not uncommon to see some brilliant flex-based sets early in the game devolve into a steady diet of standard pick-and-rolls and pin-downs by the fourth quarter. He makes solid adjustments from game to game. For instance, he used Noah in the middle of the court to unlock Miami’s pick-and-roll defense in their 2011 playoff series, but Thibodeau is not known for drawing up brilliant offensive game plans on the fly.
I think we are all always looking for creative ways to work on our shooting in the off-season. We are fortunate at Texas A&M to have The Gun 8000 from Shoot-A-Way. If you go to their website, they have 20 of the games best teachers going through a series of their best shooting drills utilizing The Gun.
Here are a few of my favorites (click on each coaches' name to view the youtube clip):
Steve Alford with a 3-player shooting drill which gets shots for a cutter off the down screen, the screener making the second cut, and the passer -- great motion shooting drill.
Brad Stevens with a drill that gets a player a shot off the down screen followed by another off the flare screen.
Pat Summit -- leave it to Coach Summit to tie in a defensive component with The Gun as she works on closeouts while shooting.
Tom Izzo -- shows a ball screen and pop drill for all those coaches utilizing the ball screen.
Steve Wojciechowski -- demonstrates a penetrate and pitch drill for all those dribble drive coaches.
A few weeks ago, I posted on Twitter and Instagram a photo of my notes for a talk I gave to each team that attending our team camp.We do the talk annually as part of what we call “Inspiration Station.”Obviously each year we change to the topic to keep it fresh for returning teams.We take a lot of pride in picking a topic that we think a high school coach would want us to talk about to their team.This year the topic was “Being A Great Teammate.”
We had a great number of request to share what spoke to the teams about and we will do that with this post:
WE CAN ALL BE GREAT TEAMMATES
I started off addressing the teams telling them that as basketball players they have both potential and limitations.Few if any will be good enough to play in the WNBA.A handful will be able to make the jump to play collegiately.You may not achieve a status of All-State or All-Conference.Some of you may not be able to make your team’s starting line-up.
But you can ALL be a great teammate.And great teammates effect teams in a special way!
BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
This is the second of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.We must first create the mental vision of what we want to physically become. What do you want to “see” when it’s over?Stephen Covey spoke of an exercise of picturing yourself at your own funeral, floating around and listening to what people were saying about you.What would you want to hear?Are you living the life you need to live for people to feel that way about you?Would your teammates come back for your funeral?What would they say?
I spoke about attending the two memorial services for Coach Don Meyer — on in Aberdeen, South Dakota in the area at Northern State University and one in Nashville, Tennessee in the arena in Lipscomb University.I spoke about the staggering number of players that return to pay their respects to Coach Meyer and the amazing things that were said about him.You can tell a lot about a person at the Memorial Services.Coach Meyer was a “great teammate.”
In fact, Coach Meyer always spoke about the importance of being a great teammate. He would tell the story of Mickey Mantle who with all his accomplishments prided himself most on being a great teammate.In fact, it prominent lettering, that is what is written at the top of his monument at Yankee Stadium — above all the other accomplishments.
So the first journey of becoming a great teammate is wanting to be a great teammate.
CHALLENGE OF BEING A TEAMMATE
The problem with being a great teammate, as with anything else special and important, is there are going to be inherited challenges and struggles along the way.We spoke to the teams about some of those challenges.
Being a great teammate is a full-time job!
You can’t be considered a great teammate if you are only fulfilling that role on a part-time basis.It is easy to be a great teammate when things are going your way — you are in the starting line-up...your shots are falling...coaching is calling your number.But can you be a great teammate when you are playing poorly?You can’t let frustrations and emotions effect how you handle your responsibilities of being a great teammate.What if you are a role player or coming of the bench?This has absolutely no bearing on your ability to be a great teammate.
It was at this point that we showed them this short video clip of Emmitt Smith speaking at his induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame.
After viewing the video we spoke about what we saw and heard.What we heard was one of the greatest running backs in the history of professional football get emotional talking about his teammate Daryl Johnston.
Think about some of the things Emmitt had to say about his teammate:
“You took care of me as if you were taking care of your little brother.”
“Without you, I know today would not have been possible.”
Daryl Johnston wasn't scoring touchdowns...he wasn’t getting headlines in the newspaper...they were showing highlights of him blocking on ESPN.
But it is incredibly obvious the impact he made on Emmitt Smith by being a great teammate — and in turn that impacted the Dallas Cowboys to greatness.
But the other part of that is that on his special day, when Emmitt would have been justified in talking about his own accomplishments, he had Daryl Johnston standup and then told the entire world the way he affected him and his teammates.
Emmitt Smith too, was obviously a great teammate.
You have to be a great teammate to everyone!
This is not friendship.You can just pick and choose who you want to be friends with in terms of being a great teammate.Remember, the first part of the word — TEAMmate.In fact, it is incredibly important that you are a great teammate especially to those who may not deserve because they need one the most.This will be challenging a lot of times — but it is essential in being a great teammate.
You have to be a great teammate everywhere!
It is not enough to be a great teammate on the basketball court at practice or during games — though great teammates always shine through during adverse situations on the court.
I’ll tell you where great teammates are needed — in the locker room.I fully believe that more championships are won and lost in the locker room than many realize.Coach Meyer would always ask the question:Do you know who is running your locker room?It’s a special place that is owned and operated by the players.Rarely are coaches there.After a rough practice or tough game who are the leaders and what direction are they leading?Do you have quality teammates in the locker room to keep the team focused?
You also have to be a great teammate away from the gym.The axiom that coaches should understand is that “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”Great teammates understand this as well.
No one told Meek to do this.I didn’t even find out about this ritual until after she graduated from one of those players she took to dinner.That’s a great teammate.
KEYS TO BEING A TEAMMATE
We then spoke to the teams about three key ingredients of being a great teammate.
We talked about listening with the intent to understand.Be a detective when you listen — search out clues in which you can help a teammate or file something away for later.
You should be looking for what you can do to help. A big part of being a great teammate is “Servant Leadership” — look for opportunities to serve.
We talked about how Tim Duncan had took a pay cut to help the front office sign some better players to make the team better.Lebron James and Dwayne Wade has done the same as well.All three are wearing championship rings because of that sacrifice.Peyton Manning has done the same in football at both Indianapolis and Denver.
But it doesn’t have to be about money.I told the story about when I was coaching Shaquille O’Neal and he came to meet with the coaches and volunteered to move to the bench to allow one his teammates to start.He thought it would help his teammate’s confidence which would lead to him playing better which would lead to our team being better.Shaq said, “Don’t worry about me Coach, I’ll give you the same thing whether I come off the bench or start.”
I then asked the teams if they would be willing to do that. Would they care enough about their teammate and the success of their team to give up their starting spot?I asked them, “What if your coach came asked you to come off the bench?What if he said ‘you’re playing great but if we start Sally it might get her jumpstarted and then you would give us great energy when you came into the game.’”Would you respond by saying “Coach, whatever is best for the team,” and then enthusiastically except your role or would you say “Coach, whatever is best for the team,” and then mope and complain to anyone that will listen.
The benefits of a culture of a great teammates is success for the team first and foremost.But there is always reciprocal benefits that individuals achieve.Tim Duncan sacrifice part of his salary to make his team better.And he was rewarded with a championship and bonus money.Awards go in large part to teams that win.
We did not have time to show Kevin Durrant’s MVP acceptance speech but what an amazing example of being a great teammate.He made it sound like the entire team had won the MVP (which in true teams is the way it happens).
To quote Bill Parcells: “Individuals play the game...teams win championships.”
It takes maturity for an individual to understand this.“I am because we are.”There are no individual champions.Even in individual sports there are coaches, mentors, parents, supporters, strength coaches, etc.
As John Wooden would say, “it takes 10 hands to make a basket.”
Are you a teammate or just on the team?That’s the question you need to ask.A team full of teammates is special.They play are certain way.As Coach Don Meyer would say: “Even when they lose, they win.”
At this point, we showed the teams the following video on the San Antonio Spurs.We told them you are doing to see some great passing...some excellent shooting...you’ll even so a few great dunks.But pay attention to the intangibles.Watch their body language.Watch how the talk to each other — touch each other — interact with each other.Notice their eye contact with each other.
When the video was completed we asked some questions.
How close knit do you think this team was?Could see how that transferred to the court and how they played?
But then we made sure that they understood this — the Spurs don’t always get along.They are a family.They have arguments and disagreements — just like everybody.But because they care about each other, because they have a culture of being great teammates, they can quickly find solutions, put things behind them and move forward for the betterment of the team.
I then closed by simply reminding them that they all had the power to choose to be a great teammate and if they can become one it becomes contagious and others will follow.Then when you have a team of great teammates, special things can happen.