Thursday, June 11, 2015


A few weeks ago I tweeted the link to an article on Jack Clark, the legendary rugby coach.  It was written by Jen Sinkler as part of her Thrive series at her websiteIt is the best thing I've read in sometime.  It is lengthy and detailed and worthy of the time it takes to read by any coach who wants to improve.

As we see from the great ones such as Nick Saban and Bill Walsh, it is process over results.  As Sinkler writes:

Clark’s coaching style includes almost no scrimmages, and very few drills that involve full contact (i.e., there isn’t much tackling). So, how do they dominate so completely? They drill culture above all else and, put simply, they know how to win. 

“I think our winning percentage is probably 90 percent or close. We’ve been chasing excellence for a long time,” he says. “We have a performance culture where the byproduct is winning, versus ‘We’re all about winning.’ That’s not really how we think.” 

The rest of Sinkler's article goes into Clark's development of that type of culture and she lists eight areas Clark believes is important to creating his teams.

The first one was LOVE CONDITIONALLY.  I've never seen this worded in such away.  Clark was interested in a "family atmosphere" but in a higher level of team. Sinkler quotes Clark:

"You and I could go to the sports page today and open it up and see some sports team calling themselves a family. It’s what everyone does nowadays — they call themselves a family. In reality, it grates on me a little bit because my concept of family is unconditional. There’s my screw-up brother down in Huntington Beach. I love him, but you don’t want him on your team, I promise you. Family means unconditional, whereas high-performance teams are highly, highly conditional organizations." 

This is also a recruiting philosophy.  Another profound story that Clark shares with Sinkler is one about Bo Schembechler and the importance of getting the right people on your team:

There was a legendary football coach that died about 10 years ago named Bo Schembechler at Michigan. He has this quote that I think is the greatest quote. It has to do with recruiting and who you want on your team. He says, “Well, if you ever really want a guy and you don’t get him, that’s OK. He’ll only beat you once a year.” I think that’s kind of catchy. Then this old boy clears his throat and says, “On the other hand, if you get the wrong guy on your team, he’ll beat you every day.”

The second ingredient is BE THOROUGHLY ACCOUNTABLE.  As Clark told Sinkler:

"After the game Saturday we kind of know what the injury toll is, but things do get worse overnight sometimes. So we do a med check straightaway on Sunday morning, followed by a regeneration strategy, followed by this long meeting."

There was another interesting comment made to Sinkler:

"When we get caught up in our coaching, we’ve got to force ourselves to talk about what we’re doing well. But it has become part of what we do — we open every meeting with what we did well. We never cut that list short — we always build upon it. It’s got to be real, though. It can’t be stuff that is kind of halfway true. It’s got to be real stuff. Make that list as long as we can. Spend so much more time on your strengths."

This speaks to two great pieces of coaching.  The first one is to be process oriented.  Be more concerned with what you are doing as opposed to the result.  The second, and one that many coaches overlook, is to never lose sight on what you team is doing well -- both individually and collectively.  Not only must you recognize this as a coach, but share with your team and continue to work on those strengths.

Ingredient #3 is a SHARED VOCABULARY.

Clark made a point that this is as much taught as the fundamentals of the game and made mention that he didn't think teams in general had enough team meetings.

The fourth point of emphasis in developing a great team culture according to Clark would be to PRACTICE RESILIENCY.

Clark told Sinkler: "I think what matters most — outside of talent — would probably be the culture of the team: developing a really resilient, embedded team culture around performance. It’s like anything else: You’ve got to rep it. You’ve got to talk about it on day one and day five and in the middle of the season and at the end of the season."

I think this is an underrated and overlook part of culture.  I once heard Doc Rivers say, "You have to protect your team culture.  This battle is waged daily."

In other words, culture, to be successful must be intentionally thought out, planned and executed by all those involved.  Another thing Doc Rivers spoke of the "buy in" of players into the culture.

Fifth on the list is EXPECT EVERYONE TO LEAD.

This is a form of shared ownership where everyone is contributing to successful elements of a culture.  Successful people work at making the right decisions within their priorities and strive to properly manage those decisions daily.  The first and most important person that you lead is yourself.

Sixth on Clark's culture building list is IMPROVE RELENTLESSLY.

I absolutely love what Clark told Sinkler in this regard: "We believe in constant performance improvement. We say it’s not just enough to win. That’s kind of an old thing. If you go back to legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, you can get some performance over results. It’s there. We believe that and we believe that we should be getting better. We think that we should accept that burden. If we’re going to work at this as hard as we’re working at it, then we should be getting better from week to week, month to month, match to match. There should be improvement."

GET A GREAT COACH is never on the list.

Two things resonate here.  The first is Clark's understanding that teaching must be a key ingredient in successful/teams and organization.  Talent is never enough alone and it takes the right kind of coach or staff to build on that talent and then mesh the individuals together.

Clark also speaks to coaches being able to understand and properly utilize technology for ultimate results.  Part of that formula for him is to continue to grow and improve as coaches if we want to continue to grow our players and teams.

Last, but certainly not least on the culture creating checklist is VALUE TEAM.

Clark told Sinkler: "We celebrate team, talk about it and build on it. I talk to a lot of our teams on campus. I guest-lecture in the business school, so I have a lot of opportunities to talk to groups of people, especially in a team setting. Most of them don’t cherish that they’re an expert in team. They get lost in the fact that they aren’t an expert in their sport yet. They confuse that with being an expert in team."

I tweeted that this was one of the best things I've read in sometime and I sincerely mean it.  I strongly encourage you to read the entire article here.  Sinkler went in great detail with Clark regarding each of the eight components of his team's culture.