Legendary former Carolina men's basketball coach Dean Smith and leadership expert Dr. Jerry Bell team up to offer their principles on effective coaching and leadership in a relatively new book called The Carolina Way. The book is great for sports coaches and business managers alike as both Coach Smith and Dr. Bell offer their strategies for leadership and team building. Here are some quotes and concepts from the book to keep in mind as you lead your team.
Coach Smith: The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring. The best leaders in any profession care about the people they lead, and the people who are being led know when the caring is genuine and when it's faked or not there at all. I was a demanding coach, but my players knew that I cared for them and that my caring didn't stop when they graduated and went off to their careers. (p.4) If you develop a close relationship with a player, as we did, you don't drop it just because the player's eligibility is up. You don't forget them. I wanted to stay in touch, and I'm always pleased, thrilled, and interested when our former players let me know what's going on in their lives. (p. 254)
The hallmark of the Carolina program is Coach Smith's genuine life-time caring and concern for all of his players, managers, and support staff. As former player Phil Ford once said about Coach Smith, " I got a coach for four years but a friend for life." Obviously as a coach you care about your athletes. But are you comfortable showing them? Do they KNOW you care and not just THINK you care? Showing your players that you care about them is easy to do but you must make a conscious effort to do it consistently. Ask them about their families. Take an interest in their school work or major. Have them over for dinner. Talk about things other than your sport. When athletes know that you care about them as people, they will give you everything they've got as an athlete.
2. WHAT DO YOU EMPHASIZE?
Coach Smith: At the top of the practice day was an offensive and defensive Emphasis of the Day... The players had to learn the Emphasis of the Day and the Thought for the Day. They knew I might call on them in practice to repeat them. If they didn't respond correctly, the entire team ran. If I thought a player was trying to avoid eye contact with me during my opening remarks at practice, I probably would call on him. I often called on freshmen. It was gratifying to observe the young players memorizing the Emphasis of the Day and the Thought for the Day while they stretched before the start of practice. If there's an emphasis but it's not enforced, it becomes counterproductive. (pgs. 75-76)
Northern State men's basketball coach Don Meyer has a great phrase: [It's not what you teach, it's what you emphasize.] In order for concepts to truly sink in with today's athletes, you must constantly emphasize, restate, and repeat them. Teaching them once is not enough. The great coaches like Dean Smith find a way to continuously emphasize their core principles and philosophies in new and exciting ways. Think about adding a Thought and/or Emphasis for the Day as you plan your practices in 2005. And if you want to make sure your players to get it, enforce that they know it too.
3. SENIOR LEADERSHIP
Coach Smith: Senior leadership was crucial in having a confident team. Those players had been in our program for four years and knew what we wanted and what it took to get it. They were able to mentor the younger players and give them a heads up on what to expect in different situations, especially on the road, where we faced hostile crowds. (p. 238)
Dean Smith gave a lot of responsibility to his senior class through the years. They were in charge of making and enforcing the rules for the program. And it was up to them to mentor the youngsters and show them the ropes along the way. Developing a responsible group of upperclassmen will have a positive ripple effect on everyone associated with your program. As Tommy Tuberville, head football coach of the 12-0, 3rd ranked Auburn Tigers, said about the importance of leaders: "It's probably been my easiest season as a head coach because of the great senior leadership this team has."
Coach Smith: "A lion never roars after a kill." (p. 42)
Whether the proliferation of taunting, flamboyant celebrations, and other attention-seeking antics by today's athletes is due to it being highlighting on ESPN's Sports Center or incorporated in today's video games, it's classless. The most respected athletes let their play do the talking rather than woofing about it. Encourage your athletes to conduct themselves with class whether they are winning or losing. Help them to understand that it's okay to celebrate when they make a big play but to act like they've done it before - instead of rubbing it in their opponents' faces. Remind them that they don't want to give your opponents any additional motivation for the next time you meet.
Former player Scott Williams on Coach Smith: Winning was very important at Carolina, and there was much pressure to win, but Coach cared more about our getting a sound education and turning into good citizens than he did about winning. (p. 159) Former player Pete Budko on Coach Smith: On the occasions when we didn't win, he would tell us there were two billion people in China who didn't care one bit about the outcome of our game. Perspective!
Odds are, you already keep in mind the bigger picture. Basketball is certainly fun and important - and most of us pour our hearts and souls into it. But we must always keep in mind that it is just a game. If we can use the game to develop better people, build confidence, teach values like respect, trust, and teamwork, we will truly have a significant impact on the people we coach. Thanks for being part of a community of coaches who care about their athletes as people and who compete intensely but with a humbling sense of perspective.
<by> Dean Smith