Monday, July 7, 2008

The role of your team's leaders in a "team meeting"

As I read about the Yankees' team meeting the other night, I thought to myself, "This might be trouble."

During team meetings, a coach shouldn't be the only person talking. If your team leaders aren't getting involved and speaking out (in a constructive way) during the meeting, the coach is likely in trouble.

The goal is to be good enough over the course of the long journey of a season that you never need to have a "team meeting," which sometimes seem forced or panicked rather than a regular, ongoing part of the team's communication.

Of all of the players I've coached, Keith Smart was the best I've ever seen with his teammates. He got along with and was respected by everyone -- teammates, coaches, members of the media, fans, and the front office. He was (and still is) a natural leader.

Keith, who played for us in the CBA with the Rapid City Thrillers, was really an extension of our coaching staff. I remember one game where we were down by 20 points in second half. In the huddle, Keith took over and told the coaches -- in no uncertain terms -- that the players would find a way to win the game.

As the opponent's lead narrowed, Keith would remind the staff to let players finish the game. In the end, we came back to win. It's one reason Keith, who was on my staff in Golden State, will be a great head coach in the near future.

When your team leader speaks up, the entire locker room takes notice. In fact, in many cases, a player speaking up can be much more powerful than a coach.

When I was in grade school and my Dad was coaching at the University of Minnesota, he had Dave Winfield as his team's leader. Later, it was Flip Saunders.

With the Timberwolves, his team leaders were guys like Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe, and Scott Roth, all of whom played for him in the CBA and all of whom are now coaches.

In Orlando, Coach Daly used Horace Grant and Doc Rivers used Darrell Armstrong.

In Memphis, our team leader was Shane Battier, a guy who could lead a major corporation as well as any CEO. He has such strong leadership qualities, including the ability to communicate and inspire. He and Keith Smart have that "special something" in terms of leadership.

It's not always one or two players who serve as a team's leader. During my first season in Golden State, we had a young team, so instead of forcing the "team leader" role on someone who might not have been comfortable in the role, it was a bit of "leadership by committee" where guys kept each other in line.

When it comes to team leaders, picking team captains can be tricky. Should the players decide or should the decision be left to the coaching staff or both?

I've always preferred to let the players select their captains, but with the understanding that this can backfire if the guys they select aren't really leaders. They may try to "play" the role, but it just doesn't fit. That's OK. Not everyone is built for that role. The problem is that the team is expecting them to lead and they might not know how.

At the same time, some guys really step up, stretching themselves, and develop into terrific leaders.