Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting players to take ownership

A story in the Plain Dealer describes how CLE coach Mike Brown "has spent years focusing and honing skills not just in basketball management but also in people management, and his success speaks in his record."

Coach Brown is careful about "passing off credit and absorbing as much criticism as possible," which has "remarkably endeared him to the players."

As Coach Brown, a USD alum, puts it: "From a young age, I had to figure out how to impose my will and get guys to understand without jumping on them or forcing it."

He started in the NBA as a video coordinator for the Nuggets when he was 22. Four years later, he moved to the Bullets as an assistant. Because he was just 26, "he started working on learning as much as he could about his players, not just from film and by reading, but by talking to them not about just about basketball but their lives in general. It was high-level bonding from someone who by job title is supposed to carry authority."

He also made it a point to understand what the players' were feeling. According to Gregg Popovich, for whom Brown coached in San Antonio:

"Michael's always had a great ability to show empathy with a player's situation. One guy may need to be jumped on because he's got a tough spirit, but maybe another guy is more sensitive and you need to handle him one-on-one in the film room. Mike has a great sense of how to handle personalities and knowing what would make that person to allow themselves to be taught."

The following is an excerpt from the article:

A significant facet of Brown's technique is to get players invested in decisions. Often, whether in a practice setting or even in the heat of a timeout in a close game, he will allow the players to make decisions on plays or strategy. To some, this would be considered risky logic and could lead to ruinous anarchy. But Brown sees it as a chance for his players to take ownership in decisions.

In the same vein, Brown almost never passes off blame when speaking publicly or challenges players through the media. When mistakes are made and the press comes looking for a villain, Brown usually steps into the firing line. When praise is in order, he often deflects it.

[Once], when a late-game adjustment solved some issues on offense, Brown said one of the players had suggested the change. When asked later, the player shook his head and said it was Brown who came up with the idea.

"I try to empower my players as much as possible - if you do, it is going to reflect in their effort level," Brown said. "The reality of it is, everybody on this level can play - it is about who plays harder and who plays better together. If you have two people who think they are working together and not a boss telling an employee, it is going to work better."

He is devout when it comes to preparation, which includes vast amounts of film. He has numerous meetings with players, always making sure to keep the lines of communication open in the hope of never surprising anyone with decisions, whether it is good or bad news.

"He sold me as a person even before I knew him as a coach," Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "You cannot fool players for a long time, maybe a few weeks, but not forever. We found out pretty quick that it didn't matter that he didn't play in the league because his basketball IQ was so high."