Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ensuring that every player has a chance to contribute

After the Eagles beat the Browns on Monday night, Philly QB Donovan McNabb, who was benched briefly late last month, demonstrated why he's one of the best leaders in the NFL, saying:

"I think the satisfaction is the fact that you look up and we're winning ballgames. I've never been one to kind of look at the stat sheet and wonder how many yards I passed for, or whatever it may be. I'm all about winning ballgames and spreading the ball around and getting guys involved and giving them opportunities to contribute."

McNabb's desire to get teammates involved so that they can make a contribution is worth examining.

There's a great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

"When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die."

People -- in any job -- want to feel like they're making a meaningful contribution. Talk to someone who hates his job and what you'll often find is that they don't see how what they're doing is helping the team/organization.

There's a forward at Michigan -- Jevohn Shepherd -- who has helped the Wolverines get off to a 7-2 start (including wins over Duke and UCLA).

Ask him what his role is and he'll reply: "There's not any specific role that excites me, except winning."

To Shepherd, making a contribution "feels good." As he puts it:

"Any way I can help the team, that's what makes me feel good. Whether it's coming off the bench or supporting my teammates, cheering them on, any way possible, winning is most important."

Point to any successful team and you'll likely find guys like McNabb and Shepherd on the roster.

Lamar Odom has taken a similar attitude this season in LA. Just yesterday he made it clear (again) that his focus is on winning, not stats:

"I'll do whatever needs to be done, start or come off the bench, cheerlead, coach, sweep the floor," he said. "Sell pretzels, beer. Box out. Get a rebound. All of the above."

According to CHI coach Vinny Del Negro, players who succeed over time are the ones who proactively look for spots where they can chip in. In his words:

''You find ways to make yourself effective. That's when you become a real pro in the league. You can have off nights but find ways to contribute."

I had a post here this summer about how, back in the mid-1980s, Celtics reserves contributed to the team's success by working to make the team's practices intensely competitive.

For a coach, it's important to find ways so that all of your guys contribute. More importantly, make sure every player understands how their contribution affects the team's success.