Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The birth of an offense

Interesting article in the NY Times recently that demonstrates how basketball coaches aren't afraid to adopt innovative schemes -- regardless of who creates them.

Had a post here awhile back about Coach Calipari studying schemes from a JC coach that he found to be effective.

In this case, it's Vance Wahlberg, then a high school coach in Fresno who coached briefly at Pepperdine, and is now an assistant at UMass, developed a unique dribble-drive motion offense, "which has since piqued the curiosity of several N.B.A. teams, [including] the Sacramento Kings, the Denver Nuggets and the Atlanta Hawks, while the Boston Celtics used selected sets from it during their championship run."

Nets head coach Lawrence Frank intensely studied the offense, "which relies on penetration from the guard and kick-outs to the wings."

According to the story, Coach "Frank is quick to say he is not overhauling his offense, but trying to play to its strengths in certain circumstances."

Said Coach Frank:

“Every coach has a system, and within that system, every coach has to have a system that’s flexible enough to accommodate different things. The beauty of it is, you’re attacking with different guys with different spots from different angles. That guy from the corner may finish at the top and vice versa.”

As is the case with many great inventions, the offense was born out of necessity. According to the article:

Wahlberg developed the offense when Chris Hernandez, who later played for Stanford, continually beat his defender off the dribble, only to be met by a congested lane. To open the court, Wahlberg tried to space out his players and rarely called for screens.

He moved the center to the weak side, told Hernandez to penetrate and, when that did not work, to penetrate again. The goal was for Hernandez to have a path to the basket or for a defender coming in to block his way to leave his man open for a kickout pass.

Based on Hernandez’s movements, his teammates moved as though they were tethered together, and Hernandez always knew where to find them.

“On the collapse, you’re going to know exactly where your teammate is,” said Wahlberg. “If you’re running a motion, you don’t know where guys are once you attack. If you have shooters, you are going to need defenders that stay closer. If you have guys that can take it to the hoop, they can’t defend them, so the two kind of play off one another.”

Wahlberg estimates he has tutored about 800 different coaches throughout various levels who have come to him with hands out and pencils ready, eager to learn about the offense.

“I think it’s geared for the N.B.A. because there are great one-on-one players,” Wahlberg said. “When you have guys that are able to get to the rack, I think it’s very effective. When you space people out, you open things up.”

Regardless of the scheme, Coach Frank contends that simply changing an offense doesn't guarantee success:

"It’s the players and the trust you have in each other. That’s what’s going to make you win."

Getting your team to jump off

What did coach Jim Zorn tell his team before sending them out to upset the unbeaten Cowboys on Sunday?

According to Redskins tight end Chris Cooley:

"The night before the game we talked about two things. The first point was that it was going to take an unbelievable effort by everyone to win the game.

Z talked about 'jumping off.' He's reading a book about Kit Carson and his trip from Missouri to New Mexico in the early 1800's. When someone decided to leave Missouri for further west they were jumping off. This was crazy dangerous and took a huge leap of faith and commitment.

I know it sounds way corny and it did to us the night before the game, but if you think about it, it was relevant to our situation. Jump off to beat the Cowboys.

Maybe Z is the pep talk expert. I mean, before the New Orleans game the topic was 'be excellent.' A line from George Carlin in 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.'"

When planning for a road trip, there's no magic formula

Meant to post sooner about coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to keep his Arizona Cardinals team on the East Coast for two weeks as the club had consecutive road games against Washington and the Jets.

A couple of things are at play here. First, Coach Whisenhunt was trying to cut down on the cross-time-zone travel to help keep his team fresh. It also gives his team a chance to bond a little more. Third, he's experimenting with doing things differently, testing and trying various strategies and techniques to revive a franchise that's struggled for a long time.

In his words:

"It's well noted whenever you travel across the country and you change time zones, that it has an effect on your body. And this is a physical game. We're trying to be a better road team, and last year we weren't that good, and hopefully this is just something that will give us a better chance."

In theory, it's a good idea that shows Coach Whisenhunt is trying to be creative. The problem is that these are pros -- men who've just recently come off of the long grind of training camp and who have families. Going on a two-week business trip -- for anyone -- is tough.

According to Redskins coach Jim Zorn, who played and coached in Seattle for more than a decade, "There were times when we would come out on a Friday and we'd lose. [Then we'd] come out on a Saturday and we'd lose. And then we'd come out on a Friday and we'd win, and we'd come out on a Saturday and we'd win. So you realize there's no magic formula."

The Cards, by the way, lost both games.

Every career starts with a first step

Every coach has a "first job" -- that first, usually not-so-glamorous step necessary to launch a career.

NY Jets coach Eric Mangini is no different.

According to a story in this weekend's New York Times, Mangini finished his college playing career (he was an undersized, overachieving nose guard), coached in Australia for awhile, returned home to do some substitute teaching at local schools, before setting a lofty goal: Become an NFL head coach.

He called his former college coach who had moved on and was coaching with the Cleveland Browns. His old coach helped Mangini land a job with Cleveland's PR department. From there, he started working as a Browns ball boy -- picking up "jocks and socks" -- before eventually becoming Bill Belichick's administrative assistant.

During training camp in 1994, Mangini performed whatever job the team required. He moved blocking sleds during practice, washed laundry, fetched coffee for the coaches, cleaned the locker room. At one point, his mother tried to intervene. “My mom is looking at me thinking, ‘You’re 23, you have a degree from Wesleyan University, and you’re a ball boy,’ ” Mangini said.

He worked his way up to an assistant coach on the Browns staff, worked briefly for the Ravbens, then joined Belichick in New England as the team's DBs coach and, later, defensive coordinator where he helped the Pats win a couple Super Bowls.

In January 2006, at the age of 35, he was named head coach of the New York Jets.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A study in maniacal focus

Dan Wetzel has a great article on Nick Saban, a coach trying to keep his team grounded after a big win on the road this past Saturday night.

According to Wetzel, despite beating third-ranked Georgia, "Saban looked as if he had stepped in one of UGa’s dropping, not the coach that had humiliated No. 3 in their house. His fans might have been dancing to the band, but he could barely remember the 31-0 first half thanks to an intensity lapse that let Georgia make the score respectable."

Said Saban in the post-game press conference [video here]: “We got outscored 30-10 in the second half. That is not how we want to play and we should not be happy about that. I hope we learn. Can we finish games when we didn’t do it tonight? Can we finish a season? Can we play with consistency?"

According to Wetzel:

"Twice in his postgame media conference Saban banged his fist on the table, aftershocks of frustrations from some bad, if unimportant, play. He went on long tangents about mental strength. Every bit of praise was followed by twice the criticism.

He frowned even more than usual. He already had chewed out the team for five minutes in the locker room. He already had gone on and on about the dangers of embracing success.

He’s a study in maniacal focus, a sight to behold. It isn’t his fun demeanor that earns him $4 million per year.

His human side can remain hidden. He doesn’t care. He knows he’s beloved for his ability to deliver glorious football nights like this one. In getting a roster turned around so quickly. In getting a team so focused it can walk into a Sanford snake pit and score on its first five possessions.

It’s his ability to get Alabama back to powerhouse status, a force to be feared across the league. It’s how he’s not the slightest bit satisfied at doing it."

One of Coach Saban's players seems to understand his coach's demands:

"He's looking for something to make you better," safety Rashad Johnson said. "He wants us to play perfect from start to finish, that's the kind of coach you want that's not going to accept this because we didn't finish off the way we want to and the way he wants us to."

[Coach Saban's concern about his team losing focus after beating UGA reminds me of the old saying: "The arrogance of success is thinking that what you did yesterday will be good enough for tomorrow."]

Communication and trust-building

Speaking of Vinny Del Negro, Bulls management appreciated his level of preparation and fresh ideas when they hired him to coach the team.

He's spent the summer working with his veteran staff on schemes, terminology, and philosophy. In addition, he's met personally over lunch or dinner with several Bulls players.

On the importance of communication: "I believe if you have good communication with players, the trust they have in you and you have in them can happen faster and better."

On testing and trying: "Just because I envision something or we diagram something and you think you're the smartest coach in the world, if it doesn't work you have to have enough sense to say, 'It's not as good as I thought,' and push it to the side and keep working."

On being patient and managing expectations: "I've been around long enough to know we have a lot of work to do. We have to get this team back to playing hard, with a commitment to each other and to respect wearing a Bulls jersey. Those things don't happen overnight."

Coaches as environmental psychologists

Vinny Del Negro (here with Michael Beasley in a pre-draft workout) is beginning to put his stamp on the Bulls, including making some physical changes at the team's practice facility.

For those who don't believe making "cosmetic" changes is a big deal, psychologists will tell you that environments influence how groups and teams think and interact together.

Last year, I read an article about "environmental psychology" that talked about how making changes to an organization's physical setting -- even small, seemingly unimportant ones -- demonstrates to those within the organization (in this case, the players), that "things are changing here."

How a space is arranged also has influences how we learn. Good elementary school teachers understand this. It's why they spend so much time arranging (and re-arranging) their classrooms, deciding what to put on the walls, etc., so that the students not only feel more comfortable, but actually learn more efficiently.

I'm not saying coaches need to be interior designers. But furniture (and how it's arranged), color choices, lighting, flooring, plants, the shape of a room, what's on the walls -- are things we should give more thought to as we look for ways to give our team a competitive advantage.

How a "secret strategy" helped the U.S. win the Ryder Cup

The Wall Street Journal's John Paul Newport had a really insightful story this weekend about the group-dynamic technique Paul Azinger used to help his U.S. team defeat Europe in the Ryder Cup recently.

There are some good lessons for coaches to take away and apply to their teams.

According to the article, Azinger "deployed a novel, multifaceted team-building strategy that worked to perfection."

Here's an excerpt from the WSJ article describing how Azinger's "secret strategy" worked:

The most radical element of the plan was dividing the 12-man squad into three, four-man subgroups, or pods. Mr. Azinger apparently got this idea several years ago from a documentary about the military's Special Forces and their Ryder Cup-size platoons.

The Navy Seals, for instance, typically operate in 13-man units led by two officers and a chief, and frequently break down into subgroups, depending on the mission.

"Each pod was a force unto itself," Mr. [Olin] Browne said of last week's team. Pod members played all their practice rounds together and were paired only with other pod members in the competition. Even in the Sunday singles matches, the pods went off sequentially, four by four.

Each pod was assigned an assistant captain to tend to players' needs and to keep them relaxed and "on message" -- a key concept in the strategy.

"Working together for the common good is not normally a function for us out on the PGA Tour.
We play as individuals," Mr. Browne said.

"But the pods allowed the players, without any formal training, to feed off each other and help each other and to manage all the different things that come up in a pressure-cooker situation like the Ryder Cup. In the larger 12-man group, some guys with quieter personalities might have been lost in the shuffle. Some of the rookies might have been too intimidated to speak out."

Among the qualities Mr. Azinger considered in making his four captain's picks was a player's behavioral style and his ability to fit into a pod he had in mind. In this, he relied heavily on Dr. [Ron] Braund [who co-authored a book] with Ken Voges in 1995, "Understanding How Others Misunderstand You," [which] identifies different behavioral types and provides insights into understanding and working with each, rather than trying to change them.

Mr. Azinger's overarching vision, Dr. Braund said, was "to create an environment where each player could succeed by being themselves. He didn't try to motivate them by asking them to fulfill his needs, or the team's needs, but by helping them identify and fulfill their own needs. To do that, he had to understand the behavioral style of each player individually and know how to message him in the best way for him. And Paul has a real gift for that."

In assembling the three pods, Mr. Azinger, Dr. Braund and the assistant coaches spent hours discussing various combinations and settled on two consisting of players with generally similar styles and one that was a mixed bag.

The members of one team, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan, were aggressive players and were assigned to assistant captain Raymond Floyd, who shared that style as a player.

A second team, under Dave Stockton, consisted of steady-eddie, unflappable players: Steve Stricker, Stewart Cink, Chad Campbell and Ben Curtis.

Mr. Azinger sometimes referred to the remaining group as his "Southern boys," even though the only veteran in the pod, Jim Furyk, is from Pennsylvania. ("I was trying to be as Southern as I could all week," Mr. Furyk said afterward.)

This pod, under Mr. Browne, included Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, Kentuckians playing for the home crowd and thus feeling extra pressure, and the week's break-out personality, good old boy Boo Weekley, whom Dr. Braund described as "impervious to pressure."

This group gelled especially well.

"Jim Furyk has struggled as a team player to some extent, because he is such an individual," Dr. Braund said.

"But here he had a role to play. He was a steady rudder and tremendously supportive of the other guys, particularly of Kenny Perry when he got down after hitting his drive into the hazard on the final hole in the first foursomes match. That may be one reason Jim performed so well."

During the competition, Dr. Braund rode in the cart with Mr. Azinger and helped him keep on point with his "messaging" to players.

"Sometimes, the message was no message," Dr. Braund said. "Paul would just drive by, show a smiling face and ask if everything was OK. But that was based on what we'd worked out beforehand." Other times, the words were more specific.

A final part of Mr. Azinger's strategy was to shift the emphasis away from the need for a team victory and more toward his personal commitment to help each player perform at his best.

The hammer is going to be bigger

There's a different tone in Denver this season as George Karl and the Nuggets prepare to open camp.

Said Coach Karl, who's coached in the NBA for 20 years:

"I think they stepped on the coach a little bit too much last year. And that's easy to change.

From the first day, the culture is different, the rules are different, the rewards are different. You define the commitment differently. The hammer is going to be bigger.

Our concepts are going to have to be stronger. Our commitment at every position is going to have to be better focused. There's probably going to be more substitution for lack of focus and commitment than before."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't take teaching for granted

Sometimes coaches forget that we're teachers -- first and foremost -- even at the pro level. I was reminded of this earlier today while reading an article about SF Giants manager Bruce Bochy:

[Bochy] had some adjusting to do, too. He realized that he needed to do a lot more teaching and clarifying, helping the youngsters turn the game's nuances and strategies into instincts.

In one game, he remembers a younger player coming to the plate with a three-run deficit in the eighth and believing that he had done his job when he simply moved a runner over.

Under other circumstances, it would have been nice, fundamental, selfless team baseball. But not in that moment, not down by three runs.

Bochy made a mental note.

"You can't take for granted that they understand these things," Bochy said, "that you play according to the scoreboard, so I have to be really clear about what I want."

Whatever you are, be a good one

Was flipping through a book today and came across a quote from Dr. Ed Penhoet (pictured here) that might have relevance to an assistant coach eyeing a head coaching job or a head coach eyeing a better job:

"Whatever you are, be a good one. Success is always built on doing well the job that's in front of you today. I've found that people who are always worried about the next move in the chess game of their life never quite get at that move. Don't think that way because, if you're always worrying about the next step, it will compromise your ability to do your current job well."

The counterproductivity of a fatalistic view

Whether you like his music or not, it's hard to deny that Prince is one of the greatest artists in history.

According to Wiki, "he has won six Grammy Awards and an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2004, he was named as the top male pop artist of the past 25 years by ARC Rock on the Net, and Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Prince #28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time."

His music might not be for everyone, but the guy's talented.

In a USA Today interview last Friday, Prince talked about how he approaches competition:

"I learned from Jehovah's Witnesses that a fatalistic view is counterproductive. An agent I was talking to earlier today had this viewpoint that someone has to win and someone has to lose. Nobody who thinks like that gets very far. Look at Frazier and Ali. Both of them got something out of that fight. I understand competition, but not the kind where someone has to die or be disenfranchised."

Practicing what you preach

How many coaches out there haven't said something profane in practice, during a game, or in the locker room at halftime or after a game?

In an emotional, pressure-filled business, cussing is something that happens. That's not an excuse, of course, but you can see how it could happen in the heat of battle.

Well, one NBA coach has sworn (no pun intended) that it's not going to happen with him again.

TOR coach Sam Mitchell, a guy I've genuinely admired since his playing days in the CBA and NBA, is making a concerted effort not to cuss.

Knowing Sam for more than 20 years, I can tell you that when he sets a clear goal, he's likely to achieve it.

Here's what Sam had to say about the reason for the decision:

"I made a vow, a promise to the players and myself that I'm not using any profanity this year, I've been two months and I haven't slipped. I really believe people in general appreciate someone who's always trying to get better. I just think if you become a better person, you become better at your job. I just really believe that.

It's something to let (the players and public) know that, one, I'm growing and maturing every day. Two, I'm trying to get better not only as a coach but as a person; and, three, who wants to be screamed and yelled at and cursed at every day?

You're supposed to try to get better every day of your life and I'm always preaching to those guys about professionalism, about getting better, about doing the right things, about saying the right things. Well, you've got to practice what you preach.

And I'm supposed to be an example for my players. It lets them know if I can make subtle change, so can they."

[There's actually a book out that offers tips for curbing cussing titled "Cuss Control."]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Execution, court-awareness hallmarks of the women's game

Watching the LA-San Antonio WNBA conference final game this afternoon. Every time I watch women's game I'm impressed by how fundamentally sound the players are.

Excellent offensive execution, court awareness, and ball movement. There's rarely a time when someone is overdribbling.

If you watched any of the Gold medal-winning U.S. women's team at the Olympics this summer in Beijing, you know that they play beautiful basketball. No, the women aren't as strong or fast as the men. Yes, it's a below-the-rim game.

But if you appreciate well-executed, efficient basketball, watch a women's game sometime. Maybe it's because they get more skill-work in when they're young. Or maybe it's because women are "wired" to play a more team-oriented game. Either way, the result is impressive.

That's a credit to their coaches.

Being in charge sometimes means pissing people off

Several years ago, I saw former Secretary of State Colin Powell on MTV as part of a forum with young people around the world.  Secretary Powell, a four-star general, was incredibly impressive, fielding often difficult, sometimes hostile, questions from the crowd.

From that moment, I was a big fan of his.  [If you're unfamiliar with Secretary Powell, here's a good bio.]

Last summer, a friend of mine gave me a book written by a University of San Francisco management professor titled "The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell."  It includes 18 "lessons" gleaned from observing and studying Powell's leadership style.

As Powell said recently at a speech at Mississippi State:  "The essence of leadership is your followers; leaders have to dedicate themselves to their followers."

Powell's leadership principles are widely available online, and you may have seen them before, but I thought they were compelling enough to share here: 


Lesson #1:  "Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off."  Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions.  Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. 

Lesson #2:  "The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."  Real leaders make themselves accessible and available.

Lesson #3:  "Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world."

Lesson #4:  "Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard."  Learn from the pros, observe them, seek them out as mentors and partners. But remember that even the pros may have leveled out in terms of their learning and skills. Sometimes even the pros can become complacent and lazy.  Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. 

Lesson #5:  "Never neglect details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant."  Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can't be implemented rapidly and efficiently. 

Good leaders delegate and empower others liberally, but they pay attention to details, every day. (Think about supreme athletic coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Pat Riley and Tony La Russa). 

Bad ones — even those who fancy themselves as progressive "visionaries" — think they're somehow "above" operational details. 

Lesson #6:  "You don't know what you can get away with until you try."  You know the expression "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission?" Well, it's true. Good leaders don't wait for official blessing to try things out. They're prudent, not reckless. 

But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: If you ask enough people for permission, you'll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say "no." 

So the moral is, don't ask. I'm serious. 

Lesson #7:  "Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. It's a mindset that assumes (or hopes) that today's realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy. In this sort of culture, you won't find people who proactively take steps to solve problems as they emerge. 

Lesson #8:  "Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds."

Lesson #9:  "Organization charts and hence titles count for next to nothing."  Titles mean little in terms of real power, which is the capacity to influence and inspire. Have you ever noticed that people will personally commit to certain individuals who on paper (or on the org chart) possess little authority—but instead possess pizzazz, drive, expertise and genuine caring for teammates and products? 

On the flip side, non-leaders in management may be formally anointed with all the perks and frills associated with high positions, but they have little influence on others, apart from their ability to extract minimal compliance to minimal standards.

Lesson #10:  "Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it."

Real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people's worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs. 

Lesson #11:  "Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team's mission."

Flitting from fad to fad creates team confusion, reduces the leader's credibility and drains organizational coffers. Blindly following a particular fad generates rigidity in thought and action.  Management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.

Lesson #12:  "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."  The ripple effect of a leader's enthusiasm and optimism is awesome. So is the impact of cynicism and pessimism. Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues. 

I am talking about a guns ho attitude that says "we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best."  Spare me the grim litany of the "realist"; give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.

Lesson #13:  "Powell's Rules for Picking People" — Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done."

Lesson #14: "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand."

Effective leaders understand the KISS principle, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. They articulate vivid, overarching goals and values, which they use to drive daily behaviors and choices among competing alternatives. 

Their visions and priorities are lean and compelling, not cluttered and buzzword-laden. Their decisions are crisp and clear, not tentative and ambiguous. They convey an unwavering firmness and consistency in their actions, aligned with the picture of the future they paint. 

The result? Clarity of purpose, credibility of leadership, and integrity in organization

Lesson #15:   Don't take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don't wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. 

Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering needs analysis paralysis. Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.

Lesson #16:  "The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise."

Lesson #17:  "Have fun in your command. Don't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it. Spend time with your families."  Corollary: "Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard."

Lesson #18:   "Command is lonely."  Ultimately, the essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact on the fate of the organization 

I've seen too many non-leaders flinch from this responsibility. Even as you create an informal, open, collaborative corporate culture, prepare to be lonely.

In a performance-driven society, you've got to perform

Came across a good quote a few weeks ago that I'd saved.

University of Central Arkansas Bears in Conway, Ark., rank among the top 25 Division I-AA teams in the nation. At 4-0, things appear to be moving in the right direction for coach Clint Conque's team. But after the Bears beat winless Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 41-17, to move to 3-0 on the season, Coach Conque wasn't happy:

"We're looking at everything from scheme to personnel. We have good kids, but this is a performance-driven society. And if some people are not performing, you find somebody who can. We are better than this. At some point, you have to call people out. People are gonna call me out if I'm not doing things right."

Friday, September 26, 2008

For an embattled team, road games a welcome break

It's hard not to watch what's going on in Oakland with the Raiders, a team I grew up watching back in the days with Stabler, Casper, Branch, Biletnikoff, Guys, Hayes, Matuszak, Shell, Tatum, and on and on. Their talent and passion were incredible.

This weekend, the Raiders are at home against the Chargers (another one of my favorites).

Believe it or not, for a coach who is under fire, the road games are much easier (and more pleasant) than games at home, where the crowd and the negativism are more intense.

On the road, it's easier for the players and the staff to concentrate on the game rather than the side-show. It's one of those times when you actually look forward to going on the road.

It's likely one reason that the Raiders have played well on the road, beating the Chiefs and nearly beating a good Bills team. And it's the same reason that this Sunday's home game against the Chargers will likely be more difficult for them.

Defense: It's not real interesting to people, but it's how you win

Doc Rivers and the Celtics showed what happens when a team genuinely emphasizes defense, making it a big part of the team's identity this past season on the way to an NBA title.

But defense doesn't get much time on SportsCenter. It's not something casual fans sit around talking about or discussing during the course of a game.

It's understandable. There are other parts of the game that are so exciting that defense gets pushed out of the spotlight.

So it's not entirely surprising that Florida coach Urban Meyer is catching some heat from fans for electing to "concentrate more on controlling the football and taking fewer chances on offense, winning the field-position game with special teams and relying more on the defense to shut down an opponent."

Keep in mind that his Gators are undefeated. They lead the SEC in total defense and haven't given up a first-half TD. So why the criticism?

Says Coach Meyer: "It's not real interesting to people. But it's how you win."

And while the new strategy has had an impact on Tim Tebow's stat line, the Florida QB (like Pistons guard Aaron Afflalo) seems to "get it," saying:

"You think we're playing Tennessee, and I'm worrying about how many passes I'm throwing? Everything else will come in the future. You just have to have patience and trust the future."

UF's offensive coordinator agrees, claiming he could care less about hefty stats as long as the team wins:

"Points and wins. That's about it. The rest of it, to me, is irrelevant. Win the game is No. 1. That's goal No. 1. We win, [we're] happy."

The days of babysitting are over

Most people expected the Tigers to challenge for the AL pennant. But as the season comes to a close, Detroit's in last place, losers of eight of their last 10 games.

Veteran manager Jim Leyland, while taking the blame, has already begun setting the tone for next season, starting with the offseason:

"With the year we've had, I stunk. We're under fire because of the year we've had and that's totally understandable. Everybody better step it up. They better do what they need to do this winter. The days of baby sitting and milking along are over."

Winning teams have guys like this on the roster

Thanks to Ken Davis at Lake Forest for the heads-up on this terrific article about Pistons guard Aaron Afflalo, a UCLA product who played about 13 mpg last season for DET.

As you might expect, his minutes decreased significantly in the postseason as the bench shortened and Rip Hamilton was on the floor more.

But Afflalo is one of those players who is able to see the big picture.

Says Joe Dumars:

"[Afflalo is] one of those players that you don't have to talk to about trying to get better. If you watch him play and watch how he prepares himself on a day-in, day-out basis, his work ethic is exactly what you want and need on your team. Arron's best quality isn't in his scoring, defense or anything like that. He's a competitor; he does whatever has to be done to help his team win. Guys like that find a way to get it done, and that's what you want when you're a team like us that every year is seriously talking about winning a championship."

Piston's head coach Michael Curry, a Detroit assistant last season, has "stressed an important message to Detroit's backups: always be ready to play, because there's no telling when an opportunity to get on the floor will come."

Afflalo contends it's not about minutes, but about winning:

"I think I'll be playing more this year, but there's no guarantee of that. That's why you have to stay on top of your game, keep trying to get better so that when you do get an opportunity to play, you'll make the most of it. My whole thing last year, and it's the same way this year, is winning. That's the only thing I care about -- just helping this team win a championship."

What a great role model for young players.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Events in my life made me unafraid

Last Friday night, I came across the the Baylor-UConn game on ESPN. I'd remembered reading something about Baylor's new coach, Art Briles, months earlier, so I was curious to see how his Bears were doing.

Baylor ended up losing, 31-28, to UConn, a top 30 team that's off to a 4-0 start.

But Baylor hung in there against a quality opponent, which is remarkable because BU hasn't had a winning season since 1995.

After the game, I went back and found the ESPN article about Coach Briles that I'd seen from February. I remember it because it was not only well written, but incredibly moving.

Growing up, Briles' father coached the high school football and basketball teams. He also taught at the school and served as its principal.

He was a man of his times and circumstances. He kept his hair short, wore modest clothes, measured his words, sat in the back at church, understood that kids were kids and believed the players on his football team should be an extension of all that is sacred about living in a small town. "You were expected to act right and be right," Art Briles said.

After playing for his Dad in high school, Art, an all-state QB, left for the University of Houston to play for the Cougars. UH had started the season 3-1 and was playing SMU on the road at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Here's how the article on ESPN describes what happened:

On the morning of Oct. 16, 1976, Dennis and Wanda Briles rose early, pulled out of their driveway across the street from the school, turned right at the only stoplight in town and accelerated east on U.S. 380 out of Rule. Wanda Briles' older sister, Elsie Kittley, sat in the back seat of their Galaxie 500.

The sky was clear. The road was dry. The sun warmed the cotton fields of Haskell County.

Seventy miles into their trip, the car passed Newcastle. Three miles farther, it crested a hill on the highway. A commercial truck on the other side of the slope drifted into the eastbound lane as it reached the apex.

The impact sheared the roof from the Ford. Its three passengers died instantly.

Two hours away, Houston beat SMU 29-6. The announced attendance was 28,204, with three empty seats that, in their vacancy, rerouted the coordinates of one player on the field who kept wondering through all four quarters why he never heard his mother shout his name.

The coaches informed Briles in the Cougar dressing room at the top of the tunnel at the Cotton Bowl. His teammates, delirious from their victory over the Mustangs, dissolved into whispers. They began to undress quietly.

"One day you have a net," Briles said. "Next day, it's gone. You need people in your life, people who care about you and love you. I think that's made me a more insightful coach."

After the tragedy, Briles quit school and went to work as a forklift operator.

"I knew I had two paths," said Briles, a lanky man of 52 who still can't talk about his parents and aunt without long pauses, hard swallows and faraway stares.

You could wallow in despair and doubt, and whine and wonder. Or you could choose to move forward and live in honor of your parents and God. I decided I would look for a reason to prevail.

I went through a six-month spell after it happened where I had to get myself together and decide whether I would fight or falter. I just had the realization that not anything is going to happen unless you make it happen. You've got to pick a road to go down, and I chose one where I tried to build a positive legacy for my family's name. I became determined to honor them in the best way I could." So he coached football.

Briles returned to college, eventually earning a degree from Texas Tech and a master's from Abilene Christian, then went on to become a successful Texas high school coach, taking over a team that hadn't made the state playoffs in 30-something years and guiding it to four state championships.

Said one of his former players there:

“Everybody wants to win, but he came along at the right time and really got everybody united for a common goal. He got everyone involved — not just the football team, but the band, the school, the entire community. He made the players realize they can be successful and reach their goals.”

When asked about the challenges of reviving a struggling Baylor program, Coach Briles said:

"That doesn't worry me. I've been on the bottom of the floor. I'm not intimidated by circumstances. Events in my life made me unafraid."

How consistency and stability lead to wins

It might not be very "sexy," but according to coaches at three smaller "elite" colleges, each with high academic standards, one reason they're a combined 11-0 this season despite playing in major conferences has less to do with amazing athletes and more to do with concepts like consistency and stability.

"I think a lot of it is consistency in recruiting and the fact that we keep guys in school for four or five years and redshirt when we can," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson says. "Bigger schools have to deal with transfers and guys going to the pros. It's hard to replace them with freshmen."

Johnson says another key is stability in the coaching ranks. He is in his seventh season at Vanderbilt and has had two changes on his staff in that time. Jim Grobe is in his eighth year at Wake Forest, and [Pat] Fitzgerald is in his 12th as a player or coach at Northwestern.

"If you do things the right way, you can win anywhere," Fitzgerald says.

Grobe also says his close relationship with his athletic director is a crucial reason for his program's success in recent years:

"It's probably one of the few programs in the country where the AD and head football coach are really kind of joined at the hip about the way to approach winning."

Considering his program's challenges, Coach Grobe has a terrific approach, in my opinion:

"We're not looking for the best players we can find. We're looking for the best kids we can find. That means kids with character, kids that want a college degree - they don't have to be the top student in the class, but they have to be a college-bound kid that wants a college degree.

"Our thought at Wake Forest is: can we be the best football team without necessarily having the best talent? One of our goals is to make sure that we're doing the right things as coaches and our players are doing the right things so that we can actually have a good football team without necessarily walking [onto the field] with the most talented players."

Scouting your team to head off mistakes

Another creative idea coming out of Tampa Bay where the Rays hired a former major league infielder as the club's "quality assurance coach."

His primary responsibility: "Scouting the Rays every day as another team would scout them."

Said Rays manager Joe Maddon: "Everybody talks about quality control. But that means evaluating things after they've occurred. Quality assurance means we're evaluating things in advance, trying to head off our mistakes."

By the way, for those who aren't baseball fans, the Rays won their 96th game of the season last night and are now one win away from clinching the AL East title.

Coach Maddon says confidence is the key:

"When you start believing in yourself that strongly, a lot of weird things happen for you, in a positive way. You have to believe it can happen for you, and our guys do."

Muscles are a lot like life

Saw this at the gym the other day and thought it was a good analogy:

"You can’t change the muscle without fatigue, and it’s impossible to really fatigue the muscle without pushing it. The only way it gets transformed is by pushing it beyond what’s comfortable.

It’s kind of like life. Our lives don’t really change until those moments where we were pushed, and that’s where we grow the most and our life becomes more rich. If you don’t push your body beyond what it’s comfortable with, nothing changes."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tips from Del Harris, John Calipari, and Bill Self

More great stuff from Coach Silver down in Waco, Texas.I've posted below an abbreviated version of his essay "What I learned from Del Harris, John Calipari and Bill Self." I pulled it from his weekly email. If you've not signed up for those, you can do so at his website. [At the top of the home page, there's a little box where you type in your email address.]

"What I Learned From Del Harris, John Calipari, and Bill Self"
by Coach Duane Silver

From Del Harris:

1. Study: Read books on how to be a leader.

2. Study: Read all the basketball info you can.

3. Prepare: Write down what you're going to do this season.

4. Coaching is an honorable profession.

From John Calipari:

1. The Dribble Drive Motion Offense: This offense is really street ball with great spacing.

2. Two key stats: At halftime, he looks at two stats: How many lay-ups have we taken/made)? How many three-point shots have we taken/made?

3. The worst shot in this offense is 15-footer off of the dribble.

4. Dribblers have to be able to play while getting bumped into while driving to the basket.

5. This offense is the wave of the future. It's like the shotgun in football that no one seems to have an answer for on defense. [Note from Duane here: If you have a quarterback in the shotgun who can run and pass it is like having 12 men on the field.]

From Bill Self:

1. Offensive Philosophy: One shot or more on each possession.

2. Defensive Philosophy: One shot or less on each possession.

3. Great teams play with 2 post men.

4. Ball screens are the wave of the future. The NBA is a ball-screening league. Anyone can guard the first ball screen, it is the second and third ones that hurt you. When a post ball screens, he must sprint to the screen.

5. The game has become smaller.

6. You need angles to score in the low post. Most players cannot shoot over someone.

7. Don't allow the ball to "stick," i.e., someone just dribbling the ball and not going anywhere. Dribble with a purpose.

8. Butt Screens are key. This way the defense does not know where to hedge.

9. Teach your team how to read what the defense is doing on ball screens (daily) are they hedging, doubling, switching, or going under.

How an attitude differs from a list of rules

I'm sure many of you have seen John Wooden's 23-point list of the "Bruin Attitude." If not, the complete list is here. Coach Gajic over at Pro Skills passed it on recently, reminding me of Coach Wooden's knack for communicating in a clear, no-nonsense way.

Here are a few of Coach Wooden's rules that would apply to every team:

-- Huddle up as a team on free throws
-- Run to the bench when substituted for
-- Run to timeouts
-- Run to the locker room
-- Never quit on a play
-- No poor body language
-- Root for your teammates while on bench
-- Attitude of gratitude – say “thank you”
-- Look people in the eye when communicating
-- Be humble in victory, gracious in defeat
-- Keep the locker room clean

What may be most interesting is what Coach Wooden called his list. It's not the "Bruin Rules," but the "Bruin Attitude." It's part of the culture. It's how we do things here.

Success is not a coincidence

Tore a page from an issue of SI a week or two ago about Roger Federer. It was too good to pass up:

"For all his talent, he works as hard as anyone else on the men's tour, whether by practicing in Dubai to simulate the hottest conditions imaginable or by maintaining a strict diet.

It's no coincidence that he has gone through his entire career without a serious injury. It's no coincidence that, at 27, he can still play seven rounds of a tournament and have plenty of energy left."

One coach's ongoing journey toward self-betterment

If you've not heard about Northern State coach Don Meyer's recent challenges, here's a short article that will bring you up to speed.

Coach Meyer, who is 63, is a coaching legend. In fact, during the two weeks since his car accident, I've received literally dozens of emails from other coaches who've been touched by him during his long career.

What's most interesting is that everyone I've traded emails, texts, and phone calls with about Coach Meyer had less to say about his achievements on the court -- which are many and remarkable -- and more to say about how he influenced them away from basketball.

And I'm certain that's how Coach Meyer would want it.

There was a good feature story about Coach Meyer last year in an Aberdeen, S.D., magazine that really captured what he's all about. Here's an excerpt from that article:

Coach Meyer’s coaching philosophy emphasizes the development of discipline, loyalty to teammates, and a fierce work ethic. There’s also a unique approach to being a player-leader that Meyer calls servant-leadership. Servant-leaders, Meyer says, are ready to work hard alongside everybody else, including the people they lead.

"A real leader," he explains, "serves others rather than having others serving him. With that in mind, we work on the important things that make you a better person, teammate and leader as well as a better basketball player. The wins take care of themselves."

Meyer’s demeanor during practices and games ranges from fiery to contemplative. He’s icy serious as he stalks the sideline, staring, gesturing, talking and shouting at his charges. In his hand is the ever-present micro-cassette recorder, a device of choice for taking notes.

Always the teacher, he encourages, instructs and motivates.

And after years of experience, teaching comes to him easily, intuitively. He knows how to correct mistakes without belittling a player, or how to compliment an athlete without swelling his ego. He can be intimidating to a young man unaccustomed to his silent pondering in the midst of conversation.

This is a man whose distinct, rough voice when directed at his players can be heard above the din at feverish Wachs Arena. In the locker room after a difficult loss he has openly wept, feeling lousy for his players who worked hard only to fall short on the scoreboard.

That sort of emotional display rallies his players and inspires loyalty. The man knows basketball, but his big heart becomes apparent, and for many players it is a part of him that overshadows even his considerable coaching skills.

What sort of young man does Coach Meyer recruit?

“I want kids we’ll enjoy coaching,” he says. “I look for toughness, intelligence, and a willingness to be part of a team. We also want kids who will be a good fit at our school and in our community.”

“He’s a unique guy, that’s for sure,” [one former player who is now an assistant on his staff] says of Meyer. “He’s smart and tough, but you figure out in a hurry that he really cares for his players. On the court, in practice or in games, he knows how to push the competitive buttons in you. He becomes like a father-figure for his players, and that tough-love personality changes once you know him off the basketball court.”

[The player] described frequent visits by the team to Meyer’s home for team dinners or gatherings where players saw the more relaxed side of their coach. “He’s quite hilarious, really funny, and I’ve gotten to know that side of him even more as an assistant coach. He knows that there must be a boundary between himself and the players, but as an assistant coach I’ve gotten to know how fun-loving he is.”

This year’s team is young and inexperienced. It opened strong but has suffered inconsistencies after the holiday break. Meyer hates losing, but is philosophical about it.

“We’re playing hard. And it’s rewarding to see how a team handles tough times,” he says. “One of the best lessons as an athlete is learning how to lose. Being a gracious winner is also a big lesson. But think about what Rudyard Kipling said. If you learn how to deal with winning and losing and treat those two imposters the same, than you’ll be a better person, a richer man.”

In Meyer’s cramped Barnett Center office are stacks of brochures, leaflets and loose papers brimming with inspirational quotes and stories. He snatches several and hands them to me, suggesting they are useful. A religious man, Meyer has included many biblical quotations on these sheets.

Despite focusing so much of his life on college basketball, Meyer acknowledges the supportive role of competitive athletics in our lives.

“There is too much emphasis on sports, particularly gamblers trying to make money from sports,” Meyer says. “The aspects of sports that are most important aren’t monetarily inclined. There is great value by being part of a team, from learning how to work with a team. There’s nothing like sharing the good times and the bad times with teammates. I’ve coached a lot of games, but it’s the personal relationships I remember most. Sports, like other activities such as drama, music, and the arts can lead to great team experiences.”

College athletes, according to Meyer, enjoy special advantages. “They learn discipline, commitment and how to budget their time. These things make you a better student. They also learn to compete in the classroom, and not against their classmates, but to get the best grades they can get.”

Basketball happens to be Don Meyer’s occupation. He coaches the game, sells his own line of videotapes to help players and coaches, and promotes his own camps for coaches and players.

But if you pull the ball from his hands and lift the whistle from around his neck you can put Meyer’s life into clearer perspective.

Don Meyer invests a good deal of personal energy into self-discipline and an ongoing journey toward self-betterment. You can appreciate how those characteristics cannot help but become fused with his coaching style. Ultimately, he expects a great deal from his players, just as he expects a great deal from himself.

It has nothing to do with basketball. And it has everything to do with basketball.

A model employee retires

I read where Shareef has retired after a terrific career in which he averaged 18 ppg and 7.5 rpg over 12 seasons.

It takes a special player to put up numbers like that and he should be proud of not only what he did on the court, but the way he carried himself off of it. Reef was a real pro.

It was a genuine pleasure having been with him for two years in Atlanta when I was an assistant and then for a year with the Kings. Reef was a player who led by example, going about his job in a quiet manner. Never complaining. Coming to work every day. Taking extra shots before and after practice.

With the Hawks, I was amazed at how hard he pushed himself in the summers. He had a clear routine and followed it carefully. [He would work out with Rodney Heard.]

Some players can be high maintenance. Others are low maintenance. Reef was no maintenance. If he was working for a big company, he'd be considered a model employee.

When he was with ATL, he was primarily a 3- or 4-man. In Sacramento, he had become a more of a 4 or 5. He adapted and evolved as he got older and his knees started giving him more problems.

Away from basketball, Reef took his spirituality seriously, honoring his religion. I remember that he'd fast for a month during Ramadan while continuing to play every night. It seemed like it actually made him stronger and more focused, which always impressed me.

Best of luck to Shareef as he begins the next chapter of his life. I hope our paths cross again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What difference does a jersey make?

You may have seen where the U. of Georgia will break out their black jerseys for their game against Bama after the team's seniors made the request to Coach Mark Richt.

It may seem like a little thing that's fun for the players (and the fans), but in this case it's important for a couple of reasons:

First, that Georgia's players begin thinking about their next opponent immediately after a big win shows that they're focused.

Second, allowing the team to make decisions like this helps them to take ownership of the program and strengthens trust between the players and the staff. For those who are thinking, "It's just a jersey," I can tell you that what a team wears -- especially at tradition-rich colleges -- is often a big deal.

[Just take a look at this article. Or this one. Or this one. Boosters and alums can get really worked up over uniform designs and choices.]

Plus, talk of which jerseys a team will wear can sometimes be a distraction, as it was last year with Georgia. You want your players thinking about the game, not just wear they'll be wearing.

Even at the pro level, with the evolution of "third jerseys," "Sunday jerseys," "throwbacks," and "alternate jerseys," players show a lot of interest in what they wear during games. Some players feel strongly that certain uniforms are either lucky or unlucky.

[Sidenote: I saw the Broncos wore their orange tops this past Sunday. The Bills had on their throwbacks. In Carolina, the Hurricanes' new alternate jersey is getting rave reviews. And I read where Washington State not only has two different helmets, but two different logos.]

Sure, all of these jerseys are a great way to sell more merchandise. But they also add to the color and pageantry of sports.

The power of the will

Thanks to Zak who forwarded me a link to a NY Times story from yesterday about the Giants' OT win over the Bengals on Sunday.

After the game, Giants coach Tom Coughlin referenced "the power of the will,” something his players claim they've heard him say before.

Coaches have hundreds of pat statements, at least one for every occasion, most of them hoary and borrowed, but Coughlin’s signature remark has stuck in his players’ minds, right through last season’s turnaround, ending with the Super Bowl shocker against the Patriots.

When asked to explain the power of the will, Coughlin said: “We just gutted it out; you find a way to win. You find a way somehow, some way, to put your will over his. I think you expect that we are going to play well when the pressure is on and we are going to find a way to win the game.”

The article also credits Coach Coughlin's seemingly more relaxed demeanor for the comeback win, which has helped his team remain confident in tough situations.

Part of this poise comes from the calm persona that Coughlin has projected in the last two seasons, the demeanor of a man who learned to chill out a bit. The Giants seem to have the freedom to think on their feet now, without fearing a tantrum.

And from these quotes from two Giants players, it's clear they've bought into their coach's philosophy.

OL Chris Snee: “We’ve been here, we all have confidence. We were behind by 4 points and we broke from the huddle and we went out there with the attitude that we would be successful.”

WR Amani Toomer: “We’re not in the huddle giving Knute Rockne speeches. It’s fun to be on a team that knows how to win.”

We came in here with a plan and we stuck to our guns

Congratulations to the U.S. on winning the Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years.  U.S. captain Paul Azinger said the victory was the culmination of 24 months of hard work.

"I poured my heart and soul into this for two years, and my team poured their heart and soul into it for one week.  We came in here with a plan, and we stuck to our guns. We just went out there with a one-shot-at-a-time mission, and we did it. I can't be more proud of them."

According to Azinger, he focused more on team chemistry than in the past.  In the words of one of Azinger's players:

"I think we actually became a family, and that's something we've been missing from the past. We had a little bit of laughter and cutting up, and Paul has made it real easy for us. He gave us pingpong and he gave us foosball and he gave us every opportunity to have fun.  And if we couldn't take advantage of it, it was our own damn fault, you know what I mean?"

An insatiable hunger for self-improvement

Meant to post sooner about the SI story about Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis, who was known for his three-ring binder in high school.  

According to his coach, Laurinaitis would watch film of the upcoming opponent, carefully diagraming their every play and placing it carefully in the binder.

"I'm a better learner when I write stuff down," says Laurinaitis

The article also describes how Laurinaitis called former OSU LB Chris Spielman to ask him for advice.  [If you've forgotten Spielman's rep as a hard worker, watch this great video.]

Spielman quickly saw in Laurinaitis "the same insatiable hunger for self-improvement that drove him."  

According to Spielman:

"I talk to him like I talk to myself.  When he talks about how some aspect of his game isn't good enough, I tell him, 'It never will be good enough, but that's not going to prevent us from trying to make it good enough.' He knew exactly what I meant."

Monday, September 22, 2008

A plan for building confidence

A week ago, Fresno State lost to tenth-ranked Wisconsin, 13-10. The Bulldogs had opportunities to win, but failed to capitalize, including three missed field goals.

In fairness to Fresno State's freshman kicker Kevin Goessling, the kicks weren't all chip shots. Goessling missed from 47 and 51. The last one was a 35-yarder.

What impressed me most was what Bulldogs' head coach Pat Hill said after the game when asked about Goessling's performance:

"I think Kevin Goessling, when it's all over, will be one of the best kickers that's ever gone through here."

There's a coach who understands how to repair a player's confidence.

After I read that, I started thinking a lot about confidence and what it means to not only a player (or a coach), but a team and an organization.

In the course of doing some research, I came across a book by a Harvard Business School professor called "Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End."

Following is a recap of a presentation the author made. I've taken it from the Harvard Business School website.

CONFIDENCE by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Confidence in an organization is more than just a spirit of "We can do it." It is the foundation, systems, and culture involving positive behaviors such as open communication, self-scrutiny, respect, teamwork, accountability, collaboration, and initiative that result in winning.

In turn, winning breeds greater confidence and raises the [team or organization] to an even higher level.

Building organizational confidence, especially in turnaround situations where organizations have been on losing streaks, is the work of leaders. Leaders must instill confidence by combining short-term "bold strokes" to quickly mobilize the organization, with initiating a "long march" that changes systems and habits.

Leaders must start by building credibility and confidence in the organization through small wins. This can occur by fixing the work environment that people see every day and investing in people even prior to the achievement of results.

Key Learnings

1. The four levels of confidence.

Confidence, or lack of it, is not just a characteristic of individuals, but applies to organizations and their external stakeholders. Defining confidence is simple: positive expectations for success.

But achieving and maintaining confidence is not as simple.

Confidence falls at the midpoint between despair, which results in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and arrogance, which triggers complacency and a sense of false entitlement. Confidence produces peak performance: a willingness to invest, commit, work hard, persist and persevere, making confidence a highly desirable trait.

There are four levels of confidence, with each level building on the prior one:

-- Self-confidence: This is what most people associate with confidence. This is a personal attitude of high aspirations and expectations; it is the belief that "I can do it."

-- Team confidence: This is having confidence in each other, counting on each other, giving and receiving respect and support, and giving and taking responsibility.

-- System confidence: This entails organizations having confidence in the organizational structures and routines for accountability, collaboration, and initiative.

-- External confidence: This is confidence that external stakeholders (e.g., boosters, fans, supporters, etc.), based on their positive expectations produced by the previous three levels of confidence, will invest to provide resources (money, time, energy, etc.).

2. Confidence is part of a team's culture.

Confidence and winning is a cyclical process that feeds off of itself, as does lack of confidence and losing. These cycles involve both internal and external confidence.

Internally, a good mood and positive work environment lead to positive behaviors such as open communication, self-scrutiny to continuously improve, respect, and cooperation.

Positive behaviors lead to good problem-solving based on information and facts, teamwork and speed, and creativity and courage; in turn, good problem-solving leads to disciplines and practices that take organizations to a higher level of accountability, collaboration and initiative.

Each of these factors lead to winning, and winning reinforces the actions and leads to greater confidence.

This holds for external confidence as well. Winning yields positive attention from the press and stockholders, which further increases the resources available to the company—this includes attracting the best people who like to work for winners. Winners get better deals and are left alone by others who don't want to disrupt the winning.

Losing is the exact opposite. The culture of losing is one of bad organizational mood; low energy, and self-doubt; dysfunctional behaviors with blame and infighting; lack of information and less teamwork that results in poor problem-solving; and disciplines and practices that are eroded.

These losing behaviors in turn cause the organization to lose even more, which also translates into a decline in external confidence. Negative attention and bad press lead to fewer and less loyal fans and to declining external resources; losing teams get less favorable deals; and the effects of losing cause disruptions and distractions.

3. Winning and losing streaks are grounded in confidence.

Maintaining a winning streak, and preventing a losing streak, does not entail having no troubles, but overcoming them. The secret of winning streaks is obvious—not to lose; avoiding losing streaks is just as obvious—not to lose twice in a row. Streaks are about confidence and momentum.

No organization or situation is perfect; troubles are inevitable and include natural disasters, strategic threats, fumbles ("dropping the ball") and fatigue.

The key to winning is recognizing that troubles will occur, and finding a way to win even when experiencing problems and making mistakes. This can occur by anticipating the troubles that are likely to occur, and by practicing harder and working harder.

(The example was shared of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team, which has its starters practice not against five other players, but against eight, to simulate the most difficult circumstances imaginable, and therefore making the actual game easier.)

Winning streaks end when organizations move away from and neglect the cornerstones and basics that led to winning. This includes denial in seeing apparent problems, lack of open communications, and panicking, which results in anxiety, abandoning the plan, and throwing the organization into chaos.

4. The role of leaders in confidence building.

Building organizational confidence, and turning losing streaks into winning streaks, is the work of leaders. Great leaders build winning streaks, prevent losing streaks, and in turnaround situations, they focus on changing the momentum.

Turnarounds are always worse than the new leader thinks because the organization is depressed and skeptical because previously promised changes have not come to fruition. And there are problems under the surface that haven't even been discussed.

Leaders have to combine "bold strokes" that have an immediate impact with initiation of a "long march."

Bold strokes coming from the top of an organization [e.g., the team owner or athletic director] can result in fast and specific changes, but the changes are likely to be short-term, and the organization's systems and habits will remain unchanged.

The long march, which will be slower, fuzzier, and where the leader has less control, creates sustained long-term momentum by changing the systems and habits to build organizational confidence.

The work of leaders is to build confidence in others, even prior to achieving positive results; the confidence that is created will actually lead to the intended positive results.

Two actions that leaders can take which have a positive symbolic value include:

-- Fixing what people see every day. This is a small and simple step that creates a good mood and positive behaviors. It can include cleaning up the work environment and solving basic problems that workers find annoying.

Also, it is a small win that builds the credibility of the leader. Confidence and winning streaks are built through small wins.

-- Investing in people to show them that they are worth it. As opposed to holding out a reward for achievement of results, a strong sign can be an investment in people before results are achieved.

By showing that the leader thinks that the organization merits the investment, it boosts organizational confidence. Just the slightest glimmers of confidence in losing organizations can get the ball rolling.

5. Three things leaders can do to foster a culture of confidence.

Leaders create a culture of accountability, collaboration, and inspiration.

First, assure accountability: Make information transparent and accessible, by fostering straight talk and communicating the facts, which builds trust and prevents denial.

Next, cultivate collaboration: Create conversations across the organization; talking is required to solve problems and to reinforce respect and inclusion. Define goals that define success and that signal how each person contributes to achieving the overall goals.

Finally, inspire initiative: Encourage new ideas and treat people with respect as experts in their work. Encourage small wins that make a difference and build momentum.

Other Important Points

-- Optimists versus pessimists. Winners tend to be optimists who seek out information, even if negative. Pessimists are often in denial and don't want to know the truth so they don't seek information.

-- Practice. For athletes to practice is clear, but how do business people practice? By refining the technical skills that they use in their profession, and by tackling difficult problems that stretch them.

-- Honesty. Companies need honest assessments of reality. These can be gained through anonymous surveys.

-- Higher standards. For organizations on neither winning or losing streaks, but that win some/lose some, one secret is to create higher standards for the organization seeking to raise performance levels.

-- Tough is OK. Fear is not a great way to build confidence, but being tough, setting high standards, and not accepting excuses is effective at driving people and organizations to higher performance.