The mark of a great coach is sustained success. Success often breeds success, so once you win, it makes it easier. 8th graders enroll at the high school with the most success, so it continues to feature the best players. Colleges recruit based on success, as the more successful programs have a better chance to go to the Final Four, so they get better players who make it easier to get back to the Final Four.
However, is it that simple? Is Duke University good every year because Coach K regularly signs 3-4 McDonald’s All-Americans per class? Or, do the great programs do something that others don’t?
I don’t really know. I’ve never been around Coach K or Ben Howland or Roy Williams or Tom Izzo to know how they maintain their success. However, in The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, I found a clue. A hotel manager explains to Gerber why his hotel differs from others. The manager says about his first day on the job when he met the owner:
Somehow the idea of what we do here is his idea. And that’s what he took so long to communicate to me on that first day – his idea of this place and what that meant to him.
I did work the Gonzaga basketball camp one summer. Gonzaga uses this idea. They sell players on the idea of Gonzaga basketball. They recruit similar players and give the current players veto power over any recruit. If the players do not think the player fits with their group, they do not offer a scholarship. Gonzaga’s sustained success has largely been due to this philosophy. They recruit gym rats who want to play basketball all the time. That’s the idea they sell. I am sure they expand on the idea, but that is what I felt when I was there. I have rarely seen a team that seemed to like each other as much.
The hotel manager continues:
“He said, ‘The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we’re sloppy at it, it’s because we’re sloppy inside…How we do our work becomes a mirror of how we are inside.”
The best coaches create a similar ethos. It is more than a coach telling the players to play hard. It is what being a part of the program means. How can you go to Duke, knowing its history, and not play hard, dive on the floor, take pride in your defense, etc? The idea is set forth, players know what they have to do and the coaching becomes easier, as the idea polices the players.
Gerber writes that the most frequent question he receives is: “How do I get my people to do what I want?” He writes:
You can’t…If you want it done, I tell them, you’re going to have to create an environment in which ‘doing it’ is more important to your people than not doing it. Where ‘doing it well’ becomes a way of life for them.
Coaches think that motivation is the pre-game speech. I believe that if the players need a rah-rah speech before the game, something is wrong. To build a successful program, coaches must create the environment which breeds success and which makes doing things the right way – all the time – more important than doing things the easy way. When the environment is there, players police themselves and coaching and maintaining success become easier because it is built into the every day habits of the team.