Characteristics you’ll find on high-achieving teams:


The responsibility of winning is a part of your every day life.  It’s how you go about your business away from the court.  High-achievers don’t decide to be a certain way when they show up to practice.  It’s a mentality and an approach that is a part of who you are.  Great teams have players who bear the responsibility of winning all the time.  Showing up on time, always mentally prepared, giving everything you have.  It is part of the DNA of those teams, so it’s not something you think about when you leave the building.  It’s an approach that becomes second nature.  Coaches shape this level of responsibility, but eventually the players embrace it as part of their personality, and it’s something they don’t have to think about.  They do things the right way all the time.

Everybody wants to win.  That’s easy, because it’s a lot better than the alternative.  But how many people on your team embrace the responsibility it takes to win?  That’s a big difference.


Great teams learn to accept reality.  The players look in the mirror and see the truth – the good and the bad.  And that is okay, they can deal with it.  Reality for most players ends up being different than what they expected.  Confident players always think they are going to play – a lot.  They think they’ll be a scorer, a key player, a starter.  At some point almost every player has to accept reality – they won’t get 20 per game, they won’t start, they aren’t the best player.  Once a team starts to accept reality they can reach their full potential.

There are so many things players have to accept.  This is how practice is going to be.  This is how coach is going to talk to me.  This is the way we are going to play.  This is what’s going to be demanded out of me defensively.  This is the commitment I have to make on and off the court to be a part of it.  This is how hard it’s going to be, and I’d better figure it out.

Perhaps the most important thing to accept is losing.  No matter how good you are, you are going to lose.  You’ll lose games, you’ll lose drills in practice, you’ll lose your starting spot, you’ll lose playing time.  A huge part of being a great competitor is the ability to accept losing.  That doesn’t mean you get comfortable with it.  It just means you handle it the right way.  It’s part of the process, and how you respond to it determines so much of who you are.

High-achieving teams accept what is put in front of them, and it allows them to achieve greatness.


One of the great things about coaching on the Division 3 level is the ownership created.  You simply aren’t doing it unless you love it, and you want to do it for yourself.  In fact the structure at that level – where coaches are not allowed to work with their players at all in the off-season – creates a high level of ownership.  Even with going deep into the NCAA Tournament, our season ended in the middle of March.  The season was only 5 months long, which makes the off-season 7 months.  The players had more time on their own than they had with you.  If they wanted to get better, they had to take ownership.

The difference between compliance and ownership is huge for high-achieving teams.  If your players are in the gym in the off-season because the coaches are constantly telling them they have to be, it’s not theirs.  They don’t own it.  When they get in the gym because they want to be their, the progress will be intentional.  Forcing someone to do something can take the passion away.

The foot soldiers if high-achieving organizations take ownership of everything – the mission, the approach, the commitment, the work that goes into it.  When it’s time to perform under pressure  – think of a big game – they have to own their actions.  Think about games where you feel like you have to coach your players on every pass – you aren’t getting the most out of them.  They had to be able to make decisions for themselves.

Competitive Excellence

Competition surrounds everything in high-achieving organizations.  It doesn’t mean it is ruthless or cutthroat.  It’s just means there is a competitive edge about everything that happens.  The players are driven to do their best no matter what the situation – practice, individual development, academics.  They learn to handle the pressure of trying to win and the disappointment of losing – two essential elements of being a great competitor.  They bring it mentally every day regardless of how they feel.

This competitive excellence translates into great intensity on the practice floor, the laboratory where teams learn what it takes to win.  Practices become extremely competitive every day, but competitive excellence also involves learning how to compete against your teammates.  There is a great competitive edge on the floor but as soon as practice is over you’ve got each other’s back.  There is no animosity after the fact – competitive excellence is part of the fabric of the organization and doesn’t affect the relationships.

Conflict and Confrontation

High-achieving, intense environments are going to bring about some tension and conflict, and that is fine.  It’s normal.  It’s part of what needs to be accepted.  I’ve never coached a great team that didn’t have conflict going on throughout the year.  It’s almost impossible not to.  You see each other every day, you’re in an extremely competitive environment and winning and losing takes place every day.  If you don’t have conflict, your team probably isn’t very competitive.

Confrontation is necessary to resolve conflict.  Confrontation is an important part of leadership.  It’s not something that should be avoided.  It’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader – doing things simply to avoid conflict.  Conflict is a sign that there is a competitive edge around your team.  Recognize it, understand what is going on, and embrace it.  Handle it the right way to fit your team.

Show me a team that doesn’t have conflict and confrontation and I’ll show you a team that isn’t achieving great things.


The best teams I’ve been a part of have been assertive.  They accept reality, they take ownership of the approach of the organization and it all really matters to them.  So when it comes time to speak up, they are willing to do so.  They feel a responsibility to do so, and they are also made comfortable doing so by the environment they are in.

It’s not just the loud guys.  Everyone on the team feels comfortable stepping up and making a difference.  It’s not just with what they say, although that’s a big part of it.  But it’s how they operate.  If they don’t like something that is going on, they are going to change it.  If they don’t like what’s happening in practice, they’ll do something about it.  When you need an honest answer out of them about something that is effecting the team, they’ll give it to you.  And if something needs to be said or done in the locker room, it’s taken care of.

The right environment in a high-achieving organization allows for everyone to step up and be assertive.


If I asked each one of your players individually what the mission of your program was, what would they say?  Would they be able to tell me?  Would they all give me the same answer?  Or asked a different way, if I asked them to describe your organization in one word, what would that word be?  Again, would they all give me the same answer or something different?

Great teams have a direct approach and a clear mission.  Everyone in the organization  – coaches, players, managers, trainers – knows what that mission is and is on board.  The best illustration of it is the famous story of JFK visiting NASA when he was President in the ’60s and introducing himself to a janitor.  He asked the janitor what it was he did for NASA, and his response was “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Clarity of purpose is a key for high-achieving teams.  Your kids should know exactly what is important to you and what the behaviors are that allow them to achieve what is important to you.  It should be clear, transparent and direct.  Clarity allows you to get the most out of everyone on your team.


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