To earn playing time in our program, you had to do two things: Compete and produce. I learned to simplify things as much as possible for our players when it came to playing time. I think a mistake I made early in my head coaching career was not defining exactly what the players had to do to earn playing time. I didn’t want to put myself in a box, like many head coaches. I decided who played, and I would do so in the best interests of the team. But I realized if you wanted your program to be a true meritocracy, where everything was earned, the players needed simple answers as to how they would get on the floor.
Competing has always been the foundation of who we are as a program. It’s something that’s extremely valuable, and something we can control. Competing has nothing to do with your opponent, the scouting report, or outside factors (unless you are mentally weak). While I do think talent has something to do with your ability to compete, it’s pretty easy to evaluate a player who is competing his hardest and getting the most out of his ability. We talk to our guys all the time about the way we compete, what that behavior looked like, and what it meant to our team. We had to reward great competitors with playing time if it was so important to us.
But that wasn’t enough. You simply aren’t going to play the 5 guys who compete the hardest all the time. Every team has a couple of guys, maybe walk-ons, who are incredible competitors, who win every sprint and bring it at a high level all the time. A lot of times those guys aren’t the most gifted players on the team. And they are extremely valuable to any team. You have to have them. But they aren’t always going to start, or even play a lot. Talent matters too. They have to be able to produce.
It’s okay to value production as much as you do competing, or any other of your core values. We all love great competitors, but it’s naive to think you are going to win championships with 5 overachieving walk-ons who will run through a wall for you. You have to have production. Every team has a guy or two who maybe isn’t as focused or doesn’t bring it the same way every day, but goes out and puts 15 and 7 on the board each night. Those guys may not compete the way you want, but they produce. And your kids understand that their production helps them win games. It’s important to value you those guys, to let your team know that production matters as well. The guy that never blocks out but gets 8 rebounds is probably helping the team more than they guy who blocks out all of the time and comes up with 4.
So we told our guys once practice started that their job was to compete and produce, every day. Having a guy who puts some points on the board but doesn’t make an effort to defend or rebound is hurting your team in certain areas, but so is the guy who plays his ass off all the time but can’t throw it in the ocean. They just look different in how they are doing it, and sometimes we overlook production because we want it to look a certain way.
You can have a championship culture that values great competitors but also values production. And in doing so, you avoid painting yourself into a corner as a coach. Don’t get so caught up in your culture that you forget that production really matters.