CBS Sunday Morning ran a cover story about Sears, and how the once-dominant retail giant is now in bankruptcy. It was a fascinating story for my generation who grew up with the 1,500 page Sears catalog on their living room table.

At the end of the piece, an executive from Stew Leonard’s that is replacing a Sears story in New Jersey said, “It’s just a message to all businesses in America. You know, you have to change. This is a good reminder for us. We have to change every day.”

We have to change every day.

Winning is hard. And I’ve always said that sustaining winning at an elite level is the hardest thing to do in college sports. I don’t think we celebrate Kansas’ streak of 14-straight regular season titles enough. Or Gonzaga going to 20 straight NCAA Tournaments. Streaks like that – sustained excellence at an elite level – are incredible to me.

It’s a conversation coaches have a lot. After a breakthrough year, winning a championship and going to the NCAA Tournament, you want to know – how do you do it again? How do you sustain it? Usually the last thing you think about is change.

Change

Things are going to be different next year. I don’t care how many starters you have coming back, or how much talent you have on the roster, every year you start with a new team. So many team dynamics change. You have to accept that.

Think about it. Last year you had something to prove, especially if you’d never won before. Now you no longer have something to prove. Other teams have something to prove against you. You won. They want to prove they can beat you.

Individual goals change every year, for every team. I’m sure you had some younger guys that were new to the program, that played a certain role. And they were valuable. Well they went home for the summer with a goal of coming back and being a starter this year. And the starters all have a goal of becoming all-league players. And there is some new talent coming in, as there is every year, that can probably help you. Team dynamics are very different year after year. That doesn’t change because you won. In fact, it’s probably made harder because you won.

If you have 5 starters back, that’s great, but I’m sure some of the bench guys went home with a goal to prove that they should start. You’ve only got 2 starters back? Well, things are going to be different – you are going to have at least 3 new guys starting this year.

All of your guys will have individual goals, and some of them will achieve them and some of them won’t. So they will all have to deal with that. Everyone on your team will have to deal with different things they didn’t have to deal with last year.

So accepting change to me was always the first key when we started to sustain success. That meant, as a coach, never referring to last year. We never tried to defend a title or to repeat. I never wanted to compare my players, and what they were doing, to last year. My team never heard “Last year, we did those things, and that’s why we won.” This team is totally different. What we have to deal with is totally different. Let’s get comfortable with that.

This team isn’t trying to do anything again. This team is trying to do something special for the first time.

Own It As A Group

Getting your players to own the change is very important. It really starts with how much control you are willing to give them as a coach, regardless if you’ve won or not.

We recently had a visit from Stan Van Gundy to work with our coaches and players at IMG Academy. He had a great message for the players about culture. He said “ultimately, you will decide what he culture of your team is all about. Not the coaches. They will either like or or not like it, and they will try and change the stuff they don’t like. But you decide the culture of your team.”

Get them to understand that they are in charge of the culture. They ultimately how they deal with the new dynamics on the team. Don’t ask them to be like they were last year, or to be committed to winning. Ask them to be committed to one another.

It’s not how much winning matters to you, it’s how much your teammates matter to you. That doesn’t mean there won’t be issues. Every team has them. But your ability to work them out is about how much you care about the guy sitting next to you.

Are you really willing to sacrifice personal stuff for the guy sitting next to you? If you are, think about what that means. If you aren’t starting, you should be happy for the five guys that are. If you don’t think you are getting enough shots, are you doing other things to help your teammates, or is that affecting you too much?

First your players have to understand the changing dynamics, and then they have to own the responsibility of it.

Flush The Little Stuff

When you think back 10 or 20 years, there is so much stuff that really bothered you that seems so dumb now – in any aspect of life. College is probably the time in your life you worried about more stupid stuff that really didn’t matter. You really don’t have a ton of responsibility yet in your life, yet you aren’t experienced enough to understand the insignificance.

So it’s natural that the same things happen on college teams. When I get a chance to speak to different coaches or teams, I try and ask them about the little things that bother them. All teams have them. Little things that stick with you longer than they should, and they affect your approach moving forward.

This is more amplified on teams that have had success because of the intensity of the environment every day and the new expectation of success. But those little things that chip away at your approach are really irrelevant in the big picture, other than the negative impact they can have right now.

You don’t like the way the coach yelled at you? You know what, maybe he was wrong, or maybe he’s having a bad day. But don’t let it affect your ability to play hard. You don’t think you are getting enough shots? Scorers find a way to score. If you show your teammates you can make plays, you’ll get the ball. You think you are better than the guy in front of you? Prove it every day. No coach is keeping any player on the bench who he thinks can help him win. It just isn’t happening. You have some off the court beef with someone on your team? Bringing that to the court every day is going to seem incredibly dumb when your career is over.

Being a part of a team is a truly unique experience. There is no other team in the world like the one you are on, and you’ll never be a part of that team again. For almost everyone, your college team is the last team you will play on in your life. You may be a part of a company or other groups that refer to themselves as a “team,” but it’s not the same. Let me know if you get up to lift at 6 AM with your office mates 3 days a week on that team. It’s just different. And it’s special.

So are you really going to let some of these minor things that you don’t like affect your day to day experience with your team? 10 years from now you are all going to be back on campus together celebrating the experience you had, dying for one more chance to lace up your sneakers with your teammates. If you let any of these small issues negatively affect this special day to day experience you have right now, you are really going to regret it.

No matter how much success you’ve had, change is inevitable, and your team has to understand that. Get them to own it, take responsibility for how to handle it, and flush any of the little things that are getting in the way.

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