How do you coach the kid on your team who is an important player but doesn’t always do the right thing? We’ve all had them. I’d say most of the teams I’ve coached have one or two guys like that. Good players, important pieces to your success. But not entirely bought in, or maybe just not capable of staying focused and locked in the way you want.

He’s the good player who just can’t make it to study hall on time all the time, or misses his 8 AM class no matter how many times you show up and discipline him for it. Or he might be the clown who just goofs off a bit too much, not really sure when to take things seriously. You know he’s important to the team, and you know he’s got his flaws, so you have to figure out the best way to coach him.

I think one of the leadership mistakes we make is trying to ask players to do things they are not capable of. We want all of our guys to be leaders. We want players who show up early to get extra shots up, who show elite commitment every day, and who influence their teammates to do the same. But not everyone is wired that way. You can waste a lot of time and capital with your players trying to get leadership qualities out of those who either can’t do it or simply don’t want to.

You have to hold everyone accountable to the same standard, of course. It’s not like you are going to let certain players get away with showing up late or not going to class. But asking those guys to be leaders is a mistake. Figure out what they are capable of from a leadership standpoint. Evaluate what they are good at, how they can help the team, and ask them to do that.

Often times one of these guys isn’t always the most reliable, but when the ball goes up he’s a great competitor. There is tremendous value in that. So when you talk to him, celebrate that with him, and tell him that’s how you expect him to lead the team. You don’t have to be the guy rallying the troops in the weight room or making sure guys are on time to class, but when we get to practice you have to set the tone every day for the way we compete. That’s where you can be a leader for us. Find the stuff that they are good that, and require them to do that.

Stan Van Gundy visited us at IMG last year and told our coaches a great story about his Orlando Magic team that he took to the NBA Finals. He said it was one of the most unselfish teams he had ever coached, except for one guy who was a little too concerned with his own statistics – but that guy happened to be his best player, Dwight Howard. Dwight was so talented and so productive that everyone on the team knew how important he was, but he wasn’t always concerned with is teammates.

So they gave Dwight Howard personal goals that would help the team. They set goals for him to lead the league in rebounding and be the defensive player of the year in the same year, something that at that point hadn’t been done in the NBA. They were personal goals that Howard could buy into because he knew they would help him get paid, but they were also focused on things that would help the team. If he was the best defensive player and the best rebounder in the league, he would help the team immensely.

It’s not an easy balance to find. But it’s important to understand each one of your players and what they are really capable of giving you. You can end up fighting with your players all year by asking them to do things they aren’t comfortable with or capable of doing. Figure out what they can do to help you, and demand it out of them.

Hold them accountable, for sure. But don’t get caught up asking them to do things you want them to do, when they don’t really have the capacity to do it.

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