A very interesting excerpt from Nick Nurse’s book Rapture:
Other aspects of Mudra’s guidance are not as easily grasped because they really challenge coaching orthodoxy (Nurse is referencing Darrell Mudra and his book “Freedom in the Huddle”). For example: Do not expect your players to be selfless. Do not even expect them to always put team and winning first. Every player, Mudra wrote, “has goals that are more important than winning, and they have many loyalties.”
That sounds like everything your eight-grade basketball coach tried to beat out of you. The myth was you always gave yourself fully to the team. One hundred percent. If you scored two points or thirty – or even if you rode the bench the entire game – it didn’t matter as long as the team won. You were happy and content.
What I learned from Mudra, and what I know from my years of coaching, is that a big part of my job is to recognize my players’ selfish goals – in all their particulars – and then find a way to make them come into line with the team’s need to win.
It’s another thing that I started doing in England. When I was coaching Tony Dorsey, I would leave him in the game at times even when we were comfortably ahead. The first time I did he sort of looked at me, and I said, “Listen, you need to score a couple of quick baskets to get to thirty points, because we’re going to make sure you are the MVP of this league.”
Recognize your players’ selfish goals. When you think about it, it’s a really smart approach. We all have selfish goals. I’ve been fortunate to win Coach of the Year awards many times in my career. And it feels really good. I like winning the award. I remember a specific year where we won our league and overcame a bunch of injuries to do so, and I thought for sure I’d win it again, but I didn’t. And it bothered me. It’s not like I was distraught or losing sleep, but it did bug me. I think it’s human nature to want to be recognized for your work, and winning awards is fun.
If it’s natural to feel that way, why are we fighting it as coaches? The standard approach is not to talk about it. To teach our guys that the team is more important, and that if we win everyone will get recognized. Yeah sounds great, but it’s not really true. A guy who sacrifices shots or plays out of position may be doing what the team needs, but he’s probably hurting his own chances for individual recognition.
I’ve always liked individual awards. I want my players to want to be first-team all league, or Player of the Year. I’ not saying individual awards are more important than winning. The key is to recognize that they are important to everyone, and that is okay. We all want to be recognized. And rare is the case where someone is having a great individual year that earns honors but he isn’t helping the team.
I’ve heard Stan Van Gundy talk about his time with the Orlando Magic, and how unselfish and team-oriented that team was when he led them to the NBA Finals – except for one guy. His best player, Dwight Howard. He said Dwight was more concerned with himself, his numbers and his contract than anyone else. What was Stan going to do about it? He wasn’t going to change Dwight Howard to get him to sacrifice his numbers at that point in his career. He incorporated Dwight Howard’s goals within the teams goals, similar to what Nick Nurse talks about. He constantly told Dwight and the team that he should lead the league in rebounding, knowing that being a selfish rebounder was really good for the team.
Do not expect your players to be selfless. It’s really interesting to think about. We use words like sacrifice and unselfish with all of our teams. We want our players to think and act that way, but it’s probably not realistic. It’s okay for everyone to have their own personal goals within the team. Will those goals sometimes conflict with each other? Sure. That’s when you have to coach. Recognize that everyone has personal goals, maybe even selfish ones, and figure out the best way to make it work for the team. To act like your players are going to be selfless just because you keep saying it, or because it is one of your core values, isn’t realistic.