Every team you coach will teach you a great deal, as long as you are open to improvement. Perhaps no team will teach you more than the first one you lead. Looking back on my first year as a head coach, at Rhode Island College in 2005, these are the key lessons I learned.
They won’t really play for you until they trust you. Be clear, concise and demanding. But make sure you are straight up with them – always.
They’ll trust you when you trust them. It’s a two-way street. If they see you believe in them, they’ll believe in you.
Think long-term over short-term. This will be hard, but crucial.
Talent matters. Having some success as you are trying to figure it out is important. It’s so much harder to create anything through losing.
Change is hard, but necessary. Things will be different with a new leader. Change is happening, and tangible change they can see has a big impact.
Avoid the urge to fit in and be liked. Even the best kids will find the easy way out, and you may not notice it.
Inconsistency hammers your credibility. Make all the mistakes you want. Own up to them. But don’t ever say one thing and do another.
It’s okay if you don’t know. Admit it and show some vulnerability. It will create safety within your team, where they won’t be afraid to make a mistake.
What you say off the floor matters more. It matters a lot more than what you say in the gym. Really get to know them.
Someone may have to go. You might have to remove a player that you like, who can really help you, for the long-term culture of the organization.
Talking about last year is counterproductive. It only creates resentment. Leave last year alone.
Define your defensive system. No matter how you want to play. The most important basketball decision I made.
Put your culture first – always. As hard as it may be, if you are only thinking about winning the game tomorrow, you are going to lose that game more often than not. Shortcuts to victory are not sustainable.
Talk to them in behaviors. Take all of your values, principles and buzzwords and figure outwit they look like on the basketball court. Then get them to do that.
The game honors toughness. A core value that travels with you always. Smart and tough wins.
Don’t put them in a box. Resist the urge to define who they are. Let them be themselves, and see what they are good at. The more you tell them what to do and who to be, the lower their ceiling.
Create ownership. Ask a lot of questions. You want decision-makers at the point of attack. Create leaders, not followers. Compliant teams have a less potential.
The simpler the better – they will believe in you quicker if it makes sense to them. “A cluttered mind equals slow feet” – Stan Van Gundy. They’ll buy-in if they understand it.
Conditioning is a separator. Other teams just aren’t doing it that much. A team that knows it is in great shape is really mentally tough.
They don’t really care how much you know – ever. What they really care about is if you are making them better. Once the know you are, you’ve got em.
You can’t fool them. Even the dumb ones. Trust me.
Practice your timeouts. The right message delivered properly in 25 or 45 seconds… just isn’t that easy. Work on it.
It’s theirs, not yours. Don’t ever forget it.