My, that’s a lot of words for one title, Scott!
Yes, I know.
But each one of those words played a significant role in this past Monday’s episode of the Great Quotes for Coaches podcast and in this week’s video over on the SlamDunk Success YouTube channel.
Those words all played a role in different quotes in an article in The Athletic Daily online newspaper titled, “Accolades abound but little ego on this Team USA staff: ‘You’re just here to serve.’”
The article was about how the four main coaches on the Team USA Basketball staff at the FIBA World Cup tournament work so well together.
The coaches are Steve Kerr—the head coach of Team USA and the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Eric Spoelstra—the head coach of the Miami Heat, Ty Lue—the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Mark Few—the head coach at Gonzaga University.
The quotes that I talked about in the podcast episode came from a few different paragraphs in the article. I was blown away by how these four coaches—considered by many people who know what they’re talking about to be the absolute best in the business right now—were all about sacrificing for each other and for the good of Team USA basketball.
The first quote was from Spoelstra. “It’s really fun being part of a team and a program — and Steve (Kerr) talks about this — where in the NBA, a lot of things get in the way, and in normal life as well. When you come together for USAB, it’s all about collaborating and coming together for a common goal, in a matter of six weeks, to try to win a gold medal. You check everything else to the side, and really, you’re just here to serve. Sometimes, it means sacrifice, but it’s really more a matter of serving — serving each other, serving players, serving the program — and coming together to hopefully do something special.”
Isn’t that what servant leadership and being on a team should be all about?!
That quote came in the article right after a short explanation of how Spoelstra was helping the team by doing all kinds of things that, as the head coach of the Miami Heat, he probably has numerous other people do for him. But for Team USA, Spoelstra is all about serving the team.
Later in the article, Ty Lue expanded on the idea of the dynamic of all four of them working together. But he especially highlighted how Spoelstra was serving the team by saying, “Spo’s doing scouts, which I bet he hasn’t done in 15 years. Steve and Spo are the two best coaches in the NBA, and Spo’s doing scouts. The players should see that. Won two championships, and he’s sacrificing, doing scouts, running drills.”
The players should see that.
What would your players (or members of whatever type of team you lead) see you doing that shows how much you sacrifice and serve the program?
What kind of sacrifice and service are you getting in return from them?
Not that you sacrifice and serve because you are expecting it from others.
You sacrifice and serve because it is the right thing to do in a team setting.
However, it is also a great reminder to others and a great example for others when they see their leaders doing all of the little things that help the team be successful.
A little later in the article, Few talked about how Kerr encourages the coaches to all say whatever they feel they need to say. “Steve obviously leads the meetings … but everybody says everything,”
“Yeah, (we disagree), but in a good way,” Kerr said. “We all just throw stuff out and debate different things. That’s one of the best parts about it, one of the most fun parts about when you get into a debate and not everyone agrees, because that’s when the basketball stuff really comes out and you debate the pros and cons of doing it a certain way.”
Do you do that with your staff?
Do you encourage that kind of open, honest dialogue from your fellow coaches? From your players?
For a few years now, when I have spoken to coaches, athletes, and teams of all types, I have talked about creating a Say Anything culture.
I got that name from the title of a book by Doug Crandall & Matt Kincaid called, Say Anything: How Leaders Inspire Ideas, Cultivate Candor, and Forge Fearless Cultures.
I loved that book, and I have referenced it often since reading it nine years ago. It gets at the heart of what too many leaders fail to do: encourage their people to speak up openly and honestly when they have an idea, concern, or problem.
Most of us say we have an open-door policy and that we encourage openness, honesty, and candor.
But then when someone actually exercises that option, we often shut them down, either knowingly or unknowingly. Hence, important ideas that could have helped us be our best, never come to light in the future because our people don’t want to speak up.
But it’s obvious that Kerr is not doing that with Team USA.
He is encouraging his people to speak up and say what they want.
This is a win-win. It empowers others to speak up and offer ideas, and it leads to more success because those ideas have been brought to light.
A Culture Built on Relationships and Communication
“Culture” has become a major buzzword around the athletic and business worlds over the last twenty years.
That’s a good thing.
The best teams in the world all have strong cultures of excellence that have been built intentionally.
The leaders of these teams understand the value of creating a great culture to bring out the best in everyone.
However, as with so many buzzwords in our world, the word has lost some of its luster, strength, and power over the last few years because it has been used so much that people have grown tired of it.
A great culture is a huge key to a team’s success.
Unfortunately, too many people nowadays want to point to talent as being the key to a team’s success.
Yes, talent is a key ingredient to success. If you don’t have talented people in place doing what they do best, you are going to struggle to succeed.
However, the athletic and business worlds are littered with stories of teams filled with great talent that failed to succeed and become the best they could be.
Because those teams all too often lacked a culture, an identity, and a set of core values that guided them to become the best they were capable of becoming.
That is not the case with teams led by great leaders.
And Steve Kerr is a great leader.
People often focus on the immense amount of talent on the Golden State Warriors that he has coached. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant are the names that come to mind most often.
But there are more than just four players on a team—there are fifteen on a roster. If they don’t have a common goal, work together, learn to get along, and put aside their differences and their own selfish goals for the good of the team, it doesn’t matter how talented they are; they’re not going to be the best team that they can be.
Few talked about the importance of culture. “It’s interesting, he (Spoelstra) and I talk about culture a lot. That’s something that we pride ourselves on with our culture at Gonzaga. You know, Steve is more reluctant to talk about it, but even during the course of the year, I kept banging him on just how strong his culture is at Golden State.”
Ultimately, a culture is going to be most impacted by the two most important things to any team setting—relationships and communication.
Steve Kerr knows that to be true. “All this stuff is relationships and communication,” he said.
Those of us in the teaching and coaching worlds learn quickly that we are in relationship businesses.
The sooner we figure that out, the sooner we can get to work on building great relationships with our students, athletes, fellow teachers and coaches, parents, administrators, and anyone else we deal with in our role as a teacher or coach.
Those who don’t figure that out and then work based on it often don’t last in these professions.
And the way you build relationships with others is through clear communication.
Most problems that we have in our world can usually be traced back to miscommunication, poor communication, or a lack of communication.
Teaching and coaching are no different.
Actually, in some ways they are different, in that good communication is even more important in teaching and coaching than in a lot of other professions and areas of life.
If you can’t communicate, you will not be successful, or at least not successful for very long.
Your classes and your teams are counting on you to communicate clearly, concisely, and honestly, while at the same time motivating them with inspiration and impact.
When you do that, relationships can be built, bonds can be forged, and the road to success is straight and clear.
When you don’t do that, everything becomes a laborious, winding, climb up a road filled with potholes and obstacles to negotiate that make it much harder to reach the destination of the success you seek.
Service, Sacrifice, Culture, Relationships, and Communication—if you can learn the value of these, live by them, and incorporate them into the development of your teams, you will find success beyond your expectations and dreams.