Getting To Us

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You have to be empathetic in knowing that everybody has their own lives, and everybody has something tough going on. You need to make sure you understand that before you coach them
— Brad Stevens

As soon as I saw Seth Davis tweet about his book being released in March, I knew I had to read it. I have total affection for anything that is "behind the scenes" and especially if it involves coaches. This book was unique in the sense that each coach he profiled (there are nine) are all in the same profession but have such differing approaches that work for them and their teams. As I get more experience coaching I have realized that there really isn't just one way to do something and we have the ability to learn from those that we may see as different from ourselves. 

Davis did a nice job of not just speaking to these coaches about their successes or one specific aspect of their leaderships styles, but rather he focused on their entire lives and how past experiences bolstered future endeavors. From Coach K's diverse cultural upbringing to the chaotic upbringing that Dabo Swinney experienced, the stories are engaging and shed light on how these coaches became the leaders we see today.

Here are a few interesting pieces from the book I thought would be worth sharing. 

Teach Them And Then Empower Them

Urban Meyer is a really interesting character, and one who has needed to adjust his life and style to better suit his mental state. The story of how his family made him sign a contract with various stipulations prior to accepting the job at Ohio State has become famous. But what may surprise many given the style of coaching we all see is how Meyer really leans on his staff. In fact it would be hard to imagine how his mental state would be if he tried to do everything himself. As Davis notes, "One of the staples of Meyer’s leadership was his ability to teach assistants what he needed them to know and then empower them to pass that knowledge to the players." This is important not just in understanding how Meyer operates, but for making sure that assistant feel just as important to the overall success or failure of the team as the head coach does. Meyer shows that this isn't just an empty sentiment. He would often create moments throughout the season where his coaches were put on the spot to help improve the team. As Davis notes, "At various times during the season, Meyer would call on one of the leaders without warning and ask him to speak to the team. “You’ve got fifteen minutes,” he would say. “Make us better.” "

I think this does a couple things. In addition to teaching his coaches what is expected of them and then allowing them to impart this information to their players, giving his coaches the opportunity to address the team in a valuable way must gain the staff real credibility within the team. Meyer isn't a perfect coach and surely has his flaws, but the way in which he relies on his staff proves to be incredibly fruitful to the success he's having in Columbus.

"The answer is I spend time with my players"

This is what Tom Izzo said when asked about what he does best. I found it to be profound, especially in a time in which it's much easier for coaches to play the "I can't relate" card. But when you really think about it, people are people. Regardless of age, social status, or anything else. We all have the capability to get to know one another. By spending time with other people our eyes are often opened to how people work, what makes them tick, etc. I am sure many coaches would rather focus on winning and utilizing their players like pawns on a chessboard rather than spend the time it takes to get to know them. Izzo is proof that success can be maintained with this approach and that in getting to know his players it has led to even more meaningful victories.

From day one, he creates a family atmosphere and makes it known that he cares about you as an individual.” Izzo offers this service because he genuinely cares about his players, but he also believes that it helps the team win. “When people ask me what I do best, everyone thinks it’s rebounding or whatever,” he says. “The answer is I spend time with my players. That’s how I get to know them and can determine which way I need to go with them.

Izzo wants to be so available to his players that back in 2002 when Michigan State built a new basketball facility he didn't want a door on his office (fire codes prohibited this). But it again proves that he wanted his players to know they could always come to him and in his terms he "thought it would set the tone". The model he has created at MSU is undoubtedly special and I imagine in no small part due to his open door policy.

Teach, Show, Do.

When you really think about the key elements of coaching it is this, first you teach someone how to do something, next you show them how to do it, and then you let them do it themselves. Along the way though we are all guilty of making this more complicated than it is, or needs to be. In Davis's profile on Jim Harbaugh, another guy I didn't expect to take much away from but ultimately did, he talks about cutting the grass as a kid and his grandpa's influence on his coaching. “If you were going to cut the grass, he’d teach you, he’d show you, and then he’d let you do it. That’s how it works in coaching. You give them a tool, give them a teaching point, but at some point the player has to learn to do it himself.”

It's simple advice, something we all know. It also seems like it would be common sense but many times the simplest ideas can be the hardest to implement. It's another reminder to me that when things seem to be the most difficult it is best to go back to the basics. Start there and then ultimately the players have to be able to learn themselves.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book.  Not only did it feel like I was getting to know all these different coaches, it felt like I was getting to peer behind the curtain just a little bit. It reiterated the point that even people we don't necessarily have aligned views with, there is always something to learn if we look in the right places. 

Click Here to purchase a copy yourself via Amazon