"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now."
- Chinese Proverb
I found this passage from Pat Summitt's book "Sum It Up" fascinating. She talks about how she handled the fact that two of her best players - Nicky Anosike and Candace Parker - didn't like each other.
"But there was one issue we had to solve: Nicky and Candace couldn't stand each other. They clashed like plaid and stripes, and no amount of circling up and campfire conversation could hide that fact. There were days in practice when they would barely exchange a glance.
The problem was they were so different, yet equally competitive. Candace made everything look natural and smooth; Nicky was all work and power. Candace was our best offensive player, Nicky our best defender. I decided the tension between them wasn't all bad, if I could find a way to channel it.
I threw them into what Nikki Caldwell liked to call "the pit." Summoning a long-ago lesson from my experience in the Olympic Trials, I matched them up in a one-on-one drill, then stood back and let them go at it. I had a feeling they would each learn a lesson. It was like an old movie where two monsters fight: Nicky would smack down Candace, but then Candace would school Nicky. Candace prided herself on winning every drill. Well, guess who won - Nicky. Defense had carried the day, as I suspected it might. Candace couldn't stand it - she hated to lose at anything, and she was beside herself. She stormed back and forth for a minute, and then she came running over to me.
She said, "We have to go again."
Nicky put the ball on her hip and said, "Coach, we're not playing again. I already won."
"No, no, no," Candace said.
"IT"S OVER!" Nicky said.
I was delighted. I said, "No, let's play again."
They went back on the court, Nicky fuming. Part of the drill was that they got to call their own fouls, an honor system. Nicky had trouble finishing around the basket, but if she didn't make the bucket, she was good at drawing fouls. She missed a layup, and she called a foul. Next possession, same thing. "Yep, you fouled me again," she said. Candace was boiling. The third time Nicky called a foul, Candace started screaming.
"I didn't even touch you, you're just calling fouls 'cause you can't score, you such a PUNK!"
Nicky screamed back, "I'm not a punk, I already WON!"
By now they were crowding each other and I had to step in and try to break them up, two very salty six-foot-four and six-foot-five bodies. The other coaches came running in, and we finally got them separated. Nicky said, "Pat, you could've gotten hurt."
I loved it. In those few minutes, Candace played better D, and Nicky was more efficient offensively, and you could see that they were pulling the best out of each other. Moreover, in an odd way, it made them trust. Each of them taught the other a lesson about her value, and when we were in a tight game and needed a score, or a stop, they would know who to go to."
"Those are the situations Pat put us in, and it wasn't done accidentally. She loves confrontation and likes to create that environment, because not only is she entertained by it, but it interests her to see what people are made of and what you have inside of you." - Nicky Anosike
She recognized the tension between the two players and saw value in it for her team - that is what I find so fascinating. She was willing to create an uncomfortable situation - one that most coaches are doing everything they can to avoid - to see what they were made of and get the most out of them. It's such a great lesson that confrontation is necessary to have great leadership, and chemistry might not always be what you think it is.
That Tennessee team went on to finish 36-2 and win Summitt's 8th and final National Championship, and Summitt later notes that Parker and Anosike are now the best of friends.
Establishing a championship culture is about setting a foundation your guys will believe in. You have to be consistent in order to develop trust, and trust takes time and must be earned. Your kids aren't automatically going to trust you because you are the new head coach. The best way earn their trust is to start by holding yourself accountable.
Whatever it is you are asking your kids to do, you need to demand the same out of yourself. If you want them to be up at 6 AM to work out, you should be up with them. If you are asking them to work hard, they need to see you are willing to work hard. If you want them to be on time all the time, you need to be on time yourself. It sounds simple and it makes sense, but in practice it gets a little more difficult. If practice is supposed to start at 4 PM and you don't walk on the floor until 4:15, it's pretty clear to them that being on time is not important. Things come up, and it's easy as a head coach to say you need to take care of something and just back practice up. But if you then hammer your guys when they are late for practice, you are holding them accountable for something you aren't holding yourself accountable for. They are going to see right through you.
You can get caught up in being the tough new head coach and trying to set a different tone when you take over a program. In doing that, it's easy to get caught up being a drill sergeant and expecting your kids to just blindly follow you. For the most part they will, because you are the new head coach. But they are also watching you very closely. If you are saying one thing and then doing another, you are committing a fatal sin as a head coach. You have to hold yourself accountable to the same standards, or you won't be able to build the foundation you need for a championship culture.
The 2014 Dynamic Leadership Academy will take place on June 2nd-3rd in Providence, Rhode Island. You can find all of the information you need here:
You are never going to get through a season without having to overcome some adversity. Injuries, personal issues, off the court problems - they're all part of the deal. You can't use them as an excuse for losing because every team has to deal with them. The teams that deal with them the best usually can sustain success.
One of the reasons I'm such a believer in a defined defensive system for your team is because it enables you to overcome adversity. When you lose one or more of your better players to injury, it can be hard to adjust. Replacing a double-figure scorer is difficult because you likely don't have another double-figure scorer sitting on the bench. It's hard to replace offensive ability because it involves talent, skill, timing and ability.
But you can usually find guys on the bench who can jump into the starting line-up and help you defend. The defensive end is more about effort, smarts, toughness and buy-in than it is about talent. So by getting your team bought-in to a defensive system you are actually preparing them to overcome the adversity you'll surely face during a long season.
This year we lost our top 2 scorers with about 4 weeks to go in the season to injury. Two of our best shooters and individual playmakers. We had some talented guys on the bench that were ready to play and help us, although they probably weren't as good offensively. But we could rely on our team defense as a constant. Everyone on our team is prepared to defend because of the emphasis we play on it and the way we practice.
We went on to win our conference championship without our top 2 scorers by being the best defensive team in our league. The amount of time and effort we put into our team defense throughout the year certainly gave us the confidence to keep winning. And it allowed our bench players to play more minutes and still have a significant impact. In our last 4 games of the year everyone who dressed played minutes for us, and everyone was helping us. In our NCAA Tournament loss we only had 8 players.
Great team defense is a constant, regardless of who is in your line-up. It travels well, allowing you to overcome bad shooting nights, loud crowds, bad breaks or bad calls. Great team defense gives your team confidence they can handle anything. When you have injuries and have to replace players, you might not be able to score as efficiently but you can probably sustain the same level of defense. A great defensive system allows you to overcome any type of adversity you'll face during the basketball season.