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Coaching a Culture

Coaching a Culture by Tony Yu

In lieu of the NBA All-Star Weekend that conspired in Toronto this past month, it’s only appropriate the following ideas revolve around the beautiful sport of basketball.

In my senior year in high school I signed up to coach the Junior Boys’ Basketball Team at our school. I recruited two of my buddies to be my assistant coaches and quickly got the season moving.

The profound experience I had in the three-month season that ensued eventually became the foundation to how I viewed applied leadership – results-driven best practices that translated into team successes on and off the court. This was the battlefield; this was where you put into action all the different leadership theories you’ve learned throughout your life.

The common misconception that I had going into coaching was thinking the most important thing was knowing the best plays and the best strategies in-game. That’s essential for obvious reasons, but as the season played out I began noticing how little nuances in the way I conducted practices, talked to the players, and communicated with the other coaches affected the players’ performances on game day.

I hadn’t realized it at the time, but what I was noticing was the real dynamic that coaches brought to the table: the ability to create a culture.

The culture of the team is the true composite of all of its workings. The coach drafts the blueprint – he sets the tone for how the team conducts itself.

Coach Kerr

No doubt the name echoed around the sports world this past year was Steph Curry (an echo that is still building magnitude this season). Everyone from my 3-year old cousin to the elderly lady down the block had heard of his prowess beyond the arch, which was only accented by the Golden State Warrior’s historic NBA Finals win.

Behind the spectacular and beautiful flow that was the Warriors’ game on the court was the genius mind of five-time NBA Champion Steve Kerr who had played alongside the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

Kerr’s ability to build rapport and create a connection with everyone in his coaching staff and player roster gave him the respect and credibility he needed to revitalise a struggling franchise hiding two superstar players.

And it was his first season as a coach. Ever.

Before he started training camp with his new team, he flew in to meet every one of his players individually.

“You’re great. We’re trying to make you better,” he said in his inaugural team address.

Which is exactly what he did. He strived to make players feel comfortable, and from that effort brought to life one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Stephen Curry.

Kerr learned from coaching greats Popovich and Jackson, that 90% of coaching is creating an environment, through force of personality. The other 10% involves strategy. “The easy part,” he calls it.

Being a leader isn’t about having the most commanding voice in the room, the greatest intellect or the deepest capacity of skill. It is – and as great leaders throughout history have shown – the profound ability to engage people in a way that unleashes their greatest effort.

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