Three Antidotes (conversations) needed to counteract the potential poisons that come with having a Talented Team
The Tokyo Olympic Games were a treat to watch, the athletes commitment and energy was contagious as were the emotions pre and post competition.
We came out of the games with a question.
Why is it that the most talented team doesn't always win, and if you are in charge of a heavily favored or talented team how can you make sure you deliver on the premise of all that talent?
It appears that talented teams face their own special challenges and it's often because they don’t want to focus on the fundamentals, just outcomes. Other issues get in the way as well like style and ego.
The point of many games is to get the other team to yield or quit. This starts in their mind, moves to their face, and ends up quickly in their shoulders and feet. This makes many of these contests about not just talent but about effort and grit and persistence.
Adding to the challenge the talented team will face lower competition that will not be able to compete at the same level. The accompanying win creates a false sense of security that can lead to large let downs later in the season when other talented teams who have better practice habits show up. Suddenly and predictably your team's talent is not enough.
Some coaches use their force of personality and power to counteract the talent malaise. They seek to take charge. We have noticed some more subtle choices and outline the three conversations with three types of players that you may consider in your future leadership roles.
Your Effort Leaders
Who shows up early and stays late on your team? In his deep dive into the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team author James Kerr identified that the leaders swept the sheds after every practice and game. These players are often not your high scorers, but they set a tone of action and pride that becomes contagious inside the locker room. This culture keeper can be a coach's best friend in out flanking the dreaded "lazy middle" that can exist early in the season when conditioning and pushing the boundaries of fitness matter so much. These effort leaders are some of your most courageous people, because they want to stand for something that may go unseen by the fans or outsiders. Make sure you take these players aside and praise them for their honor and effort, they often don't need a lot of public praise, but they will really want to know that you see it.
Your Communication Leader
It is so hard to not just talk about Draymond Green when writing about this type of player. However it is not just the loud communicators that you need to cultivate when working to hone in on your talented team's best efforts. Finding a player who has the courage and the capacity to effectively communicate and not over communicate is difficult, but as a coach you can nurture and grow people into this role if the right player isn't on your team. We have watched Steve Kerr work magic with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and would lay odds that in certain rooms, they are communicating important messages to the team and Draymond is listening. Early in the season grab the players you are going to need to carry some of the communication duties and outline how and when you are looking for their help.
Your Performance Leader
Everyone knows who can ball, play, deal and close. This is part of the problem. The player knows it, can get drunk on it, and then not have the focus to perform at their highest level late in the season when other great performers are on the opposite team. Jimmy Chitwood hits the game winner at the end of the 1986 movie "Hoosiers", yet early in the season the coach let's him know that the ball is the only special thing on the team. How you surround your performance leaders from the very beginning of the season can define how far the team will go at the end of the year. You will be communicating with this player or players constantly as they will be running the plays you design, yet having a cadence of communication about their role beyond just impacting the game is also crucial.
What if I have a Michael Jordan on my hands?
Weaving these conversations together with the different players should allow you to create some bonds that can become quite strong. The ESPN documentary "The Last Dance" showed that in some cases, a lone figure will come along like Michael Jordan who may seek to take on all three roles, and yet players like Steve Kerr and Bill Cartwright were proven to be instrumental in building the culture that coach Phil Jackson sought to create and maintain.
Aren't These Just Captains?
These conversations, the antidotes might seem like obvious communication with what most people would call a captain. However we didn't want to give them the label of authority on our own, your labels and roles are what matter in your cultures. Sam Walker wrote a great book by the name of The Captain Class where he outlines that the key to the best teams is to have great captains. On the other hand, Jack Clark gives an excellent talk about building culture for the Cal Rugby Team and goes to great lengths to identify that authority and leadership in a group can be different. Clark articulates that authority is tied to process and protocol, but leadership is tied to values that are honored by all on the team. Every member of that tribe should be called to lead themselves to embody those values regardless of performance in the competition.
Whether you are running a fall team or are setting up a team for next year we are curious how your conversations will go with your team as you create another unique tapestry that is this season.
Please share with us your insights and perspectives and thank you for your readership and friendship.
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