The Value of a Team

As coaches, we like to preach the importance of team. 

  •    What it means to be a good teammate.
  •    How to help the team achieve targeted goals.
  •    Why being part of a team teaches valuable life lessons.

But do we spend time thinking about how our coaching staff works together as a team?

This summer I was able to work with NBA China in conducting basketball camps, shooting training videos for future use with the JrNBA, coach/ teacher training, and work with primary, middle school, and high school teams.The experience was incredible. Not just in seeing the sites, meeting new people, and being part of a different culture, but being part of a group of coaches and other individuals who worked well with each other. 

Our first assignment was working the Jr NBA All-Star camp in Beijing. I was the camp director and had five foreign coaches to assist. We had not worked together, and most of us did not know any of the other coaches until we arrived in China. Putting together a quality camp takes a lot of work in the planning and preparation. The NBA China staff took care of most of the logistics so the coaches could concentrate on our job. Working with a similar program last year in Singapore with NBA Asia I knew our coaches were the most significant key to having a successful camp. 

Since this was the first time they had run this event in Beijing, I was aware we would have kinks to work out. I also knew there would be a lot of eyes on us while we ran the camp. At the conclusion of the week, we were to select an All-Star team consisting of both our boys and girls to appear at a Steph Curry event. Teams had come from all over China to participate. Again drawing on my experience the previous year in Singapore I wanted our staff to be a strength of the camp. Your t-shirts can look nice, the players and coaches can like the food, the dorms clean and the gyms top notch, but if you do not have a strong coaching staff your camp is going to fail.

As any good coach or leader will tell you it is all about having the right people around you. Early on I learned the coaches we had were going to be extremely valuable. 

Here is what I found out as I got to know them and as we finalized plans for the week:

  •   They cared: Cared about helping players and coaches.
  •   They had passion: There was an obvious love for the game.
  •   They were selfless: Each one was not coaching for personal gain.
  •   They were willing to the little things: Never did they balk or hesitate to do something to make the experience better for the players and coaches.

They knew their stuff. I didn’t have to worry about an assignment, a drill or a gym not being run properly. Didn’t have to worry about a coach showing up on time or not prepared.

What do you do when you have a group like this? You get out of the way and make sure you put them in position to be successful.

One of my favorite things to do is to give out awards at camp. Not the MVP, Top Free Throw Shooter, or other contest winners. Those are good, but I like when you can create an award or give an award that sees value in an area some may not recognize. We gave out two awards each day for effort and attitude. Although I love doing this and recognizing players for their efforts I knew it was more important to let the other coaches choose them each day. Why would I assign something to someone else? I knew how serious they would take the task. I told one coach to pick the camper with the best effort each day and another to choose one with the best attitude while getting input from all the coaches. I also knew they could see things I may not. 

I may be worried about how well we are doing on time. Whether we have enough basketballs in each gym, whether each player is getting enough time on the court and any other logistics. They will see what I miss. Again, I knew my coaches and knew their strengths. They needed to be empowered and given a big say in what we were doing. Being able to work and direct camps for 30 years does allow you to have some perspective.

Early in my career, I thought I had to do everything to make it run efficiently. I have learned over the years that is not the best route. As a coach puts a team in the position to be at their best, it is the same with any staff you put together. Putting people in the right spot and giving them responsibility is not just for a basketball camp but works any area where a group of people work together: families, churches, schools, businesses, any area where people have to work together.

In August we had a smaller team traveling around China, and we worked with about 1500 coaches conducting Train The Trainer (TTT) sessions. We were a team of three (two coaches and one NBA rep). We knew how to work with other and how to play to each other’s strengths. In September it was a team of two. Roy Xu, who works for the NBA was my trusted translator/travel guide/assistant coach/Chinese historian. We did follow up with teachers/coaches who had been to TTT earlier in the summer. Each day was different, and each school was different. Some schools we may meet with a small group and others it may be a large number as well as school administrators. Roy knew how to make me look good, and I knew when to step out of the way and let him take the lead.

This summer and fall I got a friendly reminder of the value of a team. I kept telling my coaches of how enjoyable they were to work with and how they put fun into teaching. They probably got tired of me saying the same things and thought I was crazy. You coach long enough you understand the importance of the team concept is not just for the players, but for the coaches as well. Getting ready for the upcoming season think of how your staff can be it’s best:

  • Does your staff look to help each other and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member?
  • Does your staff look to do the little things to make your team better? 
  • Can they see the big picture of how to make our team better today and for the season?
  • Do they understand it is about the players and not for their career?
  • Are they willing to admit areas they need to work on to improve as a coach?

How well your staff works together could very well be the difference in your team having the best season yet.

I was talking to one of my kids recently about an issue they were having and reminded them how they have to treat situations like a team. The reply came back,

“I know dad, it is like a team. We have to work as a team”.

The reply, of course, was being said with exasperation in the voice. The joy of parenting.

Whether a co-worker, roommate or another student you must work as a team. The same for a coaching staff. The ones who gel and care for each other stand out. You can also watch the ones who fail to work as a team. You may have a small staff or large staff. In either situation you will see this season as your staff works together your team will likely fall in line.

Put egos, agendas, past experiences aside and make every effort to be the best team member on your staff this year.

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